April 15, 2024
It's beautiful art may make you swoon, but is Planet of Lana the memorable experience we hope for? The Finger Guns review:

I don’t know what it is, but that Planet of Lana art style triggers something in my brain. A little dopamine rush of thrill and anticipation, harmonising with nostalgia. It’s singing a song to me, with refrains that evoke Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Death Stranding, Ori, the paintings and music of Simon Stalenhag, Abe’s Oddysee, and Another World. The trouble with making me think all those things, is that you then have a lot to live up to.

You play as the titular Lana. A short chase sequence through your idyllic fishing village home ends on the hills nearby watching a menacing meteor shower. Suddenly your friend Eelo is captured and stolen away by a fearsome three-legged flying War of the Worlds robot. But they’re not the only one. As you creep back to the village, folk are being captured and abducted everywhere – it’s a full-on alien robot abduction force.

Alone and afraid Lana happens upon a small alien creature captured by the robots. Lana frees and befriends them, bestowing the name Moii on them. Both are lost and alone, but together, perhaps they can survive this? So begins an effortlessly lovely adventure across this strange planet in the wake of the robots and on the hunt for your abducted friend.

Planet of Lana takes you through a number of beautiful locales over its 5-hour runtime, from the hills and trees waving in the breeze that you’ve seen on the trailers, to sandstorm-scoured deserts, lush deep jungle and the stark interiors of lost dystopian machine lands. Each area is unique, beautifully designed and often with more than one breathtaking vista to behold.

Environmental storytelling is the style, with no written or spoken dialogue that’s understandable – Lana speaks an unknown language – but it’s effective when used. You’ll slowly piece together a little of the story of the planet and how Lana’s people came to be there, as well as develop more of a bond with Moii. And while Moii was my good boy throughout, I didn’t find the Planet of Lana really delivered the emotional gut punches that I was expecting. It was there, and it did what was necessary, but I think only a few hours after the credits have rolled, and it’s stopped resonating. Other games have done it better.

Planet of Lana fails to really do anything new with its narrative or its world. The journey is more important than the destination maybe in this case. I spent much of the game expecting a particularly interesting twist that I hoped would happen, but that never materialised, and when the credits eventually rolled, I was disappointed because what I had imagined had been far more interesting than what I got. It just kind of ends, with barely any answers to many of the player’s questions, or any satisfying climax.

Planet of Lana is like Abe’s Oddysee-lite, full of simple puzzles using Moii to bite cables, move blocks and attract or repel other wildlife, all in service of moving Lana inexorably from left to right, on and on. It borrows the direction-based single-player co-op gameplay of Oddworld, the wait and follow, the getting of your little ally to open the way, and help you help them. It borrows the 2D flow, some commands, an emphasis on stealth mechanics, and a world full of odd wildlife. There are even areas that will evoke the Paramite Caves and the whistling Mudokons, all the way to hiding in shadows as lethal robotic sentries pass by.

It may look like one, but it’s not a Metroidvania. You’ll never be backtracking, you barely get more than a couple of new skills (allowing use of the machines for example), and you will never need to open the way with them, or reach something you previously couldn’t. It’s a peaceful linear puzzle game. And that’s no crime. But just don’t go in expecting an intricate map, hub areas, quests, items etc. It’s as simple as it can be, concentrating instead on the journey and the traversal puzzles. Don’t expect any combat either or bosses. Little Lana is unarmed, and easily killed.

It’s somewhat disappointing in the gameplay department. Players will have seen these same types of puzzles in a couple of dozen other titles over the last thirty years. Without bosses, combat, or any other types of interaction beyond the puzzles, those puzzles really needed to be Portal-level interesting, and they aren’t. Neither do they really provide much of a challenge. I didn’t get stuck on a single one, and so the 5 hours runtime sped quickly by without issue.

Planet of Lana never fails under a graphical lens. That dark foreground, middle-distance play area and detailed painted background style is simple but effective, always evocative and always beautiful. I was constantly moved by the music, even if the story didn’t really get me. Takeshi Furukawa’s soundtrack is understated but beautiful throughout, adding another painted layer to an already beautiful scene, adding tones and themes and refrains that are even integrated into the puzzles in some areas. The theme song that plays around halfway through the journey and during the final credits, is a soaring track full of heart. Put this OST on your Spotify playlist.

Planet of Lana looks the business, but it’s a case of more style than substance. It’s not without substance – Moii and Lana are lovely, the journey, the locales, and the music are all really well-made – but it’s lacking in the areas that make a videogame interesting and fun to play. The puzzles are too simple, the narrative never really does anything more than a little light worldbuilding and a journey from A to B. It even manages to fumble the emotional catharsis at its conclusion.

At 5 hours runtime, it’s a lovely distraction, and it was beautiful to watch, but it failed to show me anything I hadn’t seen a lot of before. After evoking all those nostalgic comparisons in my mind, it really failed to live up to any of them.

While its evocative graphics will attract players on this beautiful journey, the simple traversal puzzles and lack of emotional weight mean Planet of Lana is just not very memorable.

Planet of Lana is out tomorrow for PC via Steam (review platform), Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.

Developer: Wishfully

Publisher: Thunderful Publishing

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here. If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.

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