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June 2024

Planet Of Lana

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Thunderful
Developer: Wishfully
Release Date: May 23, 2023


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PC Review - 'Planet of Lana'

by Cody Medellin on May 22, 2023 @ 5:00 a.m. PDT

Planet Of Lana is a puzzle adventure with a hand-painted art style, companion-based gameplay, and an epic sci-fi saga that stretches across centuries and galaxies.

The puzzle platformer is an ideal genre for storytelling in video games. It immediately gets away from the negative connotations associated with the term "walking simulator," while also being agreeable to those who don't like visual novels. We've seen games with a strong narrative work with Journey, Inside, and even with the absence of humans with Stray. Planet of Lana is the latest attempt from Wishfully and Thunderful in using the genre to tell a story, and it is also the latest to do so masterfully.

You play the role of Lana, a young girl who lives with her older sister in a peaceful fishing village. After a visit to their parents' grave, they witness what appear to be scores of meteors falling to the planet. Those meteors turn out to be robots that kidnap Lana's sister and everyone in the village. Alone, Lana gives chase and soon discovers Mui, a cat-like creature trapped in a box. After freeing Mui, the duo sets forth across the planet's many environments to rescue everyone who was taken by the machines.

The setup for the tale is familiar enough, but there are two things that set apart Planet of Lana from other titles. For one thing, the game uses its own language. You won't hear too much chatter, but when you do, it's in a unique tongue. The lack of an easily understandable language actually enhances the scenes since you have a better idea of what kind of emotions the scene is trying to convey versus having to interpret it. Additionally, the story progresses in a way that defies expectations. Without spoiling anything, it takes some twists that aren't done purely for shock value, and it crafts an interesting narrative as a result.

The gameplay is built on three main components. The platforming works well when you keep in mind that you're just a young girl instead of someone trained for this kind of thing. You can't jump too high or too far, and you can't run faster than a trotting speed, but it rarely matters since the game doesn't ask you to do anything beyond your capabilities. Get near a ledge, and the game knows to let you grab on instead of letting you fall to your death. There may be some floppy physics with ropes, but it never gets out of control. All of this is helped by the game's responsiveness, so any jumps you miss are squarely on you.

As for the puzzle elements, the best analog would be the early games in the Oddworld series. Some are basic, like the simple switch puzzles or ones where you need to move something to reach a higher place. Others get trickier, like interpreting a foreign script or using other elements to figure out where certain items need to be placed to open a door. Many of these puzzles have you commanding Mui to sit in places to activate switches to produce light or extend natural platforms for climbing. You can also command the creature to follow you or move to places you can't reach to push something or activate switches so you can progress. Along with some other abilities we won't mention, the controls for Mui are easy to use, and the constant presence of on-screen prompts ensure that some button combinations will never be forgotten.

On a side note, Planet of Lana does a good job of ensuring that Mui isn't a burden beyond given situations, like their dislike of water, something most cat owners know that all too well. Give it no commands, and it does a great job of staying out of danger, a big plus considering the game ends when either Mui or Lana dies. There's no situation where they actively run into danger or where you need to carry them in areas that don't involve large bodies of water. Commands are easily followed, and they don't take longer-than-expected routes to destinations. A good chunk of the game can be considered one giant escort mission when you consider how much time is spent with Mui in tow, but their presence never ends in accidental level restarts.

The third element that's more nuanced than its contemporaries is stealth. To be fair, this isn't something that's advanced as what's seen in a modern stealth game, but the simple act of hiding in the grass creates tense situations. Being spotted usually means instant death unless you can crawl into small spaces quickly. There are a few tricks you can perform, like using Mui to burrow through tunnels so they can distract robots while you sneak by to safer grounds or sneak up behind a wild boar so you can make it kill itself and use the corpse as a platform to higher ground. Stealth is intermittent but appears often enough to add some excitement to the puzzle platforming.

The game doesn't have you solving puzzles and taking leaps and hiding all of the time. There are moments when the game takes a page out of walking simulators and lets you soak in the environments that you encounter. They're still interactive in that you're in full control of Lana, so you get to control how long the scenes go on for. Some are moments with some lore, and others are eye candy, but they all give the game a movie-like feel without resorting to non-interactive cut scenes.

The only issues with Planet of Lana are bugs that occurred when dealing with a flying robotic sensor. The first was when we tried to make it go through a tight space. The in-game radio signal cut out as a way to convey that the machine shouldn't go there, but the machine never flew out of that area, creating a situation where you couldn't regain control of it until you restarted the checkpoint. Luckily, checkpoints are so numerous that we restarted just as we were taking control of that machine. The second bug we encountered was when we placed Mui on a similar machine to cut wires from above. We had the machine land on a tilt instead of completely flat, and calling on Mui to come resulted in the creature refusing to move until we took control of the machine and landed it perfectly. Those annoyances were brief and rare enough that they didn't hamper the enjoyment of the game.

The adventure itself should take slightly less than five hours to complete, depending on the player's proficiency with stealth and puzzles. The lack of multiple endings means most people will be done once they see the credits, but those willing to explore a little more will find an extra in the form of 10 different pieces of a mural. Unlike some games that also have collectibles that aren't essential for game completion, the mural adds some extra lore, but you can miss it and still be completely fine.

The presentation for Planet of Lore is top-notch all around. Though it isn't in a familiar language, the voice acting conveys some universally understood emotions. The music by the composer of The Last Guardian conveys the mood of each given scenario and punches up the vibe of the environments and cut scenes. Stealth scenes are accompanied by music that ratchets up the tension, while desert sunrises are accompanied by soothing ballads that punctuate the beauty of the world. The score is good enough to warrant a full soundtrack album. Graphically, the game evokes Limbo with its vistas and use of zoom to accentuate puzzles. Whether up close or far away, the characters remind you of a more cheery version of Playdead's big indie hit. The environments have a watercolor look that is reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film. The lighting and reflections create some awe-inspiring scenes, while the game easily maintains a high frame rate even on a lower-spec machine with no hints of dropping.

Steam Deck users will find the game to be well suited to the system. The game defaults to a High preset with an uncapped frame rate, but the device has no problem delivering a mostly steady 60fps throughout various environments. The few brief dips are only noticeable if you have a frame rate counter. The few bits of text are highly legible, and the battery life yields about two-and-a-half hours on a full charge — though with some audible fan noise in some of the more graphically taxing places.

Planet of Lana is a pleasant surprise. It tells a compelling story with some unexpected twists, and it does so without the need to utter a word in a language we understand. The puzzles aren't obtuse enough to be frustrating, while the platforming never feels imprecise. To top it off, the presentation both looks and sounds amazing. Unless you dislike the entire genre, Planet of Lana is easily a contender for any "best of" lists this year.

Score: 9.0/10

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