The difference between the side scrollers of yesteryear and today could not be more stark. For a genre that grew from humble roots of simply being able to go backwards was seen as progress to today’s cornucopia of twitch platformers, metroidvanias and, of course, the LIMBO faithfuls. Planet of Lana is one such title, favouring simplistic mechanics, minimal dialogue and sweeping vistas of a vibrant planet teaming with all forms of life. For a first title from a new development house it certainly punches above its weight, although it falls prey to some common mistakes that will hopefully be addressed in future titles.

You are Lana, a young adult who lives in a quiet fishing village with your brother Elo. This idellic world seems purpose built for simple lives untroubled by the burdens of the modern world, making do with all that they need by the sea. That changes drastically one day when your plant is invaded by a faceless army of robots who are unceremoniously gathering up all life on the planet and taking them away to an unknown location. What follows is your journey through this world’s past, revealing secrets that have been unknown to many for centuries. Whether or not this will be enough to save Elo, and the rest of the planet, is a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.

Planet of Lana’s visual style is highly stylized and absolutely brimming with detail at all levels. There’s multitudes of effects layered on each other to bring each of the different sections to life with memorable things like the layered leaves and grasses or the multiple 2.5D layers stacked on top of each other to give a wonderful sense of scale. The music and foley work is also top notch, the score swelling and retreating at all the right moments to give the non-verbal narrative some punch. In terms of audiovisual construction Wishfully studios has done exceptionally well.

Mechanically the game is quite simple, being your typical side-scroller/platformer with a handful of tried and true mechanics thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. Most of the mechanics revolve around controlling a NPC who has differing abilities to you, timing interactions with certain objects and the good old fashioned get this thing from here to there. Every so often a new mechanic is thrown into the mix but these are usually only used for the level that they’re given in, the abilities either being stripped away or simply not used beyond there. Overall it’s a pretty simple game mechanically, something that should be easy to pick up no matter your previous experience with the genre.

You’ll likely be able to figure out most puzzles on first go around as they’re always self contained and usually pretty straight forward. There are a few that require a level of backtracking or keeping a note pad handy in order to figure them out, but they’re the exception and not the rule. There is potential for emergent behaviour in a good number of the puzzles which will, unfortunately, often lead you down a path that won’t make it solvable. There’s also a handful of mechanics that aren’t demonstrated or explained well enough, like a part where your NPC companion will simply die to a harsh breeze for no discernable reason. I’m going to chalk those things down to oversight since most of the other quirky mechanics are shown well enough for you to understand how you should interact with them.

However the biggest black mark against Planet of Lana has to be the length, and not for the reason that you might be thinking. Indie developers often cop a lot of flak for not making their games long enough but Planet of Lana is one of the games that could easily be half its length. There’s a lot of time spent in zones where you simply have nothing to do but move to the right of the screen and these sections go on for ages. This would be somewhat tolerable if it happened in new environments each time, or was a cover for loading screens, but neither of these are the case. So there’s a giant chunk of time just dedicated to running through environments that you’ve already had your fill of. Brevity here would make Planet of Lana just that much more punchier. \

Which would also help with the story because, plainly, it’s predictable and pretty run of the mill. To be sure it has some good plot reveal moments, and there’s a small reward for keen explorers that builds that story out even more, but from the game’s opening scenes you’ve already got a pretty good idea how things are going to go. Couple that with the long sections between key moments and I really do feel that a director’s cut version of this, slimmed down to maybe 2.5 hours of total play time, would make for a much better experience overall that’d still hit all the right spots the developers were aiming for.

This all being said for a first time development house Wishfully has done a great job with Planet of Lana. It’s clear that they have a passion for building a cinematic experience, one that leverages both great art and modern game engine tech to deliver an experience that feels almost Ghibli-esque in its delivery. However the extended duration and so-so narrative detract from this somewhat, leaving this writer wondering just what a slimmed down, streamlined version of this game might look like. This being said I’ve seen many devs do a lot worse with their seminal titles so Planet of Lana definitely gets the thumbs up in my books

Rating: 8.0/10

Planet of Lana is available on PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S right now for $29.50. Game was played on the PC with 4 hours of total playtime and 60% of the achievements unlocked.

About the Author

David Klemke

David is an avid gamer and technology enthusiast in Australia. He got his first taste for both of those passions when his father, a radio engineer from the University of Melbourne, gave him an old DOS box to play games on.

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