So, two weeks for what really is only seven summaries. Well, that’s what happens when I don’t do anything at all towards the next update for a whole week after finishing the last one… oh well. I did have this mostly done several days ago, but delayed it to improve some of the summaries. I cover some interesting games this time, so enjoy.
Table of Contents
Defy Gravity Extended (2011)
Duke Nukem (1991)
Duke Nukem II (1993)
Dust: An Elysian Tail (2013)
Earthworm Jim 1 & 2: The Whole Can of Worms (1996)
Electronic Super Joy (2013)
Freedom Planet (2014)
Defy Gravity Extended (2011, WinXP+) – saves, dual analog gamepad supported (xinput only). Defy Gravity Extended is a cheap and basic-looking indie game by Fish Factory Games of the keyboard-with-mouse-aiming style. The game may be visually generic, but the gameplay is interesting and fun. You play as an astronaut, trying to get through some tough levels because this is a videogame. Unlike games with this control scheme earlier, though, this one is a puzzle-platformer and uses its mouse aiming for precise firing of the games’ key mechanic, your guy’s gravity gun. The gravity gun has two modes: you can either create blue gravity wells which attract you and other objects towards it, or yellow points which push things away from them. The physics are simple, but work well. You also can jump and double jump with your jetpack, and can create a shield which makes you immune to gravity powers, so you can drop when stuck in the attract-style gravity wells, for example. You can only create one of each gravity-well type at a time, though, and can only shoot out a few while in the air before you need to land to reset them. Level designs are not complex and all are linear paths; your goal is to figure out how to get to the end of each stage. The walls, pits, instant-death laser beams, and various types of moving enemies or objects you can bounce off of create some interesting challenges to figure your way past. So far I’ve found the push-away gravity wells more useful, as you create one, jump, and bounce off of it to get over pits, but as you progress you will need to use both kinds; there are platforms that will move towards attract-you wells, for example, and moving-object types which move towards them as well. It’s pretty fun stuff, and the game has infinite continues and multiple checkpoints in each not-too-long stage, so you can just keep trying until you get past each area.
The production values here are low, though. This game looks like it was made in Game Maker or some game-creation program like that, and the sprites are very average stuff. The music’s good electronic space-ish sound, though, so I do like that. However, the game has some performance issues, as the game does not lock the mouse to the screen, which is a big problem if you have multiple monitors as I do; this is a mouse-and-keyboard game, after all, and it’s very easy to accidentally click on the other screen and minimize the game. The only alternative is to use a more gamepad-like control scheme where your mouse rotates a marker and then you click once to fire out a shot and again to create a point at that location, instead of using the direct click-where-you-want-a-gravity well control scheme that is default. That works, but the default style is better, or would be if this game locked the mouse to the screen like all other mouse-and-keyboard platformers on this list so far have done. Ah well. Also, this game is on the short side; there are only 24 levels, and again they are not too long. This isn’t a super-hard game, either. Still, Defy Gravity Extended is a fun game that’s well worth playing. This may be a low-budget game, but it’s a fun, moderately challenging puzzle-platformer with some good gameplay and mechanics. I like trying to figure out how to get through each stage. The price is right too, as I got this game on sale for 30 cents, and it’s on sale often. I recommend this one, it’s good. Also available on XBox 360 Indie Games, while that is still up.
Duke Nukem [aka Duke Nukum] Episodes 1-3 (1991, DOS) – saves, gamepad supported. The original Duke Nukem is yet another great platformer from Apogee Software. This is the first title in what would become a very popular series. When I was a kid my parents thought that this game sounded too violent, so I wasn’t able to play it then, and I never did go back later on and play a lot of this game. It’s great stuff though, and playing it for this list reminded me of that. But when I finally did first try the game, I remember thinking something like ‘this is it?’ Because while Duke 3D would indeed be that kind of hyper-violent game, Duke 1 isn’t like that. Yes, you are a muscular 1980s action-movie star parody character, but there’s no blood in this game, and next to no women either, sexualized or otherwise. Duke does have amusing quips in the games’ few cutscenes, but those aren’t as edgy or macho as the sequels; it’s more generic stuff. In the first game’s intro he mentions beating the games’ villain, Dr. Proton, in time to go home and watch Oprah… heh. I can’t see the Duke 3D Duke saying that. So yeah, the character was a work in progress at this point, but that’s fine, this is the first game! And I, at least, kind of like this less over-the-top Duke.
