When I first sat down to play Lovely Planet on Wii U, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I glimpsed at a few seconds of gameplay online somewhere and thought it looked interesting, but that was it. I could tell it was a unique first-person shooter with bright, extremely low-poly graphics. While my simple observations about the game were true, I was pleasantly surprised when I experienced it for myself.
During the beginning stages of the game, I gradually came to realize I was not playing a typical FPS. Rather than blasting my way through waves of trigger-happy terrorists in elaborately designed set pieces and picking up new guns and ammo while a twisting narrative unfolds with lots of explosions, I found myself running, jumping, and shooting stationary red blocks with mean faces in a series of 100 micro-sized stages. From the moment you set eyes on the game, it is clear developer QUICKTEQUILA intended to stray from the pack of typical, generic FPS ventures so common to the gamescape these days, and their unique take on the genre further supports this endeavor.
The general gameplay of Lovely Planet consists of 3D first-person platforming and shooting. The player’s movements are slightly faster than a typical FPS, and your character is able to leap much higher and farther than you might expect. As the nameless main character, you are armed with a single weapon: a wand-like “gun” with an infinite supply of ammo. Keeping with the tradition of defying the player’s expectations, each fired bullet, which are simply depicted as small purple squares, travels much slower than an ordinary FPS bullet or laser, bringing a unique aspect to aiming and moving while shooting. The shooting mechanics also feature the ability to toggle a lock-on component with any unfortunate target in the vicinity of your gun’s business end, which takes a bit of the burden off the player while trying to negotiate a tricky platforming segment. These features, in addition to the fact that platforming is equally as important as shooting in the game, certainly evoke gameplay controls and sensibilities of the Metroid Prime games.
However, that is where the similarities end.
Each level ranges from strikingly short to just plain short. My best time for one of the earlier stages was 5.77 seconds, while some of the later levels take well over a minute to complete. In order to beat a level, you simply have to make it to the goal at the end while dispatching all the enemies. After completing a stage, you are presented with your finish time and an accompanying rating in the form of the now-common one, two, or three stars system. The level designs, the scoring system, and the ability to quickly restart a stage with a swift press of the “X” button unapologetically appeal to people who enjoy speedrunning games. Additionally, for those who are obsessed with their time, the ability to enable a timer display helps them keep tabs on the time lapse of each attempt, further emphasizing the game’s focus on speed.
The design and appearance of the game are simple and easily approachable, but make no mistake — Lovely Planet is hard! While I had a lot of fun retrying earlier levels dozens of times to shave off hundredths of seconds, I was content with just completing some of the later stages, knowing that a repeat performance would be unlikely.
The main culprit of difficulty is the game’s unforgiving nature of mistakes — if you touch an enemy: restart. If you get shot: restart. If you fall in a hole, or touch a spike, or touch a red blob, or accidentally shoot a good guy, or fail to shoot a flying ball in the distance before it hits the ground: restart. Without exaggerating, I’m pretty sure I restarted some levels 100+ times before finally beating them. Fortunately, the restarting process is nearly instant, allowing the player to immediately give it another shot without delay. Regardless of the player’s ability, most levels after the first world will probably take multiple attempts just to get a feel for the stage’s layout and events.
As punishing as the difficulty is, a good chunk of the challenge is inherent to shooting mechanics. One of the first things you will notice is the absence of crosshairs or sights of any kind, leaving you to derive the exact point of aim based on intuition and adjusting your aim with the flight path of your previous shots. For the sake of comparison, your weapon functions similarly to Link’s bow in the first-person view of many 3D Legend of Zelda games, albeit a semi-automatic version with unlimited ammo. Also, precise timing and accuracy are vital to the twitch-based gameplay, which is made even more difficult in situations where you have a small window of opportunity to hit moving targets because your bullets take their sweet time to reach their destination. This difficulty is clearly by design and usually satisfying, however, it seems that it was primarily designed for the PC control setup with a keyboard and mouse in mind, which causes the difficulty to occasionally dip into the realm of frustration on Wii U.
The baddies in the game are surprisingly scarce. Typically, you will encounter a handful of them scattered throughout the stage, and they act more as a distraction than a real threat, standing in place while only certain enemy types actually shoot at you. In this case, the slow travel of projectiles in Lovely Planet work to your favor, and it is particularly enjoyable to dodge incoming baddies’ bullets with general ease. And as you might expect, the deeper you delve into the game, the more hazards and obstacles you’ll encounter, such as thick fog and timed proximity bombs.
One of the best things Lovely Planet has going for it is its personality. Every single aspect of the game is delivered in a cheery, delightful, and upbeat fashion with a lot of Japanese influence.
The visuals of Lovely Planet are as extremely vibrant and colorful as an eight-pack of crayons. And although the geometry of the 3D models are low-poly, lacking detail and texture, and only slightly shaded to give a sense of form, the art style does a fantastic job of complimenting the cheerful nature of the game and looks good — just not fantastic. Adding to the game’s personality, not only is there frequent Japanese text intermingled with English throughout the game, but you will also find several instances of Japanese objects in the environment, such as stone lanterns, katanas, and Japanese-inspired fences.
The uptempo music throughout the game is of high-quality and equally complimentary to the game’s joyful, quirky atmosphere. Each catchy track is infused with a bouncy theme to keep the mood light and to put a little pep in your step as you attempt to quickly traverse each colorful level. If an alternate reality version of Mario 64 were made today, I believe the soundtrack would sound similar to Lovely Planet’s.
Unfortunately, not all is perfect with the Wii U version of Lovely Planet. While the game is available across many platforms, Wii U players will miss out on online leaderboards. Additionally, QUICKTEQUILA opted to make only a few slight tweaks to run the game on Wii U instead of optimizing it for the console’s special features. For example, the only instance that sound will play through the GamePad speakers is during the loading screen, leaving the GamePad to sulk in silence for the entirety of the game. It also would have been amazingly helpful to utilize the GamePad’s motion controls to assist in aiming ala Splatoon or Twilight Princess HD, which has proven to be a very effective and satisfying means of adding precision to Wii U shooters. Also, there are no special uses with the GamePad’s second screen other than replicating the TV display, although the added ability of off-TV play is always welcome.
While some gamers prefer a nice, cinematic story with their FPS games, they will find no such thing here, which I believe is appropriate considering the brisk nature of the game. Although it does feature some kind of story that I think involves a canceled flight and a sad block-guy eating a fish with chopsticks, it is all very abstract and simply implied through a few short, ambiguous cutscenes.
Despite being light on story, players will find plenty to enjoy in Lovely Planet. With five worlds to play — each containing twenty levels — and an exponentially increasing difficulty level, dedicated gamers can probably expect to sink dozens of hours to fully complete the game.
No other game comes to mind when I try to think of anything even remotely similar to Lovely Planet, which is a good thing. It would be difficult for me to recommend the Wii U version over the PC version, however, due to the lack of leaderboards and the much needed extra speed and precision afforded by a mouse and keyboard for the twitch-based shooting, but there is still plenty to enjoