First Impressions: Freedom Planet (WiiU)

GalaxyTrail’s Freedom Planet made a rumbling across the web following a successful Kickstarter run and subsequent release on Steam in 2014. Following several delays it finally hit the WiiU last month, and after getting some hands-on time with the game, I have to say I’m impressed.

Thus far into the game (which is admittedly only a few worlds in), Freedom Planet sees a band of furries running around 16-bit inspired levels in a technicolour dreamworld of sprite-based awesome. The story revolves around a small band of protagonists Lilac, Carol and Milla as they try to save the world from impending doom by alien forces keen on harnessing their world’s energy sources. At least I think that’s the gist of it so far, the story and cut scenes strike as more fanfiction than a lean and restrained narrative with lengthy chatty-chatty banter between the characters, though in its favour the use of text boxes and in-game sprites suit the game’s aesthetic. Being my first playthrough though, I’m keen to keep playing it through and see what happens, even if it continues to be a little silly.

Story aside, where the game really shines is in its presentation and gameplay. The interwebs inform me that this indie game started life as a Sonic mod before being re-tooled into an original IP, and the DNA is there in spades. Springs push characters along, the game revels in speed and there are constant thematic similarities to Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles. This isn’t a bad thing though, as Sonic 2 did an excellent job of refining what made the original game so good and Sonic 3 & Knuckles still sits as a fitting swan-song to the 16-bit series.

In Freedom Planet sprites are beautifully animated and gorgeously pixelated, the framerate chugs along at 60fps, the soundtrack sounds like 90s redbook audio, physics are responsive if a little floaty and once you get the hang of the controls, pushing through the levels at a fast pace is great fun. The physics themselves feel like a cross between Sonic 3 and Popful Mail; comparison to the latter is also echoed in the choice of three protagonists and story presentation of voice-overs within a 16-bit sprite-based platformer. This might be entirely coincidental, but it’s not a bad thing as Popful Mail is a great game in its own right.

Granted it’ll probably be a while before I finish Freedom Planet, but the structure looks like it’ll work with my limited and often haphazard access to free time, and I have to admit the whole thing feels self-indulgent for such a fan of 8- and 16-bit platformers. I’ll definitely be looking forward to pushing through it though, and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic sprite-based platformers.