As for the gameplay, it’s familiar Apogee exploration-heavy platform-action, but with a few twists. Your actions are traditional: you run at a quick pace, jump, and shoot. You have only one gun, and it has infinite ammo. Running this game at full speed in DOSBox, you zip around quickly, and the game feels really good to play. Level designs are good too. As in some other Apogee games levels are large and multidirectional, and you need to explore around to find the numerous items you can collect for points, and also the way to the exit. You’ll need to find keycards and circuitboards to get past locked gates as well, so exploration is the name of the game here. But unlike a game like Keen, there are absolutely no instant-death pits in Duke Nukem, which is fantastic! You also have a health bar in this game, so you don’t die in one hit, either. All enemies or shots will hurt you, though, so do watch out. Still, while there are many traps, laser floors, and such, with VERY few exceptions, those won’t kill you in one hit. It’s not hard to find health in the levels, either. Even so, Duke Nukem is a reasonable challenge, as you will take hits and levels are long enough that avoiding damage is often important. The difficulty here is well-balanced, apart from those times you get frustrated at not knowing where to go in a level. Sometimes I have wished for some kind of map or radar system here, but you’ll just have to memorize things. Ah well. Still, the game keeps things fun. You have infinite tries from the beginning of the last level, too, and can save anytime and continue from the start of the level you’re currently on.
The game mostly runs well, too. Programmer Todd Replogle may be a bit odd, and unfortunately retired from programming to sell real estate and then move to Thailand, but he mostly did a great job with this game, though apparently John Carmack did help out. The game runs in 16-color EGA, but it does have parallax scrolling, which is pretty nice. The art design is solid; it’s not Apogee’s best, for sure, but it looks good enough, and the variety of enemies, environments, and items keep things varied as you progress through the three episodes. It looks fine, with various broken cityscapes to explore and weird aliens and robots and such to shoot, but there is better out there. However, the framerate is low; you move around fast, but play is never smooth and that is distracting. This game runs at something like 11fps, and while it is entirely playable once you spend some time with the game, the framerate is a big negative for me. For sound, the game has PC Speaker-only sound effects with no music, so the audio presentation is basic. This game released after Apogee’s first game with sound card support, Replogle’s Dark Ages, so it is disappointing. On that note, I really love Dark Ages, it’s always been one of my favorite Apogee games… but more on that game much later.
But as for Duke Nukem, it’s a good game I quite like. The game plays well, low framerate aside, and levels are well-designed and fun to explore and find stuff in. This game is good to great for sure. Still, Duke Nukem 1 isn’t one of Apogee’s best, and Duke Nukem 2 is better than the first game, but Apogee made so many fantastic platformers that that is a high bar indeed. Duke 1 is well worth playing, though do stick with it long enough to get used to the slow framerate. The game has a physical release from 1991, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms’ website. I have the 3DR site version, and it’s mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.
Duke Nukem II (1993, DOS) – saves, gamepad supported. I covered this game earlier in the physical-games section, and it’s the same exact thing here. Duke Nukem II is a much better-looking and sounding followup to the original game above. As average as I find the original, Duke II is a fun game. The basic gameplay is similar, but with smoother gameplay, much better visuals, and music, the experience is more fun. If you are going to play a 2d Duke game, play the second one. Sure, it still can be frustrating at times, and the game still doesn’t run completely smoothly, but it’s mostly fun, as you explore, shoot, and collect stuff for points. The game has a physical release from 1991, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms’ website. I have the 3DR site version, and it’s mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.
