Working for Kindred Aerospace, the fourth-best interstellar exploration company in the universe is no easy task. You're unceremoniously dumped on to a foreign planet filled with alien flora and fauna with nothing but your space suit to protect you from the exotic landscape and its inhabitants. It's entirely up to you to prepare yourself for the journey ahead. You'll need your wits and jumping finger primed and ready if you hope to make it through the vibrantly colourful world of AR-Y26.
Following a brief no-frills introduction, you're left to your own devices to traverse your way through the four main biomes that make up this alien planet. You'll have to wander the world in search of a way forward. Journey to the Savage Planet follows the tired and true Metroidvania formula as you'll have to search the alien world for suit and weapon upgrades to forge new paths ahead. From the moment you leave the ship for the first time, you're presented with numerous obstacles and terrain you won't be able to access, but the necessary upgrades to unlock the path ahead are never far away. From a double jump to a grapple, there's not really any unique powers or abilities. Still, they serve the purpose of opening up previously inaccessible areas, allowing you to progress further through the quirky world.
There's plenty of variety between the four different biomes with each offering different traversal and enemy challenges. One may see you using a grappling hook to swing between floating islands while another will have you grabbing luminous plants to light your way through a dark cavern.
The game definitely feels like it was created with co-op in mind, but due to limited codes, I was unable to test the co-operative component during my review. It's unfortunate that I wasn't able to try out what seems like the best way to play, but the game does still have its fair share of fun for solo players. It may feel a bit aimless at times with not much in the way of narrative hooks to drive things forward.
A lot has been said about the humour in Journey to the Savage Planet, but I think this will be more of a mixed bag for most players. Sure, the opening FMV lead to a few bursts of air from my nostrils, the game never really made me laugh out loud more than a couple of times. Everything just feels a bit juvenile and slapstick with the brunt of jokes being based on your interaction with the world and creatures around you. Slapping or kicking a cute little critter into a meat-grinder plant is amusing the first time, but the novelty wears off rather quickly. There are also a bunch of FMV adverts you'll hear each time you visit the ship, and some of these are a great tongue-in-cheek jibe at our culture today.
During your adventure, you'll be accompanied by a smart-talking and incredibly chatty AI (you can turn down the frequency in the options menu). Some of the dialogue here is funny, but again, it all starts to feel a bit samey, a tad too fast. My playthrough took me just over eleven hours to see the end, and I honestly can't say I feel any need or desire to go back and explore every nook and cranny. The story ends with a bit of a whimper, and there's just not enough there to entice players to spend more time than necessary on planet AR-Y26.
The gameplay is straight-forward and feels like a blend of games like No Man's Sky and Subnautica as you're tasked with traversing, scanning and killing your way to the credits. As the lead colonizer of the planet, it's up to you to catalogue the wildlife and plants around you, all while harvesting their cute little bodies for crafting materials for upgrades. Upgrades like a ground smash or the ability to carry "bombergranites" open up previously inaccessible areas and can also be used during combat to make things a bit easier. Not that it's vital, as combat is about as straight-forward as possible. Early enemies can be killed with a simple slap or a few shots of your gun and it never really gets too much more involved. Sure, some enemies may require you to destroy an outer-shell with an acid bomb before you can kill them or you may have to use your dash and jump abilities to avoid more nimble predators, but each encounter usually plays out mostly the same - dodge, bomb, shoot and repeat.
There are a few more interesting boss-type battles peppered throughout, which adds a welcome change of pace to the proceedings, but these are generally over a bit too quickly. One early fight, in particular, saw me jumping from platform to platform to avoid a giant bosses attacks, all while shooting its glowing weak spots. It's fun, but the lack of any real oomph to combat makes it all feel a bit stale before the credits roll. I can see some of the more intense fights being a lot more fun with a buddy at your back, but again, I wasn't able to test out the game's co-op prior to release.
One aspect I really did love is the game's music. Right off the bat, I was strangely reminded of Toonstruck, an old point-and-click PC game I played as a kid. The twangs of the western-sci-fi soundtrack just fit so well with the game and are quite possibly my favourite part of the whole experience.
Graphically, Journey to the Savage Planet is a bit of a mixed bag. The world is vibrant and colourful but somehow feels rather static. Grass blows in the wind, but that's about it. While slapping a health plant will see it shedding its large baked-bean-looking seeds to heal you, slapping the majority of other plants in the game does absolutely nothing. They don't even move, which makes most of the surroundings feel like glorified set-dressing. Animations for AR-Y26's numerous inhabitants are fine, but it all starts to feel a bit samey as you slap or kick yet another slightly different variation of the pufferbird for the hundredth time.
Don't expect any really challenging puzzles either as most solutions involve an upgrade or some platforming to progress. Platforming here is also a bit of a mixed bag. The games double-jump has a propensity to overshoot you, leading to plenty of falls and deaths. Thankfully death is little to no deterrent as your body is quickly reprinted at your ship. Thanks to plenty of fast-travel teleporters, you're never more than a few minutes from recovering your lost materials from your previous body. I would have loved the platforming to feel a bit more precise, but it is serviceable nevertheless.
I also found it a bit frustrating when having to gather one of the three main resources to craft upgrades. To get these materials, you'll either have to find mineral deposits or kill creatures for their materials. It can be a bit annoying when you've found most of the mineral deposits and have to spend the better part of fifteen minutes killing minor enemies to meet the upgrade quota. It feels a bit like artificial padding in an already short game.
If you go in with your expectations in check, and a co-op buddy (no split-screen), Journey to the Savage Planet is sure to be a fun little diversion, but that's about it. I can't see it gaining the cult-like following titles in this vain occasionally gain, and I don't think I'd ever go back to experience it again (this is coming from someone who played over a hundred hours of No Man's Sky at launch, and has sunk in many more since). While the world and it's relevant humor will surely appeal to some, once my time was up and I had seen everything AR-Y26 had to offer, I was well and truly ready to hang up my space-suit and quit my job at Kindred Aerospace in search of brighter prospects.
+ Bright and vibrant world.
+ Some funny jokes and dialogue.
+ Budget price.
- World feels a bit static.
- Combat lacks punch.
- Platforming feels imprecise at times.