Lovely Planet (PC) review
"It's incredible to see the kind of stuff you can pull off if you are just pushed to try it..."
Lovely Planet is basically an FPS “challenge mode” game. Levels are very short but difficult (ranging from “quite” to “insanely”) and require you to do things almost perfectly to succeed. It almost feels like a training simulator to help people develop mad skills they can use in other FPS games. But that's not to say it doesn't feel like its own game.
It is set in very colorful world of low poly-count landscapes featuring solid colors instead of texturing. The effect is pretty striking, and the game looks awesome. I've seen multiple reviews complain about the way the environments look, with one review almost complaining that it doesn't look like Call of Duty. It's pretty baffling to me, as the game has a unique look all of its own, and that alone makes it pretty great. The enemies and allies in the game, which are blocks and other shapes, have very expressive faces and add a lot to the flavor. And the cherry on top is the awesome gun you are wielding, which is basically a small tube with a star on the end. It is so at odds with the high-tech and cool looking weapons featured in most FPS's that it really stands out and gives the game a great feel. The bouncy, happy soundtrack adds a lot to the feel of the world, especially the really great forest level track. The whole aesthetic is something along the lines of the Katamari games, though with a bit of a twist and admittedly not as well produced and envisioned, but still in the “great job” category. There is also a bit of a story to go along with the feel, told only by the level titles, which seem to suggest certain happenings through each world, and the enigmatic secrets you can find hidden in levels, both of which suggest some darker goings on in the otherwise ultra-happy world. There isn't much a story actually told, just little suggestions about what may be going on, and that is a good fit for this otherwise purely mechanical game. As the game's creator says in the instruction booklet that comes with the physical edition of the game, there is no such thing as a game about nothing.
All of this is at odds with the game's rather difficult gameplay. In every stage, you must get to the goal, which is a giant vertical pole. You must kill every enemy in the level before leaving or you fail. There are lot of ways to die along the way too. First off, every level is floating out in space, and a misstep might mean falling to your doom (although this is also the key to many hidden paths, more on that later). Some enemies don't do anything except sit there frowning, waiting for you to kill them, but others shoot bullets at you. One hit kills you, and these bullets come in several varieties, from slow and straight-moving to fast and heat seeking. You can shoot bullets out of mid-air, and you are basically required to do this with heat seeking bullets, as they will hit you unless you are very solidly behind cover. There are also friendly little cube guys in many levels, and if you shoot one of them, you instantly start the level over, so watch your friendly fire. There are a few other enemy varieties that can kill you in interesting ways. And finally, the most dreaded threat of all are the apples featured in many of the game's levels. When you get to certain points in the level, they launch up in the air, and if you don't shoot them by the time they hit the ground, you lose. This is one of the hardest aspects of the game, and hearing the distinct sound of an apple pop up into the air in the distance can be panic inducing. So the game is basically William Tell by way of Katamari Damacy and Bit.Trip Runner.
There are five worlds, each featuring new enemies and obstacles. The progression is really clever, and by the end you'll see some nice subversion of what you've been taught to expect in the game as well as a really clever new element added in the game's final stages that is so cool, it really renews you energy and enthusiasm level for the game.
Some of the game's 100 or so levels are really hard. I would say most took me 5 – 30 minutes to complete with maybe 5-10 of them taking about an hour. There is one level that took me approximately 5 hours (which takes about 60 seconds to beat when you finally do it) was by far the hardest. It was frustrating, but also an amazing feeling of accomplishment once it was done. Over and over again the game presents you with challenges that truly seem impossible for anyone but pro players, but you can do them if you practice and keep trying!! The level that took me 5 hours, which is late in the game, is also where I first started to find ways to get through levels besides the main path. For a long time, it doesn't seem like there would be alternate ways to complete levels, but after you get really familiar with the way the game works (around 80 levels in for me), you will start to see ways to game the system and bypass obstacles that are really bothering you. Once I completed the game and went back to earlier levels, I could see that virtually every level is designed to be exploited in this way. A lot of impassible obstacles in the game can be gotten around if you look around enough, and going through hidden paths might do things like let you get the drop on a nastily placed enemy or even prevent an apple from ever triggering. If you ever feel really, really stuck, start exploring a bit and see if you can find another angle on tackling the game's challenges.
At the start of Lovely Planet, I struggled just to fight an enemy or two and get to the exit. A few levels in, I was taking on multiple enemies at once and shooting down bullets and apples to boot. Near the end, I took on some truly twitch challenges, like shooting down multiple fast bullets while in the midst of a huge jump, or spinning while jumping to hit targets before and behind. This game really is a trainer that slowly ups the ante and teaches you how to become a master of gun ballet stunts that would make Chow Yun Fat blush. And at the very end, when I had beaten the game, I went back to try and beat levels with 100% shooting accuracy, as the game encourages you to do (that and beat the levels quickly, which I am pretty bad at). This is exactly the opposite of my playstyle through out most of the game, where I would shoot dozens of shots at a single enemy. I didn't think I would get too far playing for 100% accuracy, but shockingly, I beat about 70 levels this way. At my most zen moments, I completed some levels that required some ridiculous shooting without missing a shot, such as taking out multiple incoming bullets, and even one-shotting falling apples from a pretty decent distance when they are in thick fog and you can't see them. It's an amazing feeling to be able to pull stuff like that off in a shooter, and Lovely Planet showed me that I can do it and trained me on how to make it happen. I'd really like to try out a competitive shooter again now, as I feel that my skills are vastly improved.
Lovely Planet's great atmosphere and extreme difficulty are a lovely match. I really dig the aesthetic and the upbeat soundtrack, and I'm a sucker for these games with high difficulty but painless level restarting (in this case, it's basically instantaneous). This game will push your shooting and jumping skills to the limit and teach you, one step at a time, to do things you never thought you'd see outside of a youtube video of a guy who plays games 12+ hours a day. It's incredible to see the kind of stuff you can pull off if you are just pushed to try it, and Lovely Planet cheerfully gives you that push, as well as the tools and game flow necessary for what could otherwise be an overly frustrating experience. It's a 4 out of 5.
Community review by Robotic_Attack (March 19, 2016)
Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.
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