Dust: An Elysian Tail (2013, WinXP+) – saves, dual analog gamepad supported (xinput only). Dust is a good indie sidescrolling action-RPG developed by indie studio Humble Hearts and published by Microsoft. As it’s not a platformer it probably shouldn’t be on this list, but for some reason I decided to include sidescrolling action-RPGs and run & guns on the list but not 3d action-adventure games, so here it is. It’d probably be better to leave these out, but I decided otherwise, so here is Dust. This game is set in a world of furries, anthropomorphic animal-people, and you play as a lone warrior animal-guy, Dust. Naturally, he has amnesia, and you are on a quest to figure out who you are, and defeat the evil hordes along the way. At the start of the game Dust is found by a talking sword and its kind-of-annoying ‘guardian’ Fidget that I mentioned earlier, and off you go. Your quest is centered around one town and the area surrounding it. There is a story, with some decent to good voice acting and an okay plot, but the main focus is on the action. The story’s fine for what it is though; it’s cliche, but works well, and I did want to see what would happen next. The character art is a potential negative here for some, and I do dislike a few things about it, your companion Fidget’s design particularly, but the game mostly looks quite good. But still, Fidget… why is she naked? I get that she’s some kind of fairy fox-bat thing, but everyone else has clothes even though they’re fur-covered, so it looks weird. But apart from that, the visuals are good. This is a nice-looking game, with good hand-drawn backdrops with some variety and plenty of well-designed monsters to fight. This game was mostly made by one guy, so everything has a consistent look to it, and it’s mostly well drawn. The music is pretty a good orchestral-style score and fits the game well; I like it.
But the main focus here is on the combat. The area the game takes place in is infested with monsters, and fighting is the core of the game. You can slash with your sword for a normal attack, use some Dust moves, one of which spins your sword to swirl enemies around and another which allows you to zip around in the air left or right attacking enemies, and have Fidget shoot out little magic bolts. Her magic is very weak on its own, but combine it with a Dust move and it swirls all around, hitting all enemies nearby for much more damage. A combo counter encourages you to keep attacking enemies. You can also dodge-roll left or right. Combat is fluid and feels great; indeed, the fun, fast-paced, and mobile battle system is the main reason why I like this game. The controls even work decently on keyboard, though a gamepad is recommended. It’s not the most complex thing, but it sure is fun, and there is challenge if you want it. I find this game a lot more fun than, say, Muramasa; that game gets repetitive quickly in a way Dust doesn’t. The default difficulty isn’t too hard, but play on Tough and this game’s a good challenge! In all difficulties there is no way to heal besides using healing items, you see, and in Tough you take a LOT of damage each time you get hit, so take a few hits and you’ll be in trouble. I like playing this game on the harder setting, as it really demands you learn to dodge to survive. The challenge is good, because this game isn’t too long otherwise. It’s a fun challenge, and I probably do like the game more on Tough than Normal.
The games’ world is centered around that one town, but this isn’t an open Metroidvania. Instead, each level is a separate area, and you travel to a specific one for each mission, or freely to explore. Areas do have branching paths though, and you will need specific items you get later in order to access some areas of earlier maps, so there is a Metroidvania-styled element to the world design. Fortunately what you need to do to progress is usually straightforward enough to not be frustrating, but I was wondering what to do a few times. Ah well. There are no bottomless pits in this game, though levels are not flat; there are many jumps, vertical areas, cliffs, and the like, the threats just come from enemies, not pits. That fits this genre well. As for the RPG element though, it’s somewhat minor. You do have experience and level up, with one point to assign each level up, but there are only four categories to upgrade and a maximum of five points in each one, and which you choose doesn’t seem to make a huge difference. Still, having choices is great, I like that. You also get money and various other random items dropped by enemies. Money’s use is obvious, you can buy stuff in stores scattered around or from people in the games’ one main town, but items come in two categories, healing items, equipment, and the like, or crafting-style materials you can sell to stores or use for quests which require them. I do not like crafting, but there is no guesswork here; you just sell the right materials to the shopkeeper or bring stuff to the person in question, pay them, and you get the item. It’s simple enough, though figuring out how to get some items can be tricky sometimes. Overall, Dust: An Elysian Tale is a pretty good sidescrolling action-RPG with good graphics and sound for the most part, a good, fun combat system with great speed and mobility, a decent-sized world to explore, and a nicely variable difficulty, covering people who want it either easy or hard. I definitely recommend this game, it’s good. This game was initially published by Microsoft digitally-only for PC (on Steam) and Xbox 360 Live Arcade, but the developer later also ported it to Mac and Linux on Steam, iOS, and PlayStation 4, all also digital-only releases. I also have the X360 version, and it’s pretty much identical on both platforms.
