Freedom Planet Review
Freedom Planet has a user rating of 10/10 on Steam, and 4 and a half out of 5 stars on GOG. While I wouldn’t say that it’s a perfect game deserving of a perfect score like the one it holds on Steam, my enjoyment of the game was such that I can’t bring myself to be anything but glad that it’s doing so well with fans; this is a game that blew me away, taking everything that was good about Sonic games, removing everything that was annoying or tedious about them, and introducing new concepts to keep the whole thing fresh. To put it simply, it’s one of the best games I’ve played in a long, long time, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Of classic and adventure mode
There’s a lot to wrap your head around at first, and the game doesn’t give you a great deal of direction. That makes decisions like the one you’re presented with upon starting a new game, that being whether to choose classic mode or adventure mode, kind of arbitrary at first (though there’s a little blurb that helps you understand the differences between the two modes). Really, the only difference is that starting a game on adventure mode gives you cutscenes between stages that play out the game’s plot, whereas classic mode is more reminiscent of the old Sonic games in the sense that the game goes stage to stage without cutscene interruptions. Personally, I found that playing on adventure mode was best to start off with, especially since you’re able to skip the cutscenes at will. You’re even given the option to skip an entire group of cutscenes—there are always multiple ones that play between stages—and jump straight into the next stage.
Though why you’d want to do this, I don’t know, because the characters and their personalities are adorable. I’m not easily won over by adorable things, and attempts at the adorable can definitely take an ugly turn into the creepy surprisingly fast if not kept in check, but the graphics, voice acting, and intermittent humor keep things planted firmly in a lighthearted and easy-to-love place throughout the game’s duration. The characters are universally lovable, the dialogue and story is campy in a good way, and while the cutscenes are admittedly a bit overlong, I found myself so involved in the story that I felt compelled to watch them all anyway.
The story boils down to this: an evil alien crashes and plots to use the planet’s kingdom stone, a source of energy, to become nigh-unstoppable. To accomplish this, he ends up playing the planet’s kingdoms against each other, which leads a ragtag band of playable characters to get drawn in to the whole thing. Said ragtag band consists of purple dragon Lilac, feisty green sidekick Carol, and once you progress far enough in the plot to unlock her, the adorable and innocent Milla. Lilac and Carol are playable from the very beginning in either adventure or classic mode, but once you unlock Milla, she can only be used in classic mode due to her not having a story of her own. I’ve heard rumors that she’ll eventually get her own adventure mode campaign, but at the moment she can only be used in classic mode.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, because Milla is the hardest of the three characters to use. All three characters have their own unique moves and abilities that makes playing through stages as them a slightly different experience. For example, Lilac has the Dragon Boost and Dragon Cyclone abilities. The first can only be performed when her “special attack” blue bar is all the way full (it recharges as you play and is quickly restored by grabbing the little shard things that are scattered throughout stages) and shoots her in a direction while making her invulnerable. This can be used as an attack, a dodge, a method of reaching high platforms, or just a way of getting a quick burst of speed when you’ve lost momentum. The Dragon Cyclone ability, on the other hand, is a double jump that reduces the blue bar slightly, but can be performed at any time (except at the tail end of a Dragon Boost). This also damages enemies and is a great way to avoid attacks.
Carol, on the other hand, lacks a double jump, but has the ability to perform an infinite number of wall jumps (much like the characters in the Mega Man X games). She also has the ability to kick in place, which rapidly drains her blue bar, but confers invulnerability much like Lilac’s Dragon Boost and can be used when her bar is only partially full. This makes her an incredibly powerful character once you get used to her. She also has the ability to use a motorcycle when she’s found a red gas can powerup, and when on the motorcycle, she not only has a double jump that damages enemies, but can also ride her motorcycle up 90 degree inclines.
Milla is definitely the hardest character to use. Not only does she have drastically reduced health compared to Lilac and Carol, but she doesn’t have any moves that allow her to be temporarily invincible. On top of that, she has a shield, but it can only block or deflect certain attacks (and this requires experimentation to figure out what can be blocked and what still damages you), and even attacks that can be blocked will sometimes hit you under or above the shield (see the video to the right for an example of this). She also lacks the ability to punch and kick like Lilac and Carol. Instead, she can conjure up magic blocks that can act like a shield (though only when she’s holding them; they disappear when thrown), be thrown as a projectile weapon, or be used to create a larger shield. Her shield is her only reliable attack, though, with it shooting out a tiny bit of energy when you stop using it. Pulling out a block can make that tiny bit turn into a huge bolt of energy, but conjuring a block takes prohibitively long during the more frantic boss fights. All of this makes Milla incredibly difficult to use, though I did beat the game with her on normal difficulty to prove to myself that an average gamer could do so with a little patience and luck.
