The journey of a thousand miles begins with an image in Photoshop. Or at least, that’s what happened with Planet of Lana in 2017. It took Wishfully, a small Swedish indie studio, almost six years to finally complete Planet of Lana. They wanted to stay true to their roots of making a hand-painted game featuring a strong relationship in its gameplay mechanisms. Is the final result worth all that time invested? We can say a resounding yes, but let’s delve into it in our Planet of Lana review.
Planet of Lana features a girl working alone against an alien menace, and in that way, it does resemble both Playdead’s Limbo and the classic Another World. But, she’s not exactly alone, her companion is Mui: a cute little black creature who can be ordered to do a few things but, for the most part, acts independently. The relationship between the two, much like Fumito Ueda’s classic titles ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, is at the heart of most of the mechanics and puzzles.
The planet where Lana lives, Nova, has been invaded by huge machines which seem to be intent on kidnapping everyone, while also destroying the wildlife. Delivering an epic story through environmental narrative and subtle references, Planet of Lana leaves the narrative in the background. This does not diminish the scope of the places you will visit but allows relationships to come to the front. While Mui and Lana connect regularly as part of the gameplay, perhaps a more direct narrative event would have worked better. At one point, the two even get separated and Lana barely seems to notice.
The gameplay, inspired by Limbo and Another World, gradually builds up its puzzle variety throughout the game. At the start, it is just about simply using the environment to traverse places. Later on, Lana gets the chance to directly control some of the alien machines in various ways – for example, as a platform to get Mui to places or to kill dangerous aliens. As a companion, Mui works pretty much perfectly, never getting in the way but instead always being helpful. The puzzles are wonderfully integrated, too, never feeling obtuse thanks to very slight clues that deliver hints rather than bashing you over the head. Planet of Lana definitely rewards a player’s attention, not missing out on small details. But, it is also smartly designed to be enjoyed by everyone.
I am less of a fan of the quick-time events in the game, which come up rather unexpectedly. While they make sense in the context of an action scene, other times they seem an excuse to get the player involved, especially towards the end. The QTEs are used in such a manner that just feels like “gameplay filler”, rather than developing a more fleshed-out mechanic. It is especially noticeable since the puzzles are crafted in such a way as to bring Mui and Lana together. The quick-time events, then, are just there. Luckily, they are only used three or four times throughout the game, so they don’t detract too much from the experience.
It is definitely the atmosphere and world-building that Planet of Lana does masterfully. Thanks to beautiful and relaxing hand-painted visuals, the overbearing alien menace sometimes takes the backseat. Ditching Limbo’s overbearing horror and the inescapable danger of Another World, Planet of Lana keeps the atmosphere light. Thanks also to the score by the Last Guardian composer Takeshi Furukawa, it feels firmly planted in its Ghibli-like universe. Sure, Lana is alone and everyone has been kidnapped, but she’s clinging to hope. Sometimes, that can be all you need to crack a smile even in the toughest times.
The sound design is also exceptionally done. I liked the Italian touch, since the sound designer and voice actors are all from Italy. The Lana and Mui interactions are just perfect. I’m especially fond of the random little sounds Mui does and Lana laughing. These little moments are inserted naturally here and there, lending a very lighthearted feeling even to the grimmest moments. We are united with Lana in our inability to understand the (few) people we meet. But these limited interactions immerse the player, lending, both her and Mui, a whole lot of personality and character.
Planet of Lana does nothing new, both in its narrative and gameplay mechanics, but frankly, it did not need to. The game flexes its muscles by fully immersing the player in a faraway world that resembles our own but functions differently. Hand-painted graphics, sound design, soundtrack and so many small details tell more about the story in a wonderfully subtle way that lore lovers will gel with. The debut by Wishfully Studios is a little gem which refreshes the heart and spirit, bringing a smile to even the most hardcore gamers. Planet of Lana is an engrossing odyssey which begs to be experienced.
Our Planet of Lana review was made possible with a key by Plan of Attack PR. Planet of Lana is available on Xbox One | S and Steam.
Planet of Lana: Planet of Lana is a 2D platformer which immerses the player in a far away Ghibli-like world that will surprise and warm the heart of even the most hardcore gamers. – Damiano