Freedom Planet is a game by Galaxytrail that will remind any 90's kid of a certain blue hedgehog. In fact, the force behind this game will not deny the inspiration. This is where the similarities end, however. Artistically, Freedom Planet has a Sonic The Hedgehog look about it, but the game play and voice acted story is where this game really shines. The music score is also quite enjoyable. Unlike a Sonic title from the Genesis era, Freedom Planet is less gotta go fast and more exploration focused.
The moment you launch the game, you're greeted with a cinematic that sets the story in motion. All is peaceful until a sudden ambush from space men attack the kingdom of Shuigang. While valiant, the invasion proves to be too much for the soldiers, and many lives were lost - the prince forced to watch his own father be assassinated before his eyes. From this moment on, it's a race to the legendary Kingdom Stone to restore the balance of power. Though the game uses 2D pixel art, Freedom Planet features a nice cast of voice actors who've lent their voices to make up an enjoyable experience from start to finish. Some of the acting is a bit over the top, but that adds to the charm.
As you progress, you'll encounter some interesting characters, such as Mayor Zao of the city Shang Mu or panda rival General Gong of Shang Tu. Other notable characters are Torque the "shellduck", Prince Dail's criminal half-brother Spade, The Royal Magister who is the wise spiritual leader of this world, a panda priestess by the name of Neeri Li, a snake mercenary called Serpentine, Syntax, an artificial life form aligned with the main antagonist and of course, Lord Brevon. This is the guy you're going to be throwing multiple lives at.
Beginnings may seem grim, but it's not an indicator of the general vibe of the game. There are instances in which the plot goes from serious to comic relief and this is a good thing. Lilac and Carol make for some witty banter while Milla provides the sugary diabetes. Zao and Gong's rivalry is also silly. Gong comes off as a clumsy oaf at times while his nemesis has an ego bigger than Texas. No, really, the little guy oozes charisma, it's great! Of course, you need the rock, a solid support character. While not playable, Torque is your go to guy that assists you throughout the game. You'll learn he plays a bigger role than he lets on upon meeting him for the first time.
So, who are Lilac, Carol and Milla? They are the playable characters that you'll start your journey with. In the case of Lilac and Carol, you have access to the adventure mode, stages plus voice acted cutscenes telling a story. Milla lacks an adventure mode and has to be unlocked. Regardless of who you've chosen to start your adventure, you'll unlock Milla either way.
Each heroine has their own set of abilities that makes a play through with each a unique experience. With Lilac, you are essentially the agile character. Jump spin attacks and dragon boosts are your primary forms of attack. Fans of the double jump ability will like playing as Lilac. Technically, the dragon girl lacks a traditional double jump, but her cyclone attack gives extra altitude all the same.
Carol...scratches. She's a wildcat afterall! Fans of in your face combat will enjoy this green feline. She is feisty and is not afraid to show it, the cutscenes give that away easy. Lacking in a double jump type ability, she more than makes up for it with physical strength and motorcycles. Locate a red gas can in any stage as Carol and you'll be granted a sweet motorcycle that defies physics and is just all around cool. Aside from being the only character with a vehicle, Carol also has the ability to jump from special pads and scale walls. She packs a mean kick, too.
Milla is Freedom Planet's "hard mode" if you will. Physically, she's weaker with her health bar being a fraction of the other two characters. Taking as little damage as possible is imperative as Milla. Besides lower health, Milla also lacks a direct attack. Instead, she conjurers up blocks to throw at the enemy and a special shield. Certain enemy attacks can be deflected with a well-timed shield summon. Of the three, Milla is able to flutter out of harms way using her over sized ears for momentary flight. In canine fashion, this pup is able to find hidden items in patches of dirt via digging. Besides her ability, Milla is also able to pick up certain objects to hurl at enemies. Be careful not to hurl an extra life or a health pod at a bad guy and accidently throw it off the level.
Utilizing the 360 controller, controls were tight and there wasn't much of an issue of not feeling in control. Other controllers should be able to work fine as will your keyboard. Either method of input will allow you to enjoy yourself. Freedom Planet has vibrant visuals and cute characters, but if the gameplay isn't there, a pretty title can fall short. The verdict? As someone who has been gaming since the NES era and considers the SNES one of his favorite consoles, it's right up there. If I had to list a platformer from the 90's that I'd consider to have the best controls in regards to character control, it'd be Super Mario World. Freedom Planet comes close and is easily a solid platformer that you can get into immediately. Standard platformer fair is still in effect with many things to collect such as gems, shields, extra lives and cards. You'll have to revisit the same stages with different characters to collect them all.
While saving the world is a bit cliché, it's how the story is told that matters. In the end, feuding kingdoms come together for the greater good to stop an invader from disrupting their way of life. There are moments that will make you roll your eyes and then there are also moments that'd make you feel empathy with the characters. I'm not going to spoil the story, you'll have to play the game for yourself to appreciate the character dynamics. It's not as long as Super Mario World or as easy, but to be mentioned in the same category of a legendary title speaks volumes. Yes, visually it's closer to Sonic, but I'm not denying the tight aspect of some early 2D Mario games.
Speaking of difficulties, don't let the bright colors fool you. All that glitters is not gold. Or in this case, all that is cute is not easy. One of the appealing things about Freedom Planet is the game difficulty. You will die. A lot. At least on your first play through. That doesn't equate to the difficulty spike being on par with Cat Mario. What it does mean is that it's a wise idea to focus on enemy patterns before blindly charging into action. Once you have the enemy patterns sorted out, it helps tremendously on not racking up points on your death counter. That's right, your deaths are kept track of. Consider this an incentive to hone your skills.
Overall, It was fun playing a game that would have been right at home during the bit wars of the 90's. With the various achievements and scaling, yet rewarding difficulty, Freedom Planet is a game you can easily sink a multitude of hours into. Upon defeating a difficult boss battle, you feel a sense of accomplishment and this is how you know you've made a well designed game. The only main things to fault are lack of a multiplayer of some sort and that the levels can be a bit long if you wish to save your progress quickly. If anyone from Galaxytrail is reading, a sequel is more than welcome! Perhaps some sort of feature involving Milla's background or find out what became of Torque. Just throwing out some ideas.
Freedom Planet is a throw-back to a classic era of gaming that should appeal to not only old school fans, but the new generation as well. On it's own, Freedom Planet was already a strong entry for it's genre. However, the little touches like voice acting and an awesome music score really push this game. If you don't mind trial and error to familiarize yourself with enemy patterns and collecting, Freedom Planet is worth checking out. For any readers interested, the game can be found on Steam with a demo also available.
Just for grins, have some videos showing off alternate dialog and even a message to those who "acquired" the game through questionable methods.
This game was purchased by a friend as a gift as was the official soundtrack, it remains my favorite gifted title to date.