Planet Alpha sees you as a strange wanderer lost in the wilderness of an alien habitat. Huge vines and tall minerals are embraced by beautiful landscapes full of majestic creatures and plant life that bloom and blossom with a neon glow. The verticality of the world plunges great depths into an abyss of darkness where giant insects lay thousands of luminous eggs while the hungry young await their first meal. At the high tops of the lands, large fungus rises with the sun and sleeps with the moon as you control its day cycle with an ascendant influence. It’s a dangerous but beautiful world, to say the least, but one that’s heavily infected by the formidable iron soldiers that unnaturally roam its surface.
If you like a bit of Limbo with your Journey then Planet Alpha has you covered. The game takes guidance from the two popular titles by imposing the dangers and beauty that each one separately possesses. The control system and gameplay itself leans more heavily towards the likes of Limbo by giving you access to little more than a jump and a grab action to aid you on your way. But what makes Planet Alpha a little different is in how you can manipulate the skies to transition into day or night. It’s a gift that starts off restricted to ease you in on the ability but soon shows all its worth a little later on in the adventure.
The effect that daytime has on the world around you truly brings out an allure of organic beauty in the landscapes. Plants will open up in interesting ways by spreading their leaves or teasing the lands with its juicy nectar under the beaming sunlight. Meanwhile, under the stars brings its own party of natural lights and lunar-dwelling wildlife that will hunt or aid you along the way. It’s a primary tool that you use for puzzle solving, and the only protection that the defenceless spaceman has to offer.
Unfortunately, the time changing ability does leave little to the imagination on how to solve the tasks that lie before the player. These elements, for the most part, are very simple but quickly become a bit too repetitive to be enjoyable. The majority of obstacles can be solved by simply dragging some sort of platform from A to B, stealth your way past dangers or manipulate the solar cycle in a predictable circle of events. The reliance on following the structure of Limbo also fills the experience with a sense of déjà vu, which never quite lives up to the formula that it replicates. However, Planet Alpha is at is best when running and jumping from danger or climbing freely with the tranquil sights in the background and flourishing colour palette that soak the skies.
From a visual standpoint, it’s an impressive feat for a small seven-strong development team. The architecture of the world really does stand out and gives the impression of a living, breathing planet with a low sense of gravity. The experience is much cleaner on the big screen as the visual fidelity takes a noticeable hit when playing on Nintendo Switch in Handheld mode. The game can also seem a bit darker than desired even at the peak of day, with the gorgeous colours not quite popping out as brightly as it seems they should. Of course, these minor hiccups may be more due to the portable home console’s limitations, but still, there are other games on the system that manage to shine much brighter and bolder on the eye.
While it never emotionally enticed me quite as much as games like Journey or Embers of Mirrim did, I still found Planet Alpha’s Pandora-inspired world a mesmerising and interesting place to explore. The sounds and harmonic melodies also help to draw out the strange and wonderful culture that toss and turn through your four-hour playthrough. It may not be the deepest game regards to gameplay and story, but the eye candy of its ecosystem certainly makes for a chilled few hours on the couch during a lazy Sunday.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Team17