Levels are like Sonic zones smashed together
One thing that takes some getting used to is Freedom Planet’s level design. Instead of taking the more conventional Sonic route and having multiple levels in a “zone,” the levels in Freedom Planet combine all of this into one level. This means that levels can take between 7-30 minutes for an average gamer to finish, depending on one’s experience with the level and the number of lives lost before finishing, and this feels insanely long at first. However, the more familiar I became with the levels, the faster I found myself able to play through them and the more I appreciated their flow; each level is clearly hand-designed with a great deal of care to allow for multiple approaches and speed once you’ve become familiar enough with the stage to recognize ways of keeping up your momentum, and while this makes that first playthrough a bit frustrating, later attempts are that much sweeter for it all. It’s also worth mentioning that while the first two levels are kind of boring and the last four all take place in a spaceship and are a bit same-y for it (though I’ve come to appreciate their little differences after playing through the game with all three characters), there are some truly brilliant levels between the two. My personal favorite would be the Fortune Night stage, which seems to be inspired by Sonic’s Casino Night zone, though it takes that inspiration and goes in a completely different—and arguably better—direction. This level, as well as several after it, are simply a joy to play through.
Each character has one or two unique stages, too. Lilac gets a special level that’s designed around her Dragon Boost, while Carol and Milla find themselves dodging lasers in a special stage. Milla’s opening stage is completely unique, as well, and can only be played through using her, and her route through the second stage is slightly different and involves a mine cart. It’s not an astounding amount of variance, to be fair, but it’s definitely enough to warrant three separate playthroughs.
The amount of love put into this game blows me away
Freedom Planet does a lot right. The gameplay is incredible, the music is great, the story is enjoyable, and everything is just good. What really made me fall in love with this game, though, are the little touches that show how much effort was put into this game.
For example, did you know that holding down and special attack (on the default keyboard layout it’s the C key, while on the default Xbox 360 controller layout it’s the X button) during certain cutscenes triggers bloopers? Seriously. What other game does this? Not only is it a joy to listen to the voice actors flub their lines, but these bloopers are even synced to the sprites while they happen, with unique sprites being included just for these bloopers. That’s how much love was put into this thing.
Then there are the non-secret things, like the fact that leaving your character idle near a disco ball toward the end of the Fortune Night stage causes them to dance, or how each stage introduces its own unique contribution; one stage may introduce fans that alter gravity, while another has platforms that appear and disappear, making you work out the timing to progress. It’s little things like this that won me over in the end, because this is the kind of attention to detail that you rarely see anymore.
Even when playing as Milla in classic mode, you’ll notice the kingdom stone already missing instead of arriving just as it’s being taken. Even though she has no actual story mode of her own, you can kind of work out how she factors into the story when playing as her in classic mode, and that’s seriously impressive given the fact that you have little but a few vague visual cues to work off of.
Flaws and potential shortcomings
A game’s flaws, much like beauty, is largely in the eye of the beholder, but there are a few things that people who disliked the game have agreed on. For one, the length of the stages. Another one I’ve seen (and that I actually agree with somewhat) revolves around the save system; when you start a new game, you choose a slot out of eight available ones and the game autosaves to that slot after each stage. If you quit a stage before reaching the very end (as in, all the way to the “stage complete” screen), you have to start over from the beginning of that stage. This can be a bit frustrating the first time you exit out assuming that the game saved midway through a stage, admittedly, though the game does have invisible checkpoints throughout the stages that ensure that losing a life doesn’t force you to replay too much.
That brings us to another point I’ve seen brought up, and one that I unequivocally disagree with—the idea that saves are meaningless and checkpoints should be limited. Basically, you have an unlimited number of continues should you run out of lives, and these return you to the exact same point that losing a life does, meaning even running out of lives has little downside, and you’ll never lose all your progress due to a bad stroke of luck. Taking this away is a terrible idea because of how difficult certain sections of the game can tend to be when you’re first learning them, and how many lives many players end up losing while learning boss attack patterns. These bosses are the final complaint I’ve seen, with some players complaining that they’re too difficult. They’re definitely incredibly challenging at times, appearing impossible until you’ve worked out their attack patterns, but while I can understand the complaints of those who ragequit the game over them, I found that I enjoyed overcoming the difficulty of the fights. I mean, I literally lost over 40 lives to the final boss on my first playthrough and was swearing up a storm, but that just made it that much sweeter once I finally beat him. Since losing a life or using a continue brings you right outside the boss fight (and this is true of every boss fight, which I know because I died at every boss fight at least once), it’s hard to complain about the difficulty, especially since they all have patterns that can be learned to beat them.
The graphics and music are a thing of beauty
I’ve seen a lot of games that sport a “retro sprite art” look, but they often add ugly effects on top. Not so with Freedom Planet—there’s no bloom or anything like that to be found. I’d say that the graphics would be right at home on a SEGA Genesis (Megadrive for you silly foreigners), but that would be doing a major disservice to the quality of the sprite work here, which is leaps and bounds above anything that came out on that system. In fact, I’d go so far to say that the sprites are so distinctive and well-designed that they’re in the same tier as Chrono Trigger graphically, and there’s really no greater compliment I could possibly dole out.
The game’s music is every bit as good as the graphics, too, capturing the same kind of upbeat vibe the Sonic games aimed for while retaining and building on its own unique style. There’s a great deal of music peppered throughout the game that’s just modern enough to avoid ever seeming out of place for it, and hunting down cards (little collectible rectangles with stars on them that are hidden in stages) is worth it since many of them unlock music that can be played from the unlock screen.