Game: Planet of Lana
Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie
System: Steam (Windows)
Developer | Publisher: Wishfully | Thunderful Publishing
Controller Support: Yes
Price: US $ 19.99 | UK £ 16.99 | EU € 19,99
Release Date: May 23rd, 2023
Review code used with many thanks to Plan of Attack.
Planet of Lana is a 2023 indie adventure game by Thunderful Publishing.
In Planet of Lana (PoL), we play as Lana, a little girl from a tribe living on the planet Novo, who embarks on a journey to save her sister from the mechanical invaders who kidnapped their whole tribe. In the course of the game, we learn more about the robots’ origin and their history with Lana’s people.
As I said, in Planet of Lana, we take control of Lana, a girl from the captured tribe. Lana is not entirely alone. Early on, she is joined by Mui, a small native cat-like animal, which she can direct for help.
PoL is definitely an adventure game. However, it is also a puzzle platformer, not unlike Ori and the Blind Forest or the Trine series. I’ll admit that those examples spring to mind also because of their stunning visuals. So, yes, Lana has to run and jump from one place to another, but she also moves things to reach higher ground, works mechanisms, and so on.
Then, there is the stealth element. Lana is essentially a fugitive, hiding from robots and some native animals. Danger can come in many different shapes, and it quickly becomes apparent that Novo is far more treacherous than it appears at first glance.
Lana has the help of Mui, which she controls with a few simple commands. It is worth noting that Mui is more of a partner than a pet and that while he can help a lot, Lana is required to ensure his way forward as well. If Mui is caught by an adversary, Lana is caught as well, and the player is sent to the last checkpoint. Saving in PoL is automatic and often.
Planet of Lana has no difficulty settings, but I didn’t find it particularly challenging regarding game mechanics; the controls are very responsive and intuitive. I played with the keyboard since that’s how I am most used to it. However, the developers recommend using a gamepad.
The challenging part for me was the stealth. I genuinely felt worried for Lana traversing the dangerous terrain of Novo. While this is far from a horror game with jump scares, for me, it was easy to begin sympathizing with the characters and thus worry about their journey. As it turned out, robots are not the only enemies you will encounter. There is also the native fauna to consider. Still, moments of heart-pounding hiding from adversaries and sneaking around are intersected with casual strolls through lush alien forests and breathtaking vistas. It is a well-balanced game.
The puzzles themselves aren’t that difficult to figure out. I’ll admit that I was stumped a couple of times to the point I tried to reload a last checkpoint, thinking I’d made a mistake. But, no, there is always a way out and forward.
The world of Planet of Lana is vibrant and alive. Playing the game is not unlike watching a movie. The idea for the game was the image above, which Adam Stjärnljus, the creative director, drew a few years ago in Photoshop. When I saw it the first time, what came to mind was the excellent sci-fi series The Loop, based on a collection of drawings in a similar style, so I was immediately attracted to the game.
At first, the developers were thinking of making a 2D side scroller. However, the final version of the game features 3D animations with hand-painted light and shadows, flat 2D sprites, and dynamic lighting on top while still staying true to the original hand-painted look. The visuals are simply stunning and perfectly complimented by the great soundtrack and the background noises of birds, wind, people, and robots.
The game is cinematic in the most literal sense of the word. The transition between gameplay and cut scenes is seamless and makes the whole game feel like an interactive studio Ghibli movie. As the saying goes: the devil is in the details, and here, they are plenty. Like the way Lana falls and trips while walking and falling, the heart-breaking way she calls for her sister, the tired noises she makes when trying to climb, the way she turns her head to look at something in the background while running and so on.
Sound is an integral part of the charm of this game, and it shows that it was chosen well and with care. In fact, so much care that, in recent days, the developers have been sharing insights about their process.
As I mentioned above, the soundtrack is great. It was composed by Takeshi Furukawa, who also created the award-winning soundtrack to another game, The Last Guardian (2016). Recently he wrote about how he came to write the music for Planet of Lana, explaining that he came upon the image above and was struck by the hand-drawn studio Ghibli aesthetic, sprinkled with sci-fi magic. For the first time in his career, he approached the studio, asking to work on the project. The final result is a big orchestral movie soundtrack that perfectly compliments the somehow minimalistic gameplay. The music is menacing when we are sneaking about and hopeful while strolling in the woods. In fact, based on how the music changes, we get a little bit of foresight about what lies ahead.
As for the background noise, from the birdsong in the trees to the sounds of Lana running on different terrains, the attention to detail is astounding. One thing I love in video games, and in fiction in general, are made-up languages. Months later, I still remember the language in Greedfall, but now, Planet of Lana will replace it. The human language in PoL is melodious, with many vowels and soft consonants. From the names of our protagonists, Lana and Mui, to some of the more used words- “ima”/ “stop” and “ola”/ “come here,” the language sounds like a nature sound itself. Music is a big part of Lana’s world. Even the sounds the robots are making are melodious and fitting.
Some other notes
PoL has steam achievements and is officially steam deck verified and it allows for different save slots. For those of you playing on Switch, I wish you wholeheartedly that the games get released on Nintendo fast! Also, Lana can pet Mui and it purrs!
In conclusion, Planet of Lana is one of the best games I’ve played recently. It is clear that for Thunderful Publishing, it was a labour of love, from the premise to animation, world lore, music, and sounds. Even more impressive, the whole game studio was created around this project, and this game is their first. Based on PoL, they have a bright future ahead of them.
Final Verdict: Two Thumbs Up:
Definitely getting this game, it looks amazing! I’m a big fan of this style of animation and visuals, as well as the adventure/puzzle genre. Thanks for the wonderful review!