Planet Alpha is a 2.5D puzzle platfromer that looks to take us on a thought-provoking journey through some downright bizarre but stunning stages. While there’s no arguing just how pretty the game it, especially the colour bursting landscapes, there is an argument to be made for how much fun Planet Alpha offers. Continuously repeated puzzle mechanics, very simplistic puzzle design and a narrative that’s as ambiguous as they come all make the game feel like a slog, despite the ever-growing intrigue brought on by the interesting environments.
From the moment you wake in a desert, Planet Alpha tells you very little; no tutorial barre a few screen prompts, no objective display and absolutely no HUD. This minimalist approach to game design actually works very well, helping bring across a more cinematic feel to the overall presentation. This is at its peak during the closing stages of the game when you ushered through some genuinely brilliant action set pieces.
Although I really like the less is more approach to the design and the gameplay of Planet Alpha, I really didn’t like it’s approach to the narrative. It’s clear that developers Planet Alpha Development Team were going for an ambiguous approach to the game’s storytelling, but rather than building intrigue it acts more as a ‘what the hell is going on’. To the point where I pretty much gave up caring about why I’m an astronaut on a strange planet and just enjoyed making my way through the jaw-dropping landscapes of that planet.
Now, the underlining ideas behind the story are pretty obvious as you progress, and I appreciate ecological message the developers were trying to get across. But that still doesn’t explain why just about every interaction with a larger robotic enemy doesn’t make sense. Maybe I’m reading into the story of this puzzle platformer too much, but for a reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I really didn’t like its overall approach.
As I’ve stated several times, Planet Alpha is a puzzle platformer, and if we break it down into those two words, well it’s a pretty mediocre one. Firstly, the platforming is far too inconsistent to be anywhere near good. Don’t get me wrong, being chased down a crumbling slope by some form of hunger worm is edge-of-your-seat stuff, but when you have to repeat the section 3 or 4 times because of the inconsistency of the ledge grabbing mean it didn’t work, well, all that excitement can soon turn to frustration. This wasn’t a one-off affair, in fact, it pretty becomes part and parcel of Planet Alpha as you venture further into the game.
So, the platforming isn’t great and this is where I’m going to tell you how amazing the puzzles are, well, unfortunately not. The puzzles on offer here fall short for two main reasons. First off, they are far too easy. In fact, there are only three different types of puzzles you’ll come across through your 4-5 hour playthrough, all of which are copied and pasted just about everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, there is the odd exception to this but the mix up in the puzzles doesn’t feel consistent enough to make them interesting.
The second reason the puzzles start to feel the pretty statement is kind of linked to their simplicity and that’s in their rather annoying trial and error design. So often the game wouldn’t make it obvious what exactly was needed to clear a section, something that a few quick deaths can easily fix. The fact that some of the puzzles genuinely felt like they were designed this way is somewhat disappoint and complete negates that mini-triumphant feeling of solving a conundrum yourself.
Planet Alpha tries really hard to offer us an intriguing sci-fi platforming adventure with the added challenge of puzzles. While I have to admit that the stunning levels and colour exploding stages did whet my intrigue appetite. The somewhat confusing identity of the game’s story, the inconsistent platforming and just down-right simple trial and error puzzles all make Planet Alpha feel more of a meh rather than an oooooohhhhhh.