Originally published at: Review | Planet Of Lana - XboxEra
Planet of Lana was revealed all the way back in June of 2021, and for fans of the genre, this has been quite the wait.
Personally, this has been one of my most-anticipated titles for what feels like forever. Launching day one onto Xbox Game Pass, as a fan on incredible titles like Playdead’s Limbo and INSIDE, this cinematic puzzle adventure looks right up my street.
Join me as we take a deep look at this ‘Off-Earth Odyssey’.
The first thing that will grab you is just how pretty Planet of Lana is. From the very beginning, this game is a screenshot generator, and looks even better in motion. Presented in a bright ‘watercolour painting’ style, this smooth scrolling puzzle platformer ticks all of the right boxes. Containing both an adept environmental soundscape and a musical soundtrack that can take the player from calmness to the height of tension within seconds, this title certainly delivers on the cinematic part of its description.
Giving away no story spoilers, players follow the journey of a young girl called Lana and her incredibly cute, intelligent and gymnastic friend Mui, after their peaceful home planet is invaded by an alien entity. At the beginning of the game things go a bit ‘War of the Worlds’ with no explanation as to why these beings have arrived, though as the adventure continues, you’ll piece together the story via some great environmental story-telling.
Like ‘Valiant Hearts’ from several years ago, this is a companion puzzle game. Lana has certain skills and importantly, so does Mui. Working together is the only way to navigate through the various environments and challenges that they come across. Mui isn’t just delightfully animated, but she’s clever to boot; jumping great distances and manipulating certain pieces of machinery, she’s a remarkably useful companion, following you or stopping on command. She is however, desperately afraid of water and as Lana cannot move on without her, solutions have to be found for any watery situations that they find themselves in. Mui also has other hidden talents but I will let you discover those for yourselves. In a nice touch, and one I found myself using often, particularly after beating some of the trickier puzzles, as being able to crouch down and show Mui some affection for a job well done.
After arriving in visually stunning craft, the invading force deploy ground troops, which take the form of various robotic machines. Some are arachnid in design and can jump large distances while others can fly. Being spotted by any of these generally results in near-instant death for both Lana and Mui, and they are to be avoided at all costs This constant, lethal threat creates a palpable atmosphere of dread whenever they are nearby.
The controls are as to be expected for a game in this genre and start simple, and make their way to surprisingly complex quite quickly. In a similar vein, the level of puzzle difficulty develops over the course of proceedings to some occasional tricky, pencil and paper stuff. What is great about the game design though is that it seems to know when repeated failure will become irritating and saves as soon as one section of a larger puzzle has been completed. This is a real godsend that other developers should take note of.
Race against the machine
Exploring the planet (when not being hunted by merciless killer robots) is a remarkably relaxing experience. There are moments of terror, beauty and wonder that are a joy to witness in this impeccably designed world. The hand-painted visuals, paired with an inspiring soundtrack (with hints of Beethoven), combine to elevate the experience to another level, and the conversational chirps and mewlings Mui make as she responds to Lana’s friendship and her commands, create a very real bond.
Beyond the ‘to be expected’ platforming and puzzle fare, Planet of Lana contains some timed evasion sequences and button-mashing events, including a very memorable and exhilarating chase sequence – for players concerned about accessibility, there is thankfully an option to make these button mashing sequences far simpler from an input perspective.
Although I felt more than comfortable knocking out or luring various beasties to their deaths, I genuinely cared about this brave young girl and her cat-like companion and felt genuine sorrow when I messed up (Mui’s mournful cries at Lana dying in front of her are frankly, traumatising). Mui can be quite fragile in ways that are unexpected and may surprise you.
Several unexpected creature discoveries were the real highlights of my playthrough, including one in particular that made my skin crawl to the extent that I just had a shiver go down my spine while writing that sentence. There is a lot to enjoy in this experience, even simple things such as witnessing the breeze blowing through leafy trees and going on a short boat trip are delivered so perfectly that they are a joy to behold. The game isn’t afraid to wrestle control away from the player just to allow them to take a breather and enjoy the world around them, and smartly, they only do it on a couple of unique occasions.
This journey occurs over different periods of the day and ventures into numerous areas including a swamp, a desert and deep into the bowels of the planet. I have some minor nitpicks – I wish crouching was a little faster (because I really don’t want to be lasered to death by a giant mechincal spider) and the ropes Mui can knock of ledges for me take a little to long to settle down so I can grab them. But really, I am nitpicking at this point. The game takes around 4-5 hours or so to see through, but there is some replayability here via a secondary task – hidden shrines are dotted throughout the game, revealing more backstory relating to the history of this planet and perhaps more detail on the invaders. Pleasingly, this has no bearing on the main story and can be completely ignored if you wish.
The game played impeccably on my Series S – and the Steam version seemed great too, even supporting playing on both 21:9 and 32:9 aspect ratios. During one emotional sequence very near the end of the adventure the camera zoomed out and I thought the game had hung. Closing it down and resuming from the last save point I experienced exactly the same thing again and was puzzled, but after being a bit more patient the camera zoomed in again and things continued as intended. It turns out that this event required a slightly longer moment of reflection than this impatient reviewer was willing to indulge in.
As the credits rolled, I found myself reflecting on companionship and what shared experiences mean to me personally. How many games can do that to a player?
Planet Of Lana is a truly cinematic puzzle adventure as advertised.
The package as a whole is delivered perfectly and leaves you wanting more upon completion. With out-of-this-world visuals, music, sound and puzzle variety this really is an ‘Off-Earth Odyssey’ that you cannot afford to miss.
Developers Wishfully just delivered an indie masterpiece.