Planet Alpha is a puzzle platformer with a visually stunning landscape to uncover and some interesting puzzles to solve along the way. You start the game as an injured alien stumbling along a desert path, however the reason you are there is unclear, did you crash? You eventually succumb to your injuries and collapse in the entrance of a cave. When you regain consciousness, you are fully healed and ready to start your journey through the highly colorful and strange planet.
At times the colorfully saturated environment is reminiscent of scenes from the movie Avatar. Luminescent plant life accompanied by a selection of interesting alien creatures floating through the expanse, make for a visually stunning and intriguing world. The landscapes in this game are absolutely breath taking. There were moments when the camera would pan out and reveal the immense scale and beauty of the wider world. These moments do a great job of giving a sense that you are a tiny cog in a much larger wheel.
Planet Alpha has an extremely simple control system. With just a limited number of buttons in use it is a great game for players of all abilities and can be picked up by most relatively easily. The base mechanics generally remain the same throughout and although this does start to become a little repetitive, the pacing of the game is kept interesting with a mixture of sneaking, problem solving and flying through the undergrowth. This seems to break up the gameplay just enough, although this does not evolve play past a regular platformer.
The most interesting mechanic is being able to drive planetary rotation at will, which in turn, allows for full control over the day and night cycle. This is a largely important element as the difference between night and day cause useful changes within the world and its inhabitants. During the daylight, plant life unwittingly provides platforms for reaching new areas and large flowers open to attract the bug-like enemies, which would otherwise blast you away. At night, different flora come to life, providing much needed cover which aids you in sneaking by undetected.
At several points in the game you are transported into a rift where the gravity is much lower. Your task here is to navigate through the darkness and locate an artifact. At times you are required to harness the motion of moving rocks to launch you to heights that couldn’t otherwise be reached. On completing these areas and receiving the artifact I was left scratching my head as to why? Other than the fun of floating around in low gravity, what was the purpose of these areas? The artifacts themselves don’t appear to be of any use and they are not referenced again after their collection.
They are not necessary for game completion and the only reason to pursue them is being rewarded with an achievement. I am a big fan of the puzzle platformer genre and although overall I did enjoy the majority of puzzles in Planet Alpha, I found that some involved a little too much trial and error to complete. At times I had made progression without fully knowing how I had done it. At some points I became frustrated as I couldn’t see a solution and was blind sighted by repeating the same thing over and over. At these points I decided to take a break from the game and on my return I found it much easier to focus and reach a solution.
Death is frequent and inevitable, but the generous checkpoint system does not interrupt the flow of gameplay. You practically start back where you left off, immediately ready to make another attempt. Where the game really lets itself down is the lack of a robust and fleshed out storyline. With no actual dialogue, your purpose on the planet remains very unclear. Almost nothing is explained and the player is left solely to create their own interpretation of the story. Although I could see the battle between robotics and native lifeforms, I couldn’t decipher why it was happening and what my role in this was.
Much remains unexplained on completion of the game and I was left with some rather large questions. I would have loved to see a more robust storyline or at the very least some basic background to tie things up at the end of the game. The audio really does this game justice and drives immersion with a great ambient soundtrack that does not intrude, but sets the scene beautifully. During the slower paced sections of the game, the aliens sometimes make whale-like sounds, which when paired with the ambient soundtrack, actually makes for a somewhat relaxing experience, but equally so, changes dynamically to fit when encountering enemy situations.
The linear nature of this game will certainly limit the amount of replayability but the door is left slightly ajar with completionists who may want the rewarded of fulfilling all achievements. This could probably be accomplished relatively easily as there are a limited number of achievements in total. I felt a tiny bit cheated by the lack of closure at the end, but that aside, I did enjoy the overall experience. Planet Alpha is by no means a revolutionary platformer, but the ability to harness the power of day and night is an interesting concept and it worked well in setting this game apart from others of the like.
This is by no means a revolutionary platformer. The ability to harness the power of day and night is an interesting concept, and it worked well in setting this game apart from others of the like. The beautifully crafted landscapes are an experience all in their own. If you appreciate games for their visual qualities and aren’t put off by the lack of story, it would be worth crash landing and venturing into this world.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.