Despite being a former Megadrive fan boy I really hate Sega. In recent times the pioneers of the Dreamcast have incurred my wrath as they have refused to localize awesome games such as Valkyria Chronicles 3 and Phantasy Star Online 2. Worst of all is what they have done to Sonic the Hedgehog. Under Sega’s inept management, the spikey blue speedster has gone from being one of gaming’s most beloved mascots to becoming the poster child of shovelware. From what I hear Sonic Boom was woeful, but I wouldn’t know as I have given up on the character since playing Sonic 2006. That game’s excruciatingly long load times and plethora of glitches makes the PC port of Arkham Knight look competent.
Sega have seemingly forgotten what made Sonic such a big hit during the 16-bit era, but thankfully their bad case of platforming amnesia does not extend to Stephen DiDuro. The founder of indie studio Galaxy Trail, thanks to the wonders of Kickstarter funding, has managed to deliver a high-octane platformer that encapsulates the spirit of Sonic’s adventures from the early nineties. If you seek a fun 2D platform game, akin to the days when collecting emeralds with the aid of a twin-tailed fox was all the rage, I recommend rummaging through Steam and giving Freedom Planet a download. If console gaming is more your style fear not, as a Wii U release is due out imminently.
Freedom Planet takes place on an alien world populated by anthropomorphic critters (it’s a furry’s wet dream come true.) The game’s three playable characters are Lilac (a dragon who resembles a cat-girl), Carol (a green wildcat who looks like a chameleon) and Milla (a humanoid hound whose long ears give her the appearance of a bunny.) The heroic trio are on a quest to stop the nefarious Arktivus Brevon who has recently crash-landed on their home world. Brevon leads an army of interstellar invaders who seek to nab the Kingdom Stone (a precious relic that is responsible for powering the entire globe’s technology.) What a heartless fiend! If he succeeds in pilfering the stone how will the cute bipedal animals recharge their video game handhelds and smartphones?
Like in the Sonic classics of yore, Freedom Planet sees players traverse from left to right across fast-paced 2D stages that are guarded by an assortment of mechanical monstrosities. The lengthy levels, which can take twenty minutes to complete, offer various routes to explore plus an assortment of obstacles to overcome. Some sections for example have you scouring for key cards that unlock sealed doors whilst other locations will have Lilac and chums swimming through underwater tunnels (keep an eye out for air bubbles or you may well drown.) One difference between Sonic and Freedom Planet is how damage is handled. Freedom Planet is a more challenging game as it employs a traditional health bar. Take one too many hits and you will lose a life, unlike Sonic who is nigh on indestructible whilst in the possession of a power ring.
Perhaps I am influenced by nostalgia, but I have to say that Freedom Planet is a blast to play. It’s creative level designs, colourful pixel art and catchy soundtrack remind me of the fun times I had as a teen crushing Dr Eggman’s robots. Whether you are someone who desires a retro Sonic like experience or a player who appreciates good platformers I can highly recommend giving Freedom Planet a go. A single play through will take you around five hours to complete and there is plenty of replay value given that the three playable characters all handle very differently. Beginners should start off with Lilac, as she is the easiest to control thanks to her Sonic-esque spin attack and speed dash. Carol is fun to play as given that she can climb walls, ride a Harley and smack enemies with Chun-Li like kicks. Milla is the character I had the toughest time with. Her ability to fly over pitfalls, by flapping her elongated ear lobes, is neat but on the offensive side of things I found it hard to target enemies with her energy beam or the gelatinous blocks she can summon.
Aside from the gameplay I also have to say that I enjoyed Freedom Planet’s story and the performances of its voice cast. The tone of the narrative is reminiscent of the 1993 Sonic cartoon (the good one – not Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.) The story segments are well worth watching, but if you’d rather not be interrupted by inter-level cut scenes there is a classic mode available that skips them. Being able to tinker with the game’s settings is always welcome. In addition to turning the cut scenes on and off it’s also possible to adjust the game’s difficulty. Crank it up to max for some challenging boss fights or switch to casual for a relaxing run that bestows you with regenerative health.
If Sega had any sense they would hire Galaxy Trail to develop the next Sonic game. Freedom Planet is exactly what fans of the franchise have been clamouring for and it easily surpasses any of the recent Sonic releases. I doubt that Sega will change their ways however. Like a red echidna the company seems to be run by a complete “Knuckles” head.
FINAL RATING: FOUR AND A HALF STARS