Planet Alpha (Switch eShop) Review
One thing that the Switch isn’t lacking is games, with a lot of genres covered. One genre that has been seeing a decent amount of Switch action is the narrative based side-scrolling puzzle platformer (try repeating that quickly five times). Now Planet Alpha has landed and is putting a retro sci-fi spin on things.
You start off as a faceless, nameless person in an old fashion sci-fi space suit. It’s unclear what is happening at first. Traversing a mysterious alien planet during a sudden robot invasion, you find yourself running, jumping, solving environmental puzzles, and most of all surviving (with plenty of dying in between). Between the robots that want to stop you (and any other living thing really), there’s also native flora and fauna that can help or hinder. Planet Alpha throws a lot at you; for 6-7 hours I found myself on the run for most of it.
Every now and then I would just stop and soak in what was going on in this wild world. If you’re looking for much of a story of what’s going on, you’re not going to get much. Some of the going-ons can be pieced together from background events, or you can figure it out via the path your character is taking over the course of the game. But even then you don’t have a lot to go off of. The main goal is to survive Planet Alpha.
The alien world of Planet Alpha looks so good. You’ll see it at great heights and navigating and surviving its depths. The world looks truly alien as you explore the different ecosystems. The environment and creatures do a lot to create the setting. Across your adventure, you’ll see all kinds of wildlife; colourful creatures flying around, aggressive insect creatures, giant majestic beasts like the flying whales. My favourite is the giant, long-neck, dinosaur-esqe herbivores just going about eating leaves while you’re running for your life. Early on when the robots showed up I was a bit worried that there might be too many things going on at once, as some moments are just visually busy. But while lots can go on at once, it never felt like it was too much, Planet Alpha kept finding set pieces to throw in that ramped up what was going on without it ever being a distraction. The music further enhances the alien sci-fi feel. Atmospheric and spacey during the less intense moments, building up its intensity along with the action. It always seemed to suit, and like good gaming soundtracks just added to the atmosphere, the developers wanted to create.
While 6-7 hours isn’t necessarily a long time, Planet Alpha felt it could’ve done with a little trimming down, and been an even better 5-hour game. What’s there is good, great even, but one of the few issues I found with the game was that some sequences dragged on a little too long before a change in scenery. I found some of the sequences could get a bit buggy also, although nothing big. I hit a few points where something should’ve happened but didn’t. Upon respawning it was usually all fixed up. While moving around generally feels pretty good in the game, it would stop feeling as fun during more fiddly jumping sections. In some cases, it was a jump falling just short, or when required to sliding jump it looks like you’ve cleared an obstacle only to be killed. Overall I enjoyed the movement in Planet Alpha, especially with how much you’re on the run, or just keeping moving. The jumping issues felt pretty minor. The more frustrating issue was the inconsistency with the puzzles and stealth. From early on, it’s shown that you need to sneak by and avoid the robots, so that’s how you largely treat future encounters. When you’re spotted and start getting shot you’re usually done for.
Further into the game, you’ll have encounters where the only solution is to engage with the robots to make the puzzle work to keep pushing forward. Now it’s not to say that puzzles shouldn’t challenge you in this way. If they were all solvable the same way then it would get boring and it’s not unusual for games to subvert expectation. But a handful of moments feel like it’s poorly communicated, while on the other hand there are some puzzles that are telegraphed by what’s happening in the background. It’s more enjoyable when it feels you’re putting two and two together and not just butting your head against every option. How are the puzzle elements of the game overall? Most puzzles revolve around pulling stones to reach ledges out of reach and manipulating the time of day/night. Alongside with working out how to stealthily get past the robots, there isn’t much variety and feel more like sections to slow down the pace rather than providing a tough challenge.
Other puzzles rely on controlling the day and night pattern. For well over an hour I didn’t even realise I had the power all the time because it just wasn’t needed. Then it really came into play, areas where moving time forward or back would shift platforms or certain plant and fungal platforms would appear. Initially, when coming across these kinds of puzzles it was kind of cool. Then after doing very similar puzzles for a while, the mechanic overstays its welcome. But I will say that it looks pretty neat with it all rushing by as the time of day changes.
Planet Alpha is a beautiful and fun fast-paced puzzle platformer. It was fun working my way across the lush yet dangerous world. There’s a few annoying bits and pieces, but the good far outweighs those moments. If games of this genre usually feel a bit short, then the good news is that Planet Alpha lasts over 5 hours. If you’re into side-scrolling platformers with puzzles added in you should check it out.
-Beautiful alien environments
-Platforming works well mostly
-Some sequences a bit too long
-Some inconsistent stealth puzzles