Earthworm Jim 1 & 2: The Whole Can of Worms (1996, DOS) – password-only save, gamepad supported. Earthworm Jim 1 & 2, from Interplay, is a compilation of the original two Earthworm Jim games that were originally developed by Shiny. Released a year after Activision’s Windows 95 port of the original game, this title includes both the first and second games, but oddly enough is for DOS instead of Win 95. For most of my thoughts on the first game, see the summary of the Win95 version above, in physical games. Now though, I will discuss the differences between the Win95 and DOS versions of Earthworm Jim, as there are changes between the two versions. Aurally both have the same CD audio soundtrack, but this version has more color on screen as it’s based on the SNES version while the Win95 version is based on the Sega CD. However, animations aren’t quite as good as in the Win95 version. Also, there are more levels in the Win95 version, as this DOS version copies the SNES’s level set, which is missing several stages from the Genesis/Sega CD versions, and also does not have the new level added to the SCD/Win95 edition. This version also has password-only saving, instead of the save file of the Win95 version. Overall, this version of Earthworm Jim 1 is a good port, but I do think the Win95 version is better. As for the gameplay though, EWJ is the same decent, but sometimes frustrating, game that it always has been. I’ve never loved this game, though I don’t hate it either; it’s just okay, a great-looking but flawed game with loose controls and hit detection and sometimes frustrating gameplay and level designs.
As for the sequel, unlike the first one, Earthworm Jim 2 isn’t a game I have ever spent a lot of time with. I may not have loved it, but I did own EWJ1 in the ’90s, so I played a fair amount of the game. I didn’t own this game until I got this collection as a digital download a few years ago, though, and even then never have played much of it, so playing it for this summary is one of my first serious attempts at the game. I have always heard that EWJ2 is a less straightforward game than the first, with many more gimmick-based levels with weird mechanics. That can be good, as for example Donkey Kong Country 3 is my favorite of the three SNES DKC games even though it has the most themed, “gimmicky” levels, but I love the mechanics of that series throughout. That’s not true with EWJ, so I’ve never thought I would care too much for this game.
And indeed, playing it now, while EWJ2 has a great orchestrated CD soundtrack and beautiful graphics and great cartoon-style animation for something that is a port of a 4th-gen console game, the controls are still flawed and the game is frustrating. And as with the DOS version of EWJ1, this one also has password-only saving, sadly. The basic gameplay in EWJ2 controls the same as it did in the first game, with no improvements beyond adding a switch-weapons button. That weapon-switch addition is very useful, but that’s the one improvement, so hit detection is still iffy and movement control sometimes a bit hard to judge. As with the first one, this is a graphics-before-gameplay game. But indeed, unlike the first game, where most levels played normally, most levels this game have some kind of gimmick. Within just the first few stages you see a normal level where you run, jump, and shoot as you did in the first game, a quite annoying stage where you’re on a stairlift having to speed up or slow down to avoid falling old women, a not-very-good shmup level, and a level where you play as a flying cave salamander and have to navigate a maze where touching any wall damages you. It continues like that, with many entirely different sections, not all of them good. And the regular platformer stages aren’t great either, just like before.
Still, the game has some strengths. The variety can be cool to see, the graphics and music are really good, and the game can be fun; EWJ2 isn’t bad, just somewhat disappointing. I wish that Shiny had improved the controls though, they could have used some work, as could some of the level concepts here. Overall, Earthworm Jim 2 is a below-average but okay game that fans of the first one definitely should play. People like me who never did love Earthworm Jim won’t be convinced by this one, though. As for this collection as a whole, the digital version on GOG is a cheap and convenient way to play these games, but I can’t quite recommend them, not with all their flaws. EWJ1 is also available on many platforms; see the full list in the Win95 version summary. This version is unique though, with the SNES’s reduced level set and visuals but the Sega CD/Win95 soundtrack. EWJ2 is also available on Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation (in Europe only on PS1), though there are small differences between this version and those two, and without the CD audio on SNES, Genesis, and Game Boy Advance. The Genesisversion is available on Wii Virtual Console.
