Friday, March 24, 2017

Freedom Planet (PS4)

For those of you who have not yet seen the trailer, or researched "Freedom Planet" online via the official website it is a retro experience created by the collective efforts of the 'GalaxyTrail' team. A retro experience that borrows some features from a couple of well known retro game series. Namely that of 'Sonic the Hedgehog', and 'Mega Man'. As one of three animal-like characters you will take on an intergalactic alien warlord named Brevon who is out to steal a sacred energy source for his own diabolical means. The game begins with Brevon invading one of three interconnected kingdoms, and straight up beheading the king before brainwashing the king's son who just so happens to be the successor to the throne. All for political influence, and personal gain. Elsewhere in Fantasia (Sorry, couldn't help it) ... Lilac the purple dragon, and Carol the green wildcat deal with their own set of problems. A chance encounter with an alien disguised as a turtle duck who is out to stop Brevon from stealing the "World Stone". Their crossed paths lead to even more interesting character related encounters along the way which drive the story forward through the accompanying voice-acting efforts, and textual dialogue. As either Lilac, or Carol (initially) you will use your abilities to speed through the levels sonic style while collecting power-ups, minding your health, and fighting the bad bosses that lie in wait at the end of every run through.

Both Lilac, her partner Carol, and the later addition that is Milla have their own unique abilities with which to fight the enemy threats along the way. Lilac, for example can Sonic dash, spin, uppercut, swim, and whirlwind her way through the air. Carol on the other hand takes a lesser Sonic approach with her motor bike which can be obtained by running into fuel canisters. Off of her bike Carol also has wall climbing capabilities, a slash, an air dash, and a Chuni-li lightning kick. Carol will remain on the bike, and still be able to dish out a basic melee slash attack as long as she doesn't get hit too many times by enemies or hazards. For whatever reason she can even clime ladders while on the bike. Milla also gets her own set of character perks in the form of a limited floppy eared flight, a materialized cube she can throw, and a shield blast that does damage to enemies. The latter option being enhanced by first doing the cube attack summon. When it comes to playthroughs Milla specifically gets her own separate stages that includes obstacles, and enemies and bosses meant specifically for her. The other two characters share a similar stage by stage playthrough, but in each stage there are puzzle elements, and environmental features which only one or the other can utilize. The lot of them, regardless of differences are governed by ability/stamina meters, and life indicators that can be refilled by the proper means. The ability or stamina meters automatically refill in some character cases while the health is refilled through power-ups gathered from special containers or in spaces floating about. Managing these governing meters requires a sort of careful approach that kind of clashes with the intended speed run nature of the game. Something that would have worked better in a proper full fledged Metroidvania.

The world that each of these characters traverse for the sake of saving their world is divided by chapter, numbered accordingly, and titled by location much like Sonic games were. Said locations include futuristic malls, ancient temples, and even airships among other locales. All of which bares the usual enemy robotics, and alien infestations as well as various environmental hazards associated with such a 2D platforming experience. You'll also find collectible crystals shards which equate to extra lives when you collect enough as well as breakable boxes or crystals that basically replace Sonic's shields, invincibility, and other such limited power-ups. As an added bonus you can also free small caged creatures that are hidden for an instant 1up. The level design themselves, though unique to this game, do harbor several hints of past Sonic encounters making it less than genuine in most instances. The springs, the loops, and the way the enemies let loose an inside creature all herald from said series. The only real differences being the puzzle platforming elements that get you from point "A" to "point "B" along the way.

As far as the playthrough goes you can choose to play 'Adventure', or 'Classic' mode in the main menu. You can even attempt to brave a speed run later on via the 'Time Attack' mode listing, if you like. I chose to go with the 'Adventure' mode first for obvious reasons. In 'Adventure' you'll be playing through the story inclusive stages Sonic style while periodically watching cutscenes play out between characters of interest as you progress, and fight the several in-game bosses. With all the little cutscenes, and voice-acting included therein I was quite impressed. It brought the game to life, and gave it much more meaning than games like those in the early 'Sonic the Hedgehog' series did. Supposing you fancy a more true to "Sonic" experience though the 'Classic' mode includes that as does some of the 'Time Attack' mode.

When it comes to 'Time Attack" mode you'll find it carries with it the traditional time based stage oriented speed runs, but in single stage format. By that I mean you'll simply be trying to best your best time for each given stage instead of a full game playthrough. Bosses for each stage, are included. Aside from that traditional offering the mode also contains an 'Academy' level in which you will be trying to get your best time for several mini-stages as you destroy floating gongs. The mini-levels vary in layout, and are made increasingly more challenging according to the design elements implemented. In some cases your life indicator will matter as you can die in these timed events, and other times you simply have to take out the allotted targets as quickly as possible while navigating the Metroidvania-like structures. As you clear stages in 'Adventure' mode, or 'Classic' they will unlock for play in 'Time Attack'. Playing through the game in any mode will have your progress saved at the main menu, and said save data will be made accessible in a file behind the respective listing. For those of you looking for that something extra outside of these main three modes of play you will find hidden items (prismatic "?" cards) within the game that will unlock character art, and music tracks for viewing, and listening at the main menu. It adds some replay value to the game.

The presentation ...

Looking back, the presentation that is 'Freedom Planet' definitely adheres to the Sonic age of gaming. It has graphic details very similar to the Sonic, and Mega Man series as well as similar base features. There's definitely some borrowed base elements from those games, but everything else pretty much stays unique to the developers' intellectual property, regardless of the copycat nature. The character specific gauges, and life indicators for example flesh out the characters more along with their individualized abilities. The addition of cutscenes with decent voice-acting really makes the worlds of 'Freedom Planet' pop as well. I really like how each character brings to the table a unique personality through their animations, and voices. As far as the soundtrack goes it is definitely noteworthy, and akin to something you'd hear from an indie or retro release. I can understand why the developer added in those hidden items that unlocked both the art, and the music.

What the developer needs to fix ...

The developers need to fix the spring, and character interactions. The moments in a playthrough that require a speed boost from the side springs are often times hindered by a sudden stop right after contact. The character speed is also not up to par with Sonic's further complicating what should be a more fluid experience in some instances. I do understand they created the levels with multiple path options, but the short lived speeding up along with the sudden stops for platforming puzzle solving really does not mix well 100% of the time. In fact I kind of feel the level design needed to be either more platforming focused, or more speed run focused in certain stages to give it a proper feel. Having an even mixture of both in some environment didn't really pan out too well. Lastly, the error that caused my crash (during the airship crash cutscene) needs to be fixed. Being that far into the story with that happening turned me away from playing the game any further than I would have in that one sitting.

The verdict as it stands ...

Normally I don't like copycat ideas, but the characters and story of 'Freedom Planet' drew me in for a straight two hours during my first playthrough, and that is saying a lot because my playthrough sessions usually don't last that long in single sittings. I usually play for an hour at a time, give the game in question a rest, and go back to it. Rinse and repeat. With this game I was so attracted to seeing what happened next I kept playing until it crashed. I probably would have continued playing it beyond that two hour point too had it not crashed. I seriously hope the spring issues, and the crash/error issues get fixed. If they do this game would be a worthy purchase by my standards. It's a much better game than I thought it would be, and I can see it be worth buying at it's current budget pricing.

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