Monday 10 July 2023

Planet of Lana Review (Steam)


Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

 Thankfully, this is not a terrifying vision of an entire global sphere populated by Lana Del Ray clones that sing interminably, this is another cinematic platformer, and a darn good one at that! Much of the early coverage of Planet of Lana focussed on the visuals, drawing slightly basic comparisons to Studio Ghibli. While this comparison is correct in level of finish, the three-and-a-bit hours I spent with the game belie an interesting style of its own, no less beautiful, and a brilliant blend of puzzle, platform, and story.

This short, but well-formed, adventure starts in the titular Lana’s village. A coastal accretion of shacks and huts, with a population living out quiet lives. You learn the controls following your sister around and discover a sad family history. Then, in timely fashion, robo-aliens start piling through the atmosphere and do a kidnap job on everyone, which the nimble Lana is able to evade. These charmingly designed robots leave Lana alone, save for a small black cat-like creature called Mui. This is Limbo and Abe’s Oddysee for fans of Journey in a Wind-Waker colour palette. I dunno, the comparisons are still slightly non-functional. I was reminded of Brothers, obliquely, with the twin dynamics of tragic-adventure and co-operative puzzles. Lana and Mui work together to traverse the landscape, tame wildlife, and trash robot invader plans.

Some shots are just for show. The camera pulls out as you chase Mui down, wider and wider, until there’s a boulder crammed in a leafy canyon. There’s a tree sticking out of the top. It’s just for effect, played slow and careful. Lana trudges across a desert, despondent and defeated, everything lost (but a set up for an exhilarating reversal before the climax). Wishfully Studios have crafted something that has less vicious edge than its most obvious ancestors, Limbo and Inside. There was a longing, or hope against hope, that came to me from the sublime Spiritfarer. Lana is just capable enough, but there is a lonely and dangerous quality to the game. In this is my only real gripe, that many of the puzzles were a frustratingly tightly timed series of actions. If you failed to pull it off, there was a little long to get back into it, and often some setting up or pre-positioning that became real old, real fast if you’re stuck. This is certainly a personal problem, as I have such low patience, and such I am not docking too many points off Planet of Lana. Most puzzle or platform players will find this fine to accommodate.

Of particular note is the music. The score is so deftly handled that there is a real built sense from the small, yet bustling village, the peace of a forest gravesite, and quiet childhood games, to the soaring chase scenes, tense stealth sections, and eventual sci-fi battle grandeur. The compositions are linked with recurring motifs and themes, perfectly placed. There’s horns and bleeps and pads and all sorts. Just a real joy to experience.

Planet of Lana lasts around three to four hours (I was closer to four, but after looking playtime up, most did it around three, so I just suck) and is a taut experience that blends the best of this genre together. Between its presentation and its gameplay, there is huge value in a small package. Its core strength is this brevity, as the formula would not, in this reviewer’s opinion, have lasted to five hours. The push-me-pull-you, stelf-jump-stelf pattern is deployed for the right amount of time to engage us in a well-crafted adventure story, and no more. Knowing when to stop is a real virtue in games. Wishfully have made something special, intimate, yet grand, that seems to fit in your pocket.

Overall 8/10

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