Electronic Super Joy (2013, WinXP+) – saves, gamepad supported (dinput supported). Electronic Super Joy is a stylish but flawed linear-path platformer by Michael Todd Games with pixel art, a good sense of visual style, good music, some poor choices in the audio department, and irritating gameplay. You are a shadow figure in a world of black interact land on brightly colored, but monochromatic, backgrounds. This game is very much in the “very hard games” school, but while some of that challenge is because of fun, interesting levels, the challenge also comes from random chance elements and the games’ often-frustrating controls. Your basic actions are running and a single jump. You attack by slamming towards the ground. Your jump is oddly slow and has a weird sense of momentum to it, so it will take some time to get used to jumping in this game without ending up in a pit half of the time. There is a trail behind you showing your path, but even so, the jumping in this game is odd in a way I don’t like. Your attack is also an issue, as you go straight down, VERY fast, so you can only attack while over a platform or you die instantly, as you also die if you touch any edge of the screen, so falling won’t drop you back a bit, you just die and restart from the last checkpoint. You’ll be doing that a lot, as anything you touch also kills you, and judging if you are over a platform or not, for attacks, can be tricky and near-random. In addition to normal ground, obstacles include enemies which move back and forth; turrets which shoot straight and of course are in a location where you can’t attack them; other turrets which shoot incredibly annoying homing missiles at you which are tough to avoid and can come at you in large numbers, and of course the turrets are in unreachable locations and very common; many stages with auto-scrolling to make things even tougher; and more. There are also warps that send you elsewhere in the stage, bounce stars to bounce high on, single-use bounce arrows, slimy surfaces you stick to, keys and doors, and more. All of these elements combine together for interesting jumping puzzles sometimes, but other times they are very frustrating. It’s a mixed bag, probably a little more bad than good.
The game does look good visually, though. Electronic Super Joy’s look, with almost all-black environments with only the occasional white highlight, such as your characters’ eyes or the slime on slippery platforms, looks great against the colorful backgrounds. Each level has a single-color theme, and backgrounds are simple with lots of broad beams of color, and the overall look has a great style to it. The music is good stuff too. It’s pounding techno, one of my favorite kinds of music, and it’s great here and fits the game well. The sound effects don’t work as well, though. For some reason, as the name suggests, this game has random, and inappropriate, sexual moaning in the background on a regular basis. There are moans and sounds from people of both genders, but still, why the heck would you do that, it doesn’t fit with anything in the actual game and only serves to distract and make the game look juvenile. There is a “PG” mode which disables this stuff, but still, why is it here at all? And that censors out part of the story too, though the story is pretty bad so that’s not so much of a problem, I guess. More positively, though, the game does have a good feature set, with plenty of built-in levels in several modes, DLC addons for more content, and a map editor for if you want to make your own levels. The game also keeps track of your best times, and which this is mostly an entirely linear game focused on just getting through each level as fast as you can, levels do have a collectible star to find off somewhere in a tricky-to-reach location, so there is replay value if you want to improve your times and get the few collectibles. Overall though, despite some positives, I didn’t like Electronic Super Joy all that much. It is addictive at times even when it’s frustrating, that I admit, but with the random-chance deaths, weird controls, frustrating missiles, and iffy, juvenile audio, I can’t quite recommend this one. People who like masochistically hard games probably would like this game more than I do, though. Also available, digitally only, on Mac and Linux on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U, and there is also a followup of sorts for all those platforms plus iOS and Android. The computer versions have paid DLC, but the Wii U version includes it free.
Fly’n (2012, WinXP+) – saves, gamepad supported (dinput supported, but with issues). Fly’n is a very artsy platformer by Ankama with a beautiful art style reminiscent of LocoRoco on the PSP and platforming with a strong puzzle component that centers around your ability to flip between two viewing modes which make some platforms and collectables appear only in one mode or the other. You play as four cute creatures, a blue birdlike thing, a green plant creature, a red one, and a black one. You start with just the blue one, but gain another in each world of the game. Each of the four has an exclusive power, but all can do the basic running, jumping, and mode-switching. Your goal in each level is to reach the end, and levels are mostly linear, though there is some freedom along the way if you want to explore and try to find all of the collectables. The great graphics are the first thing you’ll notice, though. Environments are rich and detailed, the art direction is great, and every area looks rich with highly-stylized life. Red areas or objects are dangerous and will kill you, so avoid them! There is a lot of background animation too, and I like how while there is no speech in this game, when you help out the other cute animal characters they cheer up and happy background animations play. It’s great stuff. The soundtrack is also good. It’s calming, atmospheric instrumental music and fits the tone of the game very well. Now, these art-first games sometimes play great and other times do not, but while Fly’n may have better graphics than gameplay, the gameplay’s pretty good too; this is a good game all around. The puzzles, controls, and design are all good. Indeed, the game controls well, as your movements are responsive.
