REVIEW / Lovely Planet (Wii U)

 

Since its early days on PC, QuickTequila and tinyBuild Games’ first person shooter has baffled and outwitted players into endless hours of repetitive button smashing and trigger twitching. And we loved every minute of it. Lovely Planet lures you into its world of comfortingly childish blocks of pastel colors before brutally showing you who’s boss. It looks like a child’s soft play area, but runs like a war zone.

 

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Your weapon is a bow that fires purple cubes at your angry looking enemies, who come in a number of different shapes and sizes. Using this trusty stick, you must speed run through each level, wiping out all enemies, leaving the neutral characters untouched, stopping any red apple-like spheres from touching the ground, making each intricate jump – all while the clock ticks on. The complexity of the moves required from the player increases as you progress, until they become almost out of the question.

Herein lies one the central beauties of this game. One of the best skills that video games can transfer into real life is the ability to attack a seemingly impossible goal until it is achieved. This is the central gameplay mechanic of Lovely Planet, and the level of satisfaction it produces after the constant repetition of the level and the arduous practice and memorization is unparalleled. It sees you through the next impossible goal anyway.

 

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It’s very much a game for the player. You work out what move it’s asking you to do. You work out how you do that over a series of practiced repetitions. And finally, you master every move in that level and proceed. Whether you put the time in is up to you, but it’s half the game. With the PS4 and WiiU release, you can inhabit this world anew. The console controllers make the required precision and timing a whole new challenge. The aim has been significantly improved from the PC version – a necessary change – but the challenge is a little greater on consoles.

 

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The speed and necessity for repetition lulls you into a trance-like state; your fingers begin to learn the grooves of the level by themselves, and each loss hits you like a smack in the face. This trance-like state is only augmented by the stark simplicity of the graphics. It’s obvious that this is a title all about gameplay, and so block colors and rudimentary shapes are the order of the day.

Nevertheless, it’s a welcome visual style when considering the complexity of the gameplay’s requirements. Too much detail to marvel at would simply be wasted, and would certainly overpower the addictive simplicity of the mechanics. It’s all too easy to label a game bad if it doesn’t utilize the same graphical prowess as its contemporaries, but you can’t judge one game by another’s rule book; the graphical style of Lovely Planet is in keeping with the game’s central play between the fiendishly simple and the terrifyingly complex. Plus, in this port to consoles, the cut-and-dry approach to color is sparklingly crisp on a good screen.

 

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While Lovely Planet looks better than ever on the big screen, the music remains a bit of a let down. In a game that is as frustrating as Lovely Planet, requiring levels to be practiced over and over, it’s difficult to understand why developers have assigned a single looped theme song for every course. The mute button is quickly called to duty, otherwise the sickeningly happy tunes would have ended the life of both this player and their console.

Another point to make is the total lack of plot. Online, the developers have certainly covered this, explaining that it entails “a story so abstract, it’s not told at all”. Though some direction would have been desirable to contextualize your bow-wielding efforts, Lovely Planet just isn’t the type of game that requires a plot. Tetris never had a plot, we don’t argue with Mario Kart‘s lack of context, so it doesn’t detract from the overall experience of the game – it just would have been nice.

 

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Despite the lack of plot, there are still a number of narrative elements (in the loosest form of the word) in the forms of things like player scoreboards, high scores, stars for completing a level in a certain way, and the progression from one level to the next. Each world is pretty similar to the last, however each one adds a new element to gameplay – you are consistently improving in Lovely Planet and you feel like a master for it at the end. Short cuts and nifty moves can halve your run time too. So while speed is emphasized, there is an element of exploration. With so little to lose between runs it’s easy to spend hours checking every crevice for secrets across multiple runs.

Overall, Lovely Planet still stands as a shining example of why not to judge a game by its cover. On the outside we see a possibly infantile Nintendo-esque coloring book, but one run is all you need to realize you’re actually dealing with a mind-bogglingly intricate interplay of mechanics and maneuvers. It’s wryly self-conscious in its overall appearance and structure – it insinuates that no matter the hype of the game, you are always still shooting colors with other colors.

 

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