Admittedly, I thought Freedom Planet was a brand new game when I saw it on the Switch eShop (shame on me), and it looked like a really fun Sonic the Hedgehog clone. It's actually much more than that despite paying some obvious homage to Sega's speedy hedgehog. Galaxy Trail successfully kickstarted Freedom Planet starting in 2012, which first got released on Steam in 2014, and was later brought to the terminal Wii U in 2015. Now those of us who missed the first round have a chance to buy it on the PS4 or Nintendo Switch.
This game is an action-oriented 2D platformer that focuses on speed, combat, and exploring giant levels. It initially feels a little cliche but very quickly spreads its wings and turns into a very unique platformer that is well crafted and memorable in a crowded genre of video games.
Freedom Planet can currently be purchased on the Nintendo eShop for regional pricing.
Freedom Planet - Nintendo Switch Release Trailer
I have been playing platformers for a long time, and it used to be that they had little plot and essentially tossed you into the adventure after a miniscule cutscene. Indie platformers in recent years have often added a more plot-focused experience, some successfully, and others not so much. Freedom Planet features a cliche yet strong plot, mostly due to breaking up long levels and great voice acting.
Your characters consist of three furry friends, Lilac, Carol, and Milla, as well as an alien named Torque. The plot begins with a lot of names, places, and an important artifact called the "Kingdom Stone". I was about ready to write the story off after in the beginning due to it having a Saturday morning cartoon feel straight out of the early 90s and all the different names that didn't seem to connect to one another. In fact, the plot does have a heavy 90s influence and can be very cheesy--with sappy dialogue about being such amazing friends and better off forgotten one liners--and it is definitely adolescent at its core.
The voice acting really shines, and it lends the characters' credibility. I did grow to like the main characters, and the warring cities featured some pretty hilarious side characters. The villain, Brevon, who is an intergalactic warlord, wants this kingdom stone to protect his home planet. He has gained a lot of enemies by destroying other planets and killing off their species. His character is a mix of the formidable and incompetent, and he does have some pretty intense and amusing scenes throughout the game.
I loved having the break between levels, and the plot is entertaining if nothing else. it certainly won't survive in the annals of great storytelling, but it does add to the style of the game and rounds out of the gameplay nicely. I was really happy to see that the game gives you the option to skip the current scene, or jump to the next level, so players can skip through the story easily if they wish; on top of this, there is an arcade mode that just allows you to play the stages without any story, so the wealth of options really allows you to tailor your experience regarding the involvement of the plot.
You would be forgiven for assuming this is a lost Sonic spin-off after playing the first level. This was originally meant to be a Sonic the Hedgehog fangame after all. Like the old Sonic games, it is a 2D platformer with a heavy emphasis on speed. There are springs that bounce you around stages, loops you run around, bars that take you up and down stages, and even the power-ups (shield, invincibility, one-ups) even have a Sonic vibe to them. However, this game separates itself from Sega's mascot very quickly after the first stage.
You have three playable characters to choose from. Each has their own unique jump, attack, and special ability. I chose Carol the cat who can pounce, slash with her claws, and can even ride a motorbike. I have no regrets in my pick, but the game doesn't really give you anyway to know which character may best fit your play style. Having a demo of their move list would have been nice since you cannot change characters without starting over. I tried the other two characters in time attack mode, and Lilac seems to be the staple character, but Lilac and Carol are both very playable. Choosing Milla is definitely more for advanced players since she has less HP and stranger abilities that involve defense and projectiles.
The levels in Freedom Planet are pretty long. It isn't rare for a level to clock in around 25 minutes to complete. Level 8 took me 45 minutes to complete. Every level has subsections and multiple bosses. Sometimes there is a thematic divide, and sometimes it's just another section of the level. I don't have any real issues with the length since all the stages were enjoyable and completely unique from one another. My only real issue is that the substages are not marked in any way, so there is no real way to tell how close you are to the end of a level. The game will save if you quit, but I was too afraid to ever quit midstage, so I am unsure of whether or not that will allow you to start midlevel or make you start the level over again.
The environments are simply incredible in this game. There are some really awesome levels such as a Chinese inspired city with a lot of pagodas and Chinese characters (writing), a bamboo forest, a factory (reminiscent of Chemical Plant Zone in Sonic 2) and even a futuristic dreadnought to explore. What is more impressive is that each stage hosts different enemies and some new platforming elements. The ice fields featured some puzzly switches that changed the colors of platforms you can walk on, another level featured water pressure that blew you around new areas of the stage, and all the platforming surprises were well thought out and incorporated.