So, to get to the end in each level, you’ll run, jump and double jump, push things around, float, use your current characters’ exclusive action, and flip between the two view modes. The blue character can sing to activate things; the green one can attach to walls, to climb to otherwise inaccessible areas; black can bounce, even on danger zones; and red can air-dash. This is a nonviolent game with no real enemies, though there are plenty of those red spiky areas to avoid. Sometimes red stuff will fall at you as well, be on a moving platform, or such, though, so obstacles are not only static. I really like the design here, becuase there’s more than enough to focus on with the platforming and mode-switching; adding combat on top of that would be unnecessary. It’s also nice to see a non-violent platformer for once. If you do die you just respawn at the last checkpoint, which there are several of per stage. Some stages also allow you to switch between two characters at checkpoints. The game starts out easy enough, but at 40 levels this game has decent length for a game like this, and it does get hard as you progress. This may be a puzzle-platformer, but you will need good twitch skills to get through some areas. Still, it’s a fun challenge.
The view-flipping is the most unique element in Fly’n. Most of your environment is the same in both modes, though the color palette changes in each, but some white lines become tangible platforms in one mode but background objects you can move through in the other. Some are tangible in one mode, and others in the other. This leads to many puzzles where you have to quickly switch modes in order to get through a maze of white barriers. Optional collectibles also only appear in each view. There are a lot of these little collectables in each stage, and you’ll need to thoroughly search through stages, checking both views, to find them all. Many are easy to find, but getting all of them will require finding hidden areas and figuring out some trickier optional puzzles. The game also keeps track of how fast you finish each level, for some additional replay value. To conclude, Fly’n is quite good. Figuring out how to move boxes around white-line barriers, jumping between platforms while switching views mid-jump, hunting for collectables, and figuring out the tougher puzzles of the later stages is all both fun and a good challenge. With great art, a somewhat original mode-flipping mechanic, plenty of variety, and fun gameplay, Fly’n is well worth a look if you like this style of game.
Freedom Planet (2014, WinXP+) – saves, gamepad supported (directinput supported). Freedom Planet is a pretty good platformer made by GalaxyTrail, a Sonic the Hedgehog fan team. The basic concept here is inspired by the Genesis Sonic games, as you run around, fast, with anthropomorphic characters in a really nice-looking 2d world full of heavily Sonic-styled level design elements. This game is no clone, though, it’s it’s own game in both good and bad ways. Visually this game is perhaps more 5th-gen than 4th, as it makes heavy use of sprite scaling. It’s more like a Saturn 2d look than Genesis, I would say, and it looks great. Gameplay-wise, the biggest difference is that you can only attack enemies in this game with melee attacks, not by jumping on them. So, this is a more combat-focused game than the classic Sonics are. There are three playable characters in this game, all female, a nice change from the all male playable cast of the Genesis Sonics. There is a male character still being worked on, but he’s playable in time trial mode only in a beta version of the game.
Unfortunately, unlike the Genesis Sonic games but like newer Sonic entries, this game has a story, a fairly voluminous one. The cutscenes are long, sometimes very confusing, and aren’t always interesting either. The basic plot, of the four main characters, led by heroine dragon-girl Lilac, fighting against an evil alien trying to take over and ruin the world is simple enough, but there’s an attempt at a deeper plot here, but it often makes little sense. Characters talk to each other as if they know eachother and you should know the context of their conversation, but there is no context, nothing to refer back to to make what they’re saying make sense! And the cutscenes are long, too. A patch apparently cut down on them a little, but they’re still long. Classic Sonic cutscenes are seconds long at most, and that’s all a game like this needs. I know many Sonic fans like the overdone drama of modern Sonic, but I rarely have, and seeing that kind of thing in this 2d game reminds me again of how much better the classic Sonic games are, story-wise; less is sometimes more. There is an Adventure mode which ditches the cutscenes, though, so you could stick to that, but Story mode has some interesting features, such as different level orders and level-sets for each character. There are ten levels in the game, a good number, and the different level sets in story mode add some nice variety. Adventure mode just goes through all ten regardless of character, with only a few short cutscenes.
