Review: Planet Alpha

An outer space epic.

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 10/25/2018 07:30 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Gorgeous visuals; clever puzzles; respawns come quickly; great atmosphere
Poison Mushroom for...
Visibility can be hampered in a number of ways; lack of direction can be troublesome

Sometimes, less is more. Old school gamers have long known the thrill of games with minimal dialogue and little in the way of tutorial. Many indie games have attempted to recapture that feeling, but for multiple reasons, it doesn’t always feel as natural as it should. Planet Alpha is certainly an exception. The game focuses on an astronaut marooned on a strange planet besieged by robotic invaders, and the setup works very well for this sort of approach. And that’s just one of many things the game does right.

In Planet Alpha, players must traverse the titular planet as a nameless astronaut. Developer Team 17’s latest is primarily a 2D platforming game, but it also borrows a number of elements from both the puzzle and stealth genres. The game’s astronaut doesn’t have much in the way of abilities: he can climb, crouch, push certain objects and alter the planet’s day/night cycle. There are some areas where the planet influences the astronaut’s abilities as well, such as areas with lower gravity, or plants that afford a temporary speed boost. The game does offer some very basic button directions early on, but otherwise there isn’t anything else given as far as directions go; it’s up to the player to figure things out. While the game does have a story, it can also be vague at times, leaving much up to the player’s imagination.

At times, the lack of direction can get a little overwhelming. There were multiple instances where I thought I knew what I was supposed to do, only to realize it was something completely different after dying a few times. Fortunately, respawns come quickly and the game autosaves very frequently, so you won’t have to replay tough segments you’ve cleared. Planet Alpha does a good job of making you feel a sense of accomplishment for figuring out these puzzles; while some are as basic as moving a particular rock into place, there are others that are truly clever, and I couldn’t help but smile after clearing them.

In many ways, Planet Alpha feels reminiscent of a 2D Metroid game. It doesn’t fit into the classic Metroidvania mold, as there is little to no backtracking, but the isolated setting and lack of dialogue couldn’t help but remind me of the adventures of Samus. Another major difference between Planet Alpha and most Metroidvania titles, however, is that the astronaut has no offensive abilities. As a result, you’ll have to use cunning to escape the planet’s many dangers. Changing the time from day to night when a particular flower blooms can provide cover from a trigger-happy robot, while jumping on top of a gigantic, dinosaur-like creature’s tail can elicit an opponent-damaging wag. Sometimes, creatures in the background are used to solve puzzles, while other times their presence is simply eye candy meant to make the planet feel more alive.

The creatures you’ll encounter are just one element of the visually striking scenery in Planet Alpha. Stills really don’t do the game justice as the planet is brimming with life and atmosphere. It’s clear that the developer put a lot of thought into the mechanics of the world, and it really shows. Bolstered by phenomenal lightning and mesmerizing colors, the game is truly gorgeous, with the best visuals coming at night. The music equally adds to the atmosphere, with simple, mellow tracks.

One of the bigger issues I had with Planet Alpha boiled down to overall visibility, which becomes problematic in a handful of ways. First off is the size of the protagonist. This has become a common problem in a lot of platforming games over the last few years, though it does makes sense here given the game’s scale. Still, it can make things hard to see at times, particularly on the go. Planet Alpha is also the kind of Switch game that can be very difficult to play portably, perhaps more so than any Switch game I’ve yet encountered. While things are mostly fine during segments that take place during the day, when the planet shifts to night, or when playing in a subterranean area of the planet, the slightest bit of glare on the screen can make it nearly impossible to see. Finally, it can sometimes be tough to make out items that are in the foreground versus the background. Sometimes you’ll try to jump to a ledge only to discover it’s actually inaccessible. Further complicating matters, the game takes place entirely on a two-dimensional plane, but only for the player. Enemies have less restriction, and they can move along paths the player does not have access to. As a result, sometimes you’ll think you’re well hidden from an enemy only to find them turning a corner you don’t have access to.

Planet Alpha is a truly special title. It’s gorgeous to look at, the puzzles are clever, and the challenges will give gamers a strong sense of reward. While the lack of direction and visibility difficulties will grate on the nerves of some players, it’s an impressive experience on Switch. Many developers try to replicate the old school charm of titles like Metroid, but few manage to capture that charm while also making something that feels unique. Planet Alpha is very much an experience all its own, and gamers would be hard pressed to find a more unique and vibrant platformer on eShop.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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