These levels are huge and far from linear. Like Sonic the Hedgehog, you can often take many different paths to get through one stage, and there isn't usually an obvious way to go. I really enjoyed this, and the lack of a timer made the experience less stressful than it ever was in the old Sonic games (not to say better). The platforming could be a challenge, and certain enemies are extremely formidable, but playing carefully generally allowed me to die only a couple times from the stages or common foes. You won't often fall off a stage or get killed by the level, though I do vividly remember being squished by a giant screw that fell down and killed me in one hit. I think the levels are the absolute highlight of this game; between the variation in environments and masterful level design that really allows for exploration, it's among the best platformers I have played in recent years.
The level has about ten stages and four to six hours of gameplay. It's not overly long, but you can turn the story off and use different characters, so I imagine a second playthrough would be a lot of fun.
Abilities and Powerups
There are tons of blue shards all over the stage. Like coins or rings or bananas or whatever other platforming currency you're used to, getting 100 will give you an extra life. There are also red shards that restore your hit points. You have red shards on the upper left of the screen that represent your HP. Getting hit will take out "X" amount of these shards. A weak hit may only take a half a shard away while some chain attacks may take out multiple shards. This system works well for the combat, but I did occasionally find myself stuck in attacks that almost wiped me out in one hit. It seemed like there should have been a quicker cap on certain enemy attacks.
You really only have three buttons to use on your pad. You can jump, and glide by pressing that again, use a basic attack, and a special attack. Carol could jump and do a big glide, pounce, and slash. Her special attack was a flurry of cat scratches. Using the special attack drains a blue meter on the upper left of the screen, and if gets depleted, it just takes a little time to recharge.
There are other powerups you can find during the stage such as one-ups and shields. The shields can be found by breaking stones, and they form a ball around you that protects you from future blows. One of the great mysteries in this game was why there were multiple colored shields. I am still unsure of what the difference is between them.
The final power-up is a vehicle. Carol could drive a motorbike which could be found in most stages and was even required during a few points in the game. It allows you to go faster, jump higher, and slash foes while you are driving (plus it is cool, right?).
Man oh man, if I have one gripe about Freedom Planet, it's the darn bosses. The first half of the game is fine, and I beat most bosses in one or two tries, but every level has 2-4 bosses. The second half the game is a grind when it comes to these overpowered foes. I died to almost every boss multiple times, sometimes more than ten times, and some of them were just unfair. Hitting Spade the ninja was almost impossible, and the bosses require extreme patience. I admittedly used a faq for a few of them, and I found it really annoying to be 30 minutes into a stage and then die 15 times to one boss.
I will say that most bosses do require strategy and there are some fun fights. Some people may love the boss fights in this game, but I wish the difficulty was a bit more balanced between the levels and the bosses.
It is worth noting that you can change the difficulty in the options menu. I played on normal, but for those looking for a more relaxed experience or want to amplify the intensity, it's in your hands.
graphics and sound
The graphics in this game really reminded me of the Sega Genesis. It is 16-bit inspired, but that Sonic love stretches into the appearance of the game. Everything from the pillars to the grass and the slightly fuzzy backgrounds just gave me that classic Sonic and Sega Genesis feeling. This works well, and as I said, this is not simply a Sonic clone. There are plenty of environments and implements I never saw in a Sonic game, and the visuals are mostly charming and wonderful.
The graphical highlight is the character sprites. The mouths move, heads turn when they talk, and I really enjoyed the detail put into them. They compliment the voice acting very nicely.
The soundtrack is also fantastic. I have already mentioned the high-quality voice overs, but the music itself is loaded with retro goodness. There are some old-school synths and drums loops, and the soundtrack is exciting and helps you immerse in the stages. I also really loved that a single level might have multiple tracks (fitting for how long they are).
Freedom Planet is a fun platformer that manages to emulate the legendary Sonic franchise as well as create its own place in the whacky universe of platformers. The level design is superb, and the levels are filled with all sorts of interesting devices, puzzles, and plenty of enemies to kill. The long levels may be a turn off for some, but with only about ten stages total, longer levels really flesh out the adventure.
The levels could have done a better job of marking progress, and the plethora of difficult bosses in the second half of the game can definitely damper the experience a bit, but these aren't deal breakers by any means.
The voice acting is better than most indie titles which really assists the plot despite some very sappy moments, and the ability to choose multiple characters adds some replayability to the game too. I did find it disappointing the game didn't allow you to demo them first, but I grew to love playing as Carol throughout the game.
All in all, this is a really fun and creative platformer that fits very well on the Nintendo Switch. Fans of Sonic will really take a shine to Freedom Planet, but don't let the retro vibes throw you off if you prefer newer stuff. This game is polished, features different difficulty settings, and the levels are pretty forgiving. If you really like platformers, I would consider this, because it is a notch above most of the competition. It may not quite be Sonic Mania, but this game will surprise and charm you nevertheless.
|+ Great level design||– Bosses can be too tedious|
|+ Fluid controls||– Levels lack progress indication|
|+ Voice acting is surprisingly good||– Can't demo characters before picking|
|+ Sonic homage used well|