Freedom Planet set a new benchmark for what I believe should be the industry qualitative standard for retro-inspired indie games. It’s a game teeming with inspiration, but not diluted or crushed by the weight of my relatively lofty expectations, or that of its model or mold. Rather, I believe Freedom Planet innovated upon some of its inspirations’ best elements, and approached and synthesized them with its own stylistic flourish — making for what I believe to be the best platformer available on the PS4, and one of the more memorable games I’ve played to date.
It’s difficult to really evaluate Freedom Planet’s story. It has all the charisma of a Saturday morning cartoon: loveable characters with light-hearted attitudes and endearing expression; but it also shares the shortcomings that’s almost inherent with said personality. The game is guilty of tonal inconsistency, not only childish, but somber, jarring clichés permeate the story; and if not off-putting, it only serves to make the intention all the more vague. I wouldn’t expect an all too engaging, thought-provoking story from a platformer, but what Freedom Planet presents is serviceable and entertaining enough the first go around (personally, from Lilac’s perspective; it has the most agency) to gain regard for even bothering to implement a story in a genre not at all known for having one.
That being said, if you opt for the narrative-driven “Adventure” mode instead of the more arcade-y, straightforward “Classic” mode, expect to be bombarded by the game’s story. After beating a level, you’ll be treated to a cutscene focused on either the characters’ interactions, or on bringing down the game’s particular big bad. And while that’s usually not an issue in any other game, and can lead to some well-deserved reprieve (the levels can get really hectic), for a game all about its speed and momentum, it loses itself and can slow to a crawl when it’s trying to jam-pack a relatively extensive story in-between around eight proper levels before the narratively-barren final gauntlet. If you’re not partial to what I’ve described, or you just want to dive right into the gameplay unhindered, Classic mode is the best, most convenient way to experience the game — though, I recommend you at least give it a shot if not at least dip your toe in.
Freedom Planet is at its best when you’re caught in the fervor of your momentum, or when levels take a more explorative turn, or in the feverishness of a boss fight. The game openly takes cues from other recognizable titles such as Gunstar Heroes, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Mega Man, but not without establishing its own identity and itself as contemporary. It’s telling and visceral when I could be speeding down the highways of ruins or an oriental marketplace, and find myself in new avenues every run through no one particular stage. There’s this overwhelming sense of euphoria whenever you’re progressing through a level and enemies become a backdrop in the wake of your speed or satisfying fodder to the characters’ diverse movesets. I especially appreciate that the game doesn’t lose sight of its sense of spectacle throughout the whole of its runtime, there’s always something going on in the foreground be it of your control or a stage hazard — from pursuing lasers to quickly descending drills mining through ruins. The game is exhilarating, to say the least, when it works; but a tad frustrating otherwise.
For one, while Lilac seems to take precedence in the story as opposed to the other characters, with seemingly more significant development, otherwise could be said in terms of gameplay. I chose her for my first run through the game, the equivalent of choosing Sonic over Tails or Knuckles, and while everything seemed fine throughout the first few stages, I later found that her moveset is far slippier and barren in comparison to Carol’s more technical gameplay. Being able to slowly glide down to the ground or to use her “spin dash” quickly paled in comparison to Carol’s improved sense of vertical traversal. The ability to use jump pads, and to wall jump, and to ride a motorcycle to blaze through the levels at speeds faster than any other character, and ride up walls, and arguably the better toolset of the three playable protagonists better complemented Freedom Planet’s vertical level design and combat. And while I didn’t do much fighting throughout a majority of my time with Freedom Planet (enemies are far too intrusive and take too much damage), Carol’s playstyle and attacks were a step in the right direction towards the combat-oriented gameplay Galaxy Trail seemingly set out to incorporate. To put it simply, Lilac and Milla (the biggest outlier of the three playable heroes) handle like they have a few screws loose whereas Carol is a well-oiled, finely tuned machine far more capable and controls tighter than the others. Not to say the other two are unplayable, they play just fine, it’s just that I found myself having a better time with Carol than the other two. I find the disparity in options more than just a coincidence but a possible oversight.
Freedom Planet’s backgrounds and locales are beautifully done. For a game that gained its legs through Kickstarter, and at only a small budget, I’m surprised by the level of polish seen in the graphics — especially given that it’s all pixel-art. That being said, I’m under the impression that the art style of the characters’ were meant to mimic that of games from the particular era of its inspiration, most arguably that of Sonic. And while I can understand the reasoning, I can’t help but feel the game loses a sense of its identity in doing so. The designs not only lose their luster in their rather deformed, not well-defined artwork, but it’s hard not to see it as anything but derivative. I wouldn’t put it past someone if they were to mistake the game as a Sonic romhack, they’re incredibly similar. It doesn’t detract from the stellar gameplay, so I suppose it isn’t too egregious or detracting a flaw, but it would lend Galaxy Trail better to individualize Freedom Planet as an IP a bit more.
The level of prestige of Freedom Planet’s soundtrack is comparable to that of the Falcom Sound Team — it accentuates the action, and high-octane speeds, and is very much reminiscent of an era long gone. I can’t help but marvel at the splendor of the music in the game, it’s the most refined aspect of the overall product; and I can imagine myself buying the official soundtrack somewhere soon down the line, if not just to support the level of prowess of Galaxy Trail, but its composers.
In light of its shortcomings, and contrary to my given score, I can only recommend Freedom Planet — not just to fans of platformers but any and all aficionados of video games. It has its problems, like any game, but they never really took away from my experience save for the occasional, aggravating onslaught. It’s possibly my favorite indie game ever, and I eagerly await the sequel in hopes that it fixes some of the aforementioned issues; but also so I can experience more of Freedom Planet’s majesty.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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