Puzzles, platforming, and Pufferbirds
The wonderfully absurd sci-fi movies of yesteryear are, unfortunately, more or less a memory instead of a thriving genre. While they may well be dead, the spirit of them lives on in lots of things, but one of the best places to relive the incredibly weird energy of these films is in gaming. Gaming allows us to perpetually take on the preposterous as though it was the norm and helps us suspend our disbelief with a wealth of attractive graphical styles and fantastical worlds to explore. Journey to the Savage Planet is a quintessential example of just that; the opportunity to place yourself in a weird and wonderful world and work your way around it.
You play as an explorer working for the 4th best space exploration company, Kindred Aerospace. You get to choose an icon for your character; it’s a fairly throwaway joke that includes people with mullets, trucker hats, and a dog. I chose the dog because, well, obviously, and thought nothing of it. I realised it wasn’t a throwaway joke once my character took damage and whimpered. I like dogs, as do most people, so I was very careful not to take any more damage if I could help it.
Journey to the Savage Planet feels akin to the collectathon platformers from the N64, like Banjo Kazooie. It’s got vibrant levels to explore, abilities to unlock, and loads of hidden items dotted around in every nook, cranny, and group of alien reeds you can find. As you collect more items you can unlock new upgrades, some of these are little things like boosting your backpack capacity, while others are things like the double, triple, or even quadruple jump. It’s fun, and the rewards feel very steady, so you’re never left worrying about getting more powerful for long.
So Many Verbs
Despite the platforming focus of the game, you’ll also be doing a lot of scanning and shooting. Scanning helps you identify creatures like the Meat Vortex, a wall-bound monster who silently waits to be fed innocent creatures, and the Floopsnoot, annoying teleporting things with incredibly long tongues. Shooting helps you take some of these creatures out, though you’ll feel terrible about killing some of the incredibly cute ones, like the Pufferbird. The fact that you can still find some of these things cute, even when they’re killing you, speaks volumes about the talent behind the monster designs.
The movement feels increasingly satisfying the more upgrades you get. While running around is fun at first, it’s nothing compared to quadruple jumping, firing your grappling hook, then using a rail to grapple to even greater heights. You move at a decent pace too, and when you throw in your ability to mantle up onto ledges, you end up with a really gratifying movement loop. It’s fun without feeling completely absurd, which is something that’s hard to get right.
There are a handful of boss battles scattered throughout the game too, each of which essentially boils down to shooting the glowing weak spots. Despite how tried and tested this method of boss fighting is, the bosses still manage to be a lot of fun to play against. That being said, they can feel a tad too easy when you’re playing the game in co-op, which is absolutely how you should be playing the game.
Look At Us Now
While the game is still a lot of fun on your own, it’s streamlined perfectly in co-op. Because progress is linked to the host’s save file, every item either of you picks up is shared, which means no pesky waiting for your partner to come to where you are. Instead, you’re both incentivised to simply make your own way through the gorgeous environments, find your own secrets, and then report back to the ship once you’ve gathered some new materials or unlocked a new ability. It makes the co-op feel incredibly meaningful, and that’s how it should feel. You’re genuinely working together, instead of working near each other.
To top all of this off, it’s a genuinely funny game. Your ship has an AI called E.K.O., who is masterfully voice, acted. She’s constantly chastising you, making jokes about enemies, and generally keeps the tone of your adventure in keeping with the look of it, which is to say she’s entertaining without being annoying. For example, if your co-op partner dies, she tells you she always liked you best, if you die, she informs you that you’ve been cloned and to try not to think about the implications of such a process. It just helps give the game that little bit more charm for when things aren’t going your way, and it’s almost worth playing the game just for the humour.
There are also a variety of different FMV videos, all of which are well-written and worth watching. While some of these have the CEO of Kindred Airspace, Martin Tweed, giving you information about your missions, most of them are far less serious. My personal favourite was an ad for a phone service that let you chat one on one with “the most seductive softbodies” which are all just gelatinous blobs. Completely unnecessary, but also utterly winning.
Journey to the Savage Planet is one of those rare times that a game is both fun and also funny. It’s a short, fast-paced adventure through alien terrain that will have you chuckling throughout and is full of charm and wonder. It might be a little short for some, and a little easy for others, but the ability to go back through the levels to collect every last item could easily double your time with the game. This is one journey you’re going to want to go on, and the ability to do so with a friend just makes it all the more enticing.
[Reviewed on PC]
Jason is the Editor of The Indie Game Website. He’s a lover of roguelikes, soulslikes, and other kinds of likes. He basically spends a lot of time getting beaten up in games and seems to enjoy it.