There are two kinds of people in this world. Okay, there are more than two, but humor me. There are those who order something new every time they go to a restaurant, constantly seeking new thrills and experiences, and there are those who opt for the same restaurant and the same dish every time they dine out. If you find yourself in the second camp more often than the first, then Planet of Lana, a new cinematic platformer from Wishfully and Thunderful Publishing, is aimed squarely at you.
If I was feeling unkind, I'd say that Planet of Lana feels like what would happen if you asked an AI to generate a cinematic platformer. It's got everything you'd expect from this genre: a small child exploring a dangerous world (accompanied by a cute animal, natch), big scary enemies representing the march of technological progress, and lots and lots of switches to weigh down with boxes. It's an adventure that feels at once breathtakingly beautiful and formulaic, one that can't seem to escape the specter of its forebears.
Planet Of Lana Has A Familiar But Compelling Story
You are the titular Lana, a young girl living an idyllic life in a seaside village on an alien world. One day, giant spindly robots invade and lay waste to your village, kidnapping its inhabitants in the process. Somehow spared from the carnage, you set out to find out what's happened to your village and hopefully get your best friend back as well.
The story in Planet of Lana feels simple and involving.
The story isn't quite dialogue-free in Planet of Lana. Characters speak an invented language that put me in mind of Team Ico's games. It's endearing enough, although it can occasionally border on twee, and the fact that there's no real-language dialogue means the story in Planet of Lana feels simple and involving.
Planet of Lana approaches background storytelling in the best way, too. If you want to, you can pay attention to the weird five-note musical sequence the robotic enemies keep chirping at one another. You can ask what the murals you find in the cave mean. You can wonder at the nature of Mui, your little animal companion. Alternatively, you can just focus on the puzzles and the platforming. Planet of Lana lets you be as involved in its story as you want, and that's a virtue.
Gameplay In Planet Of Lana Feels Formulaic
Unfortunately, those puzzles and platforming don't fare nearly as well as the story. The puzzles feel pretty basic, for the most part. I'm not particularly skilled in the art of puzzle-solving, but none of Planet of Lana's situations gave me pause for thought for more than a few seconds. It was always obvious what the solution to each puzzle was and how to achieve it.
In basic terms, Planet of Lana is a puzzle-platformer akin to games like Playdead's Inside or Facepalm's The Swapper. Imagine those games crossed with Ico and you're most of the way there. Puzzles mainly consist of finding ways for you and your partner, a small...creature called Mui, to work together. You might need to get Mui to reach a button you can't reach, for instance, or pop him on the top of a robotic creature to avoid a fan that will otherwise blow him away.
While Planet of Lana's puzzles are usually straightforward and obvious, that doesn't mean they aren't fun. The core gameplay is weighty and enjoyable, even if the animations are occasionally a little wonky. Mui is a clever little thing, and Planet of Lana smartly has you come to rely on him for puzzle solutions, which endeared me to him organically. This is a solid puzzle-platformer that rarely puts a foot wrong.
Sadly, because Planet of Lana rarely puts a foot wrong, it also can't achieve a result in the opposite direction. The puzzles were fine, but rarely so engaging that they excited me. One or two "aha!" moments aside, I remember Planet of Lana's puzzles mostly as a hodgepodge of switches, stealth sections with instakill robots (ugh), and jumping on ropes. Occasionally, Planet of Lana comes alive with a giant spider setpiece or a particularly beautiful moment of environmental storytelling, but for the most part, it feels like a fairly rote experience.
Planet Of Lana Is Beautiful, But Hollow
Luckily, if you do become a little bored by the puzzles (as I did) and a bit too confused by the story (as I also did), then you can choose to simply stop and stare at Planet of Lana's scenery. This is a truly beautiful game. Its painterly art style evokes the works of Studio Ghibli, and its character animation is fluid and well-implemented. Planet of Lana is simply a joy to behold.
Planet of Lana never once surprised me with a setpiece or an enemy design.
Despite its beauty, though, there's a blandness to Planet of Lana that feels hard to escape. Everything about its setting feels obvious, somehow. From the spidery design of its alien creatures to the spindly and spherical robotic enemies, Planet of Lana never once surprised me with a setpiece or an enemy design. Instead, I found myself saying "well, obviously" a lot when encountering a new creature or new mechanical design.
The story itself feels a little hollow, too. Without wishing to spoil, its conclusion feels nonsensical and unearned. An interesting setup gives way to half an hour or so of intriguing tonal shift during Planet of Lana's final levels, but the way that tonal shift is resolved left me cold. Elliptical storytelling is all well and good, but I felt that the groundwork had not been done, and so the story's supposed payoffs didn't feel satisfying.
Of course, there's every chance I just didn't understand the clues the story threw in my face, and it's not difficult to understand at all. If the narrative in Planet of Lana works for you, then you'll find a very agreeable puzzle-platformer here, one that will provide a good few hours of fun for you. If not, though, you might find yourself getting fatigued by the repetitive gameplay loop and story that feels just a little too pleased with itself for being so darn abstract.
Planet of Lana | Final Thoughts
It's difficult not to recommend Planet of Lana if you're a cinematic puzzle-platformer fan. It does everything exactly as you'd expect it to; hits most of the requisite emotional beats (strange ending notwithstanding), offers exactly the amount of eureka moments you think it does, and sticks around just long enough not to get boring. To me, though, Planet of Lana feels strangely unambitious.
It seems content to stand in the shadow of its influences - Ico, Heart of Darkness, Ghibli movies - without ever really finding an identity of its own. "Just fine" probably isn't what Wishfully and Thunderful were aiming for, but hey, it's better than being captured by a spider robot and sent to the great sphere in the sky.
Planet of Lana was reviewed on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developer over the course of 4.5 hours of gameplay. All screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Looks gorgeous
- Great environmental storytelling
- Some solid puzzles
- Does nothing new
- Conclusion feels unearned
- Feels uninspired