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Freedom Planet

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, WiiU
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: GalaxyTrail
Release Date: Aug. 30, 2018


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Switch Review - 'Freedom Planet'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 12, 2018 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Freedom Planet is a fast-paced combat-driven platform adventure that pits a spunky dragon girl and her friends against hostile foreign powers and alien attack forces.

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If you want proof that a fan game can be prolific with a few tweaks, look no further than Freedom Planet. It started life as a Sonic the Hedgehog fan game but eventually morphed into a standalone title and released on Steam in 2014. It got a ton of success there, which eventually led to a Wii U release in 2015 and the PS4 in 2017. Before the sequel hits next near, the game is making one last stop to the Nintendo Switch, a platform that has proven to be very welcoming to old indie PC hits.

On a faraway planet, three major kingdoms are fighting for a mystical artifact known as the Kingdom Stone. Like many ancient artifacts, the stone is powerful enough that if it falls into the wrong hands, it can spell doom for the entire planet and beyond. Unfortunately, a space tyrant named Lord Brevon has come for the stone and has taken over a kingdom in hopes of kickstarting a war to uncover that treasure. Meanwhile, a pair of friends, Carol the Wildcat and Lilac the Dragon, see an airplane being shot down and come to the rescue. They reach the pilot in time, help him get back on his feet, and find the stone so it can be protected from evil.

What sets apart Freedom Planet from most platforming games is the dark narrative. You'll be surprised to see a beheading in a game filled with cute anthropomorphic animals. The plotlines about aliens trying to stop a tyrant and the tyrant tricking his hypnotized captive into declaring war goes deeper than most stories in the genre, and that's a good thing for anyone looking for something a bit unconventional. At the same time, the game doesn't completely drown in serious darkness, as there are moments that can elicit a chuckle thanks in part to the dialogue between the main cast members.

From the moment you start up the game, you can immediately see the Sonic influence at play. Levels are quite large, with tons of alternate pathways to take and quite a number of enemies impeding your progress. Springs are strategically placed in areas to help you reach new places, and the levels have loads of twists, loops, and vertical spaces to traverse. There are a few puzzles present, but most are of the switch-and-block variety, and none of them are especially brain-teasers. Shields are present and give off a variety of different effects, from simple hit protection to being able to attract nearby artifacts. Speaking of which, artifacts are mostly in the form of blue petals, which litter the world and act as both a rough guide on where to go and give extra lives once you collect enough of them.

With that said, there are a few interesting things you can find in these stages that make it feel different from its inspiration. For starters, the worlds that these stages occupy are broken into several small parts, so you could have four sections instead of two. Some of those stages also feature separate rooms, giving the stages some more exploration depth compared to your typical platformer. The stages rarely feature bottomless pits, so it becomes quite difficult to kill yourself by accident. Bosses also show up more in the middle of a stage rather than at the end, so even though it throws off everything you've learned about platformer pacing, the disruption is welcome. Finally, there are several cards hidden away throughout the level that let you open things, like music tracks and sound bites in the gallery.

The similarities to a Sonic game really come to a screeching halt once you start controlling your heroes. Each hero has something familiar you've seen from heroes in Sega's franchise, but they're also different. For example, Lilac has a spin dash that's mainly used to propel herself into the air and bounce off walls if necessary. She has a melee attack and a double-jump that allows her to spin and damage foes at the same time. Carol also uses melee attacks, but she also has the ability to wall jump and call on a motorcycle at parts of a level to go fast and climb up walls. Milla can fly for a bit by flapping her ears, but her biggest change is that she can generate shields for herself and conjure blocks out of thin air for her attacks.

The basic mechanics of each hero are also very different. Almost all of those special moves, like the spin attack and the dash, are governed by a special meter that refills quickly but limits you from spamming the same move in rapid succession. You don't lose your blue petals when hit, but you pick up quite a number of red petals that act as a health meter of sorts, since that's what is depleted every time you get hit. The most prominent change is the removed focus on speed. You can move through the level at a decent clip, and movement allows you to scale vertical walls. You only fall when you stop moving, but the pace means that you feel more in control of your actions instead of sometimes letting momentum carry you through gaps and other obstacles before you realize where you are. The de-emphasis on speed results in a focus on the platforming, which some players felt was lost in the blue hedgehog's adventures.

Freedom Planet comes with two modes that are similar but also wildly different. Adventure mode lets you play all of the levels but adds fully voiced cut scenes to help the story move along. It is a very cinematic adventure using the in-game graphics to help tell the tale, and the title takes advantage of that by providing at least an hour of cut scenes. What some people may dislike is that the overall length of the cut scenes means the pacing is done in fits and spurts instead of continuing at a steady pace. For those who miss the old-school feeling or those that don't care much for story, Classic mode strings together the levels in a more traditional manner, thus making it accessible for both types of fans.

Initially, the presentation mimics the look of a Sega Genesis game. The limited color scheme works to the game's advantage as far as mimicking the look of the classic system, and the art style is certainly reminiscent of Sonic, but what you see here is more expressive. There are little bits of the animation that make you think the game is going for the Sega CD look, with some additional scaling effects. The audio sounds richer than what any system of the time could produce. The effects are proof of this, as is the soundtrack that tries to sound like a Genesis game but often plays more instruments than the system was originally capable of. There are also plenty of voices in Adventure mode, and their performances are good enough for an indie title.

Four years after its initial Steam release, Freedom Planet still stands as a good modern interpretation of the classic platforming formula. The multiple characters play differently enough that it's worthwhile to replay the game to see the different pathways and use different strategies to beat bosses. The two main modes do a good job of pleasing players who value narrative and those who prefer action, and the nice presentation solidifies Freedom Planet as a good choice for platforming fans.

Score: 8.0/10

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