The controls are Sonic-inspired, but aren’t Sonic. Beyond the combat system that requires you use attacks to damage enemies instead of jumping on them, you also have a health bar here, and will need it for the very tough boss fights. Levels have Sonic-styled loops, moving platforms, scattered enemies, pads to activate things, springs, and the like. There is a physics system, but it’s different from Sonic, as you can keep running up a vertical wall even if you’re moving pretty slowly, as opposed to Sonic where you eventually fall off. This is just different, not better or worse, but I noticed the change. You also have blue crystals to collect, though they aren’t health, unlike Sonic’s rings, just points and such. There are also some other collectables, such as harder-to-find ones that unlock things in the Gallery mode, and some for time-limited special abilities such as invincibility. For controls the game uses three buttons, for jump and your two attacks. The two main characters’ attacks are a basic melee attack and a more powerful one that uses up a meter that automatically recharges, though the other characters are different. Levels are well-designed and are a lot of fun to explore, and each looks entirely different. There are some puzzle elements, maybe on the level of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, to add a little variety and I think they fit in well.
I do have one issue here, though — there is a huge disparity in challenge between the levels and bosses. In any game like this where you can move so fast that there’s no hope of always being able to see where you are going this is a very difficult balance to make, and bosses excepted Freedom Planet focuses on fun first. I do like that there aren’t any instant-death pits in this game, and that spikes are kept to a minimum, but this only enhances the lacking challenge, particularly in the early levels; without those two things you don’t have the frustration of some Sonic games, and that’s kind of great because that’s a big problem for instance in the GBA and DS Sonic games, but you also don’t have much challenge, as enemies aren’t much of a threat most of the time either. I believe that all of my deaths in this game so far have been against bosses or minibosses, and never in a level, and that says something. While this game is pretty good, and it is satisfying when you finally figure out a boss and beat them, I prefer it when a games’ levels and bosses are proportional in challenge, instead of the huge gulf between the two you see here. This is one of the reasons I love The Last Blade 2, it doesn’t have that common fighting game issue of “suddenly the last boss is nearly impossible after the other enemies were easy once you know how to play”. And for one more critique, while levels are fun, they are long; each of those 10 stages should take at least 20-40 minutes. Sometimes these stages drag on a bit long; Sonic levels are much shorter. Still, Freedom Planet is mostly a pretty good game, and exploring the stages, finding stuff, and figuring out the bosses is mostly great.
One other nice feature about the game are that each of the playable characters is quite different. The core mechanics are similar with all of them, but each is distinct. The main two characters each have seven hit points. Main character Lilac can jump and sort of fly in an aerial attack in her stronger attack that uses the meter, while her friend Carol can climb walls and find a motorcycle powerup to ride on, but her meter attack is still just melee-range, though it does have some invincibility. Climbing walls is great fun and makes level traversal easier, but Carol’s more limited melee-only combat range makes boss fights harder with her. The third character, Milla, is unlocked after finishing level two, and she’s even more different, as she has less health than either of the others, only four hit points, and is a mage: one attack button does a basic melee attack, and the other summons a green blob-square. Then you can toss the square to hit an enemy by hitting that button again, or hit the other button to do a stronger forwards attack. It’s fun stuff. She also can jump very high, though she can’t wall-jump. The last character, the guy, is different yet again.
Another strength of this game are its very good visuals. The large sprites, very colorful environments, parallax scrolling, sprite scaling and rotation, and transparencies all look fantastic, and give this game a 5th-gen feel to it, as I said earlier. The sprites are also detailed and very nicely animated; I like little touches like the spin when you grab on to a ladder you were just about to go past. This is a pixel-art platformer, but it’s a different kind of pixel-art look from the usual pseudo-NES style of a lot of pixel-art games, and the results are impressive. The soundtrack’s also good chiptune-style stuff. As for the characters they are all furry anthropomorphic animals. It’s good that there are no humans present, really; mixing the two doesn’t work well in the 3d Sonic games. Overall, there’s more to Freedom Planet I haven’t seen yet, but I like what I’ve seen. This is a sizable game with a lot of content, several characters to play as each with their own story mode, and good gameplay and graphics. The game has a few downsides, including the confusing story and uneven difficulty disparity, but there’s a lot more good than bad here. Freedom Planet is good and I definitely recommend it. Digital download only. The game is also available on Mac and Linux on Steam, and also on Wii U eShop.