Before I review Freedom Planet
, a disclaimer I feel important to mention: I have been an alpha tester for the game since April 2013, and am also a moderator of the game's forums/makeshift bug tracker. My opinions are based off not only the final product, but several unfinished builds of the game. I am probably not
going to provide the least-biased, most-impartial opinion out there, although I will try; take this fact as you see fit.Freedom Planet
is a 2D side-scrolling platformer, with a heavy emphasis on momentum-based physics and melee combat. Although its inspiration by Sega's seminal Sonic the Hedgehog
franchise is self-evident, make no mistake; this game plays significantly differently, and hardly in a bad sense.
The plot centers around water-dragon Sash Lilac, a thief who lives a relatively solitary life in a treehouse, and her wildcat companion/roommate Carol Tea, an impulsive character with an amazing physics-defying motorcycle. The two girls rescue an unusual duck-billed turtle named Torque from his pursuers after he crash-lands in the jungle, but in doing so, are thrust into his attempt to thwart the impending theft of an artifact precious to their world of Avalice - the Kingdom Stone, the object that gives Avalice's people the ability to power their various devices and as such live their daily lives. Along the way, they ally with the hound dog Milla Basset, a shy, naive homeless orphan living on her own in the wild (and who is decidedly not
a rabbit, despite her long ears), and discover the involvement of military leader Lord Brevon, who wants the Kingdom Stone for his own nefarious purposes, but whose origin is apparently not of their world.
The gameplay is pretty simple in execution. You control either Lilac, Carol or Milla (although you have to unlock that last one; she becomes available just for playing two stages of the other two girls' campaigns, but can only access Classic Mode as of writing), and get them from point A to point B, where a Treasure-esque multi-part boss of some fashion awaits, with the intent of slaughtering you. Each of these stages have their own unique hazards and mechanics to come to terms with: whether that's dodging oversized mining equipment, fending off three themed enemy airships, riding the back of a submarine as it bobs up and down in the water or dealing with ninjas on motorcycles, there's always something new being thrown at you, but very rarely is it so abrupt as to be unfair. The usual assortment of power-ups help you on your quest: crystals for extra lives (naturally, although the magic number is 200 instead of the usual 100), health petals to patch up wounds (or to double as crystals when you're full-health), little heads in cages as quick extra lives, and various large crystals that, when shattered, provide you with a shield (themed after Wu Xing, each offering at least two additional hits separate from your health bar, protection from attacks of their element, and some subtle bonuses besides).
The three characters go through the stages with significantly different playstyles:
* Lilac can zoom around like Sparkster with her Dragon Boost, can perform a low-gravity double-jump with her Dragon Cyclone, and generally has the widest variety in her basic attacks. She's also easily the fastest on-foot of all the characters, making her a good all-rounder.
* Carol can wall-climb, spin like a certain hedgehog, leap around from jump pad to jump pad or zoom around on a bike that can implausibly drive up walls and ladders. On the flipside, she generally has weaker attacks than Lilac (although they whip out faster) and is slower on-foot.
* Milla can fly to a limited extent, can throw objects for ranged attacks (like item boxes or a self-generated block), can deflect some enemy attacks with a shield (itself an attack, as its dissipation shoots outwards; its power increases when combined with a generated block) and can dig things out of patches of dirt; all the typical things dogs do. However, she is slower than Carol and has less health than her companions.
Each character also sees some things the others don't, whether that's an extended version of a cutscene, a different boss or an entire stage solely exclusive to them, further incentivizing playing as all three.
Those familiar with deviantART (for better or worse) might recognize the three heroines. That's no accident; the characters were licensed from Chinese artist Ziyo-Ling, who used the trio many years ago on her dA page (although Lilac's species was changed from a hedgehog to a dragon, to make the inspirations a little
less blatant). I'm not going to lie, when I first heard of the game many years ago, I thought it sounded like the dumbest idea imaginable to take those three fan characters and slap them into their own game. However, a demo of the game in 2012 quickly changed my mind, with surprisingly strong gameplay mechanics, fluid animations, and catchy music - such that, when the game went up on Kickstarter, I didn't think twice about pledging $30 for beta access (only to bump it up another $20 for alpha access instead).
Fortunately, those qualities have carried through the rest of development. As part of the Kickstarter's stretch goals, the graphics were given a once-over, adding shading to the previously flat-shaded sprites and even touching up the level art. More stages kept coming in, and alongside them several new enemies, difficult bosses and kickass music tracks. I might have had some misgivings with some changes here and there, but by-and-large, this game was pretty much what I imagined when I pledged. I suspect the art style will remain a turn off for some, but for them to skip it completely because of that would be doing themselves a disservice.
I won't say everything's perfect. The plot is pretty good, but doesn't explain some plot events or the general backstory of Avalice well enough, leaving some plot holes that would need to be touched up in future patches (it's tougher for me to gauge as I've been following the game's development closely to catch little factoids in forum discussions here and there, but I expect a newcomer to be left having some questions). Adventure Mode was slated to have various hubs you could visit to access the game's stages and heal up between them, but these had to be cut in the final product, rendering Adventure Mode little more than "cutscenes, please" as opposed to Classic Mode's "next stage, please". The game is pretty easy once you get the hang of how it works, although the final stages and bosses are challenging enough to offset that (plus, it'll still be difficult to do a no-miss clear). The colored spheres you collect from enemies and treasure chests scattered about the levels do nothing more than act as currency for a gambling bonus stage at this immediate moment (a new character planned for a free future update is supposed to make better use of them, but that obviously won't apply to the initial launch). Some of the music fades out and restarts, instead of looping seamlessly (this one never bothered me, but it annoys other people).
That said, do any of those flaws irreparably mar the experience? To be blunt: no. The core gameplay is so much fun that it trumps any of the things working against it. It might be inspired heavily by other franchises, but I think the resulting mixture is something more than a cynical rip-off; it's a spirited little adventure that evokes the best of '90s gaming. Frankly, that's a game worth a look.
At the very least, try the demo linked to from the store page. It'll only take about half an hour of your time, letting you try both Lilac and Carol through the first one-and-a-half stages (Milla being exclusive to the paid product). Who knows; if you're skeptical, maybe playing it and seeing how well it comes together will change your mind.