Lovely Planet is a hard game to review. Not because it’s unplayable; it runs great. Not because it’s an abstract genre; it’s a first person shooter with platforming like Quake II. No, it’s hard to review because I know there will be an audience for this game, but I am not part of it, and the vast majority of gamers will likewise not be actually interested in playing it. At first you’re lulled into a sense of security with the game’s trailers making it look to be almost a Flower-like shooting experience. Everything sounds so calm and zen, the combat looks so simple, and it is all a complete and utter lie on par with Spec Ops: The Line‘s PR campaign that tried to sell it as a game aiming to beat Call of Duty instead of the emotional insanity that it truly had in store. Except there’s no message here, other than that if you thought Dark Souls was tough, you’ve got another thing coming. Lovely Planet makes Dark Souls feel like the most forgiving game in existence, and beats your head against a wall just to make sure you don’t forget it.
Lovely Planet is first and foremost a shooter. Almost every interaction with the environment that isn’t jumping from platform to platform is firing your semi-automatic “gun” (water hose? spitball shooter? magic wand?) at various enemies while they shoot back at you. You’ll shoot enemies, environmental obstacles, flying exploding apples, boomerang bullets that you have to shoot in order to keep them from flying back and hitting your hindquarters — and it all requires an incredibly high amount of speed and accuracy. Much like Hotline Miami, you die in a single hit. Much unlike Hotline Miami, your only hint as to what is to come through the level is a “Look ahead” option by pressing the F button. After that, the game expects you to be able to catch things like three apples flying up at once behind you while you have to keep jumping forward while not losing momentum. That’s from one of the early levels in World 2. It only gets more difficult from there, and what’s more, you are limited to just one weapon. One weapon that can accidentally kill civilians and platforms needed to jump with a single misfire resulting from your weapon’s loose accuracy. There’s not a targeting sight, reticule, or anything to help you aim, so you have to spray and pray or when in a tough shot, just pray your single bullet actually abides your request to hit the enemy and not the civilian right next to him.
The platforming, like every first person platformer built around a system similar to Quake, is as you’d expect. You can abuse it sometimes to get to high ledges unintended, the physics are a bit floaty, and really bunny-hopping is what it comes down to. There’s not much else to say, other than the game really would do better to have movement and aiming be completely separate. That way players could at least aim from the hip instead of constantly shifting keys while maintaining the right direction and momentum to get through some levels.
Despite some of the best level design I’ve ever seen being contained in some of the game’s levels, this game has no concept of fairness. Any potential slip-up sends you back to the beginning and it does in the most annoying way possible. Not only do you get no feedback as to what caused your failure, but every time you have to press a button to say “yes, I b***** well want to try again”. If the game had, God forbid, a life system, then I would understand including such a thing, but that’s not the case here. If I haven’t hit the quit button, I want to try again, stop asking me. Being hard is one thing, but being tough but fair is another. It’s incredibly easy to make a game that is masochistically hard. It’s incredibly hard to make a game that is masochistically fair, like Super Meat Boy, Hotline Miami, and/or Dark Souls. All of those games give clear feedback as to what beat you. A wary player can keep their eye on the entire situation, encouraging the type of play you want in a game like this. Each scenario builds in difficulty slowly but steadily instead of jumping up and down haphazardly like levels were thrown from a folder last minute.
Instead of doing any of those things, the game is like a harsh teacher expecting you to learn a whole quarter of your Geometry textbook in one sitting. If you get a single question wrong, you start it over again and keep doing it until every question is right. It doesn’t matter if you gain nothing from it because its all shoved down your throat so fast, with so little attempt to make the experience pleasant. In fact, you’ll find days later that you’re already forgetting things because of how inconsequential the information was made to you. Instead of leaving a strong impact that will influence others, it just leaves you with time lost and a gap in your lifetime experiences. Some day you’ll forget it ever happened, other than a small footnote of annoyance in your mind. Only the small niche who enjoy this kind of tortured perfectionism, that even some speed runners might balk at, will find enjoyment in it. I imagine it’d also be funny to watch someone rage about the frustrating difficulty but there’s no motivation for you to get it. Just like Goat Simulator, it’ll be something you see on Youtube, watch for a bit, and then never think about it again.
Still, even if on a game design merit the game fails, is there anything else artistically redeeming in this? Well, if you enjoy repetitive “calming” music that is anything but relaxing after the tenth time its played through, there’s that. Even the game’s art direction, which at first looks fantastic, just kind of makes me want to squint my eyes due to the sheer contrast and brightness of it all. The simplistic style never really seems to amount to anything, and the constant inclusion of oriental text leaves a lot of the world without context. The small amount of English included makes what little story is there very confusing. Is this a modern story? Is it an allegory to some real world events? I couldn’t tell you even as I try right now to piece it together. The menu system even has an awkward control scheme, and as something I will keep saying to my grave: If it’s on PC why not just use a regular menu with the mouse for navigating?! Why do developers feel this urge to fix something that was never broken? Why? Just why?
There is a good game concept here, but there’s almost no balancing or final polish here. I wish this concept had gotten the QA and further support it clearly needed. If this was something on Early Access, and this was the opening bid for interest, that’d be one thing. Instead, this is a final product, and while the developer has already patched in a few features like leaderboards, I have a really hard time recommending this to anyone other than the truly masochistic gamers out there. You have to love trying something over and over again to the point of insanity to really get your money’s worth out of this one. It’s sad it comes to this, but Lovely Planet is anything but lovely.
Despite a clear passion for the first person shooter genre, Lovely Planet lacks the polish and balancing a proper FPS needs. The game’s ironic happy tone feels like the game is smirking at your frustration, and every element just adds to the frustration. Many cheap deaths don’t help soften the fact that any innovation and variety in the game is simply in the ways in which you are killed. Even if the game sports some great levels, they are too thinly spread out amongst many more that should have been given more time. Only a select few will find redeeming qualities in a title of this variety.
Moment of Artistry
When the level design flows properly, it’s a rush of speed and precision.
+ Some great level design
+ Definitely an original concept
– Incredibly repetitive
– Controller-smashingly ill-balanced
– Unpredictable difficulty curve that follows no rhyme or reason
– A soundtrack that gets on your nerves much too quickly
Lovely Planet is available on PC through Steam.
This was a review was conducted with a review copy provided by the developer QUICKTEQUILA.