The thing is, I generally don’t get on well with Sonic games. I’m not entirely sure why. I like the idea of Sonic and genuinely see the merit in the games. It’s just something about them that leaves me with a feeling of “eh, yeah, it’s okay.” I’ve enjoyed the early ones, especially number 2. Although my favourite Sonic game is actually Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast, which I have a lot of nostalgia for.
Why on Earth am I talking about Sonic? Well, Freedom Planet started life as a Sonic fan game once upon a time. It soon morphed into its own thing. Characters, abilities and collectables all separated from their inspiration at various points. But in essence, this is still the Sonic game fans have been begging Sega to make for years.
Naturally there is a plot regarding a powerful stone that various groups want to get their mitts on and your small band of anthropomorphic creatures are caught in the middle. At the beginning you can either go through the story as the main character Lilac, the lilac dragon, or as Carol the cat. Not long after the start you are greeted with another character called Milla, a dog who you can then play as but only in the non-story modes.
It should be noted that you can’t switch characters during a play through. Once you’ve chosen someone you’re stuck with them for the whole ride.
Each character has their own abilities. Lilac has a dash attack (surprised?) and can double jump, Carol can wall jump and ride motorbikes scattered around levels (indicated by petrol tanks) and Milla can flap her ears to fly for a short time. A change of character can change the feel of the whole game, you begin to see the levels through different perspectives.
Going back to the story, I personally found it quite nice. Usually in these 2D side-scrollers the story tends to take a back seat but Galaxy Trail have tried to give a more important role. Surprisingly there are a chunk of cut-scenes at the beginning and end of every stage. They are actually well done. Dialogue is a bit clichéd but quite charming in its humour. I even enjoyed the voice acting despite it being a bit ropey. My only complaint is that they might go on a bit too long for their own good. I’m certain that some gamers out there will hate their inclusion as it can actually take a bit of pace away from the game.
The developers were nice enough to address those who don’t want the cut-scenes to get in the way of the action by including a “Classic” mode to go alongside “Adventure”. It’s the same deal just without the cut-scenes.
Levels are vast, probably even more so than the original Sonic games from my memory. Some are more linear than others, but generally there are many routes to take. You’ll certainly not see everything on your first play through a stage. I think they’ve struck a decent balance because when I’m making my way through a stage, I know I’m not really missing much by going one way or another. You don’t feel the need to stop and check every nook and cranny, you just think “well, I’ll go that way next time.”.
Aside from the afore-mentioned cutscenes, the game keeps a nice spritely pace. While levels are huge (mostly in the vertical sense) they don’t go on for too long, nor are they too short. Each stage has a mini boss in the middle of the stage and then main boss at the end. You’ll probably be done with each stage after 15-20 minutes on average depending on how slow you take it.
The game has a pretty constant learning curve. Unlike a Sonic game, you have a life meter indicated by red leaves. This means you can take multiple hits and it’s all the better for it. Health can be regained by collecting more red leaves scattered across the level and they are plentiful. There are also various power-ups at various locations to help you on your way.
It begins pretty easy and that may lure you into a false sense of security, but difficulty starts to ramp up as you make your way through the campaign. I found the biggest challenge to be in the boss battles. They tend to be fairly fast and have attacks that take up large portions of the screen, often with brutal consequences. When a boss takes more than half your health away in one attack within the first second of battle, you know you’re in for it rough. I found myself needing plenty of goes at these and I’m not going to lie, I saw the game over screen far too many times for my ego to handle. Still, it’s very generous with checkpoints and so you can continuously take them on until you finally nail their patterns.
Freedom Planet is a gorgeous game. There’s some really good sprite work going on, everything is nice and chunky, has a lot of weight to it. There’re a lot of individual animations that give all the characters personality. This is especially noticeable during cut-scenes where characters are doing things that don’t normally do in the core gameplay. This especially shows the level that Galaxy Trail want to aspire to; other developers would have just let the characters do their idle standing pose during cut-scenes while handing out dialogue.
Environments are really nice and varied. Nothing we haven’t seen before, but still very nice on the eye. There’s a really nice Chinese aesthetic style that’s unusual in a game of this type. It’s great. Although I think the impressiveness of the environments peaks a little too early with the high point being speeding through a city at night-time with the reds and golds of the Chinese style contrasting in the darkness. It’s beautiful.
While speed is very much at the core of Freedom Planet, the devs have balanced it out with a little slower platforming and occasional puzzle solving, more in the style of a Metroidvania (I hate myself for using that term) style. They even totally shake it up by throwing a horizontal shooter section, seemingly out of nowhere.
I’d say the only issue I have with Freedom Planet is with its controls. Most of the time it’s fine. It’s difficult to describe but I just feel that the characters have too much forward momentum when they jump and that it can’t be controlled. Also, the fact it doesn’t allow you to cancel Lilac’s double jump often lead to frustration, especially against the bosses when precision is key.
It’s not a particularly long game, about 4 hours depending on how you get on with the bosses. I think that’s a good length. It’s just enough to not out stay its welcome and leaves you wanting more. Outside of the main campaign there’s also a time attack mode alongside plenty of collectables to unlock such as artwork and music tracks. All of this and the decent amount of replayabilty with different characters (plus future free content), makes sure Freedom Planet still gives you your money’s worth.
Overall, Freedom Planet is my favourite Sonic game to be honest. Galaxy Trail did what Sega can’t. It finds the right balance between faced paced action and slower platforming, it look gorgeous and has an enjoyable story with likeable characters. It’s not perfect. Over zealous bosses and some small issues with controls prevent that. But it’s still a damn good time.
- Good gameplay balance between speed and platforming
- Really gorgeous sprite work and aesthetics
- Plenty of room for replayability
- Brutal boss battles compared to the ease of the stages
- Some small control issues
Game provided by publisher