Many remember the 16-bit era of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis as a golden age for sidescrolling platformers, with Mario and Sonic leading the way for many other developers to create iconic games and characters. Indie developer GalaxyTrail not only remembers these days, but has strived to create a new product that holds on to old-school mechanics and aesthetics in the form of Freedom Planet. Originally Kickstarter-funded and released on the PC last year, the platformer has made its first leap onto home consoles via the Wii U, and the final product is something that fans of the genre should definitely check out.
Taking place on the fantastical planet of Avalice, the story follows a dragon named Lilac and a wildcat named Carol. The two discover the threat of a tyrannical alien warlord planning to steal the mystical stone that powers their world, and manipulating its three main nations into war in the process. After befriending a more friendly alien hoping to set things right for both their world and the rest of the galaxy, the two meet with several leaders, allies, and enemies as they attempt to save the day.
Freedom Planet has a lot more going on with its plot than most of the 16-bit platformers it’s inspired by, but it’s probably one of the less impressive components in the overall package. The voice acting is solid and the story is serviceable, but some cutscenes simply go on far too long, and have little in the way of unique animations for the characters. I also didn’t think all the humorous moments hit bullseyes, though there were some I genuinely enjoyed, like the running gag of a side character getting RPG-like stat boost notifications based on his dialog, such as +5 Sarcasm.
Finally, a few side characters don’t get any real closure. Despite these problems, it’s still nice to have some context for each level, and anyone not interested in bothering with the story is in luck, as GalaxyTrail was nice enough to choose two modes: Adventure, which includes cutscenes, and Classic, which solely consists of gameplay.
And as it turns out, gameplay is where Freedom Planet truly shines. Players are given the choice when starting a new file to play through either mode with Lilac and Carol, as well as Classic mode with the third member of their party, a dog named Milla. While the controls for general movement remain the same across all three, they each have unique abilities that can change how the game plays. Lilac can do a brief hover and attack by spinning, as well as perform a speedy dash that provides brief invincibility and a powerful attack for any enemy she touches. Carol can unleash a flurry of kicks, wall jump, and ride motorcycles hidden in each level for extra speed. Finally, Milla can do a Yoshi’s Island-esque midair hover and create cubes out of thin air to use as projectiles.
The level design of Freedom Planet is where inspiration from the Genesis-era Sonic the Hedgehog games is most evident, with curved hills to run up, loops to run through, and various ways to navigate each level and earn extra goodies, including energy shields, gems that can be collected for 1ups, and collectible cards that offer things like concept art and music tracks. The momentum of the characters also feels similar to Sonic to complement each level’s layout. Thankfully, the control feels responsive and fine-tuned, helping to enhance the well-thought out sidescrolling experience.
Combat is where the game strikes its own path, as rather than simply jumping on enemies, both the protagonist and each drone must attack one another with melee attacks. It’s actually possible to run right over an enemy and have neither character take damage because of this. A health bar system is also in full use, represented by red leaves that can be replenished by items strewn throughout each level.
The combat is also highlighted during the numerous boss battles, some of which rank among the game’s best highlights. None of these encounters ever feel stale, and players looking for a challenge will be in luck quite a few times, as later fights can be absolutely brutal, particularly the multi-staged gauntlet of fights that serve as the game’s final world. Still, they’re balanced fairly and don’t feel cheap, as it gradually becomes possible to better notice upcoming attacks and react accordingly. The game is also generous in that, while there is a lives and continue system, checkpoints are plentiful, and you can generally start right back at each boss as many times as you need.
I already mentioned that the actual story of Freedom Planet can be hit or miss, but the game’s general presentation is pulled off with flying colors. The levels are varied and often beautiful to look at, fully embracing the game’s 16-bit aesthetic to deliver more detailed and lively environments than the likes of other indie platformers than Fez and Super Meat Boy. The soundtrack is also packed with memorable and often downright beautiful instrumental tracks, to a point that I think many players will want to seek out its official release on the web.
Freedom Planet is one of the best indie releases on the Wii U in some time. The level design is truly inspired and varied, the graphics and music are charming, and it manages to evoke nostalgia for older games while still maintaining its own identity. Completionists will also get a good amount of playtime out of the game if they choose to try all three characters, as each of them provides a unique experience. All in all, anyone who can still enjoy an old-fashioned sidescrolling platformer should definitely give it a try.
This review is based on the Wii U version, which was provided to us.
Freedom Planet provides a great mix of nostalgic aesthetics and fine-tuned platforming gameplay, resulting in a memorable indie title that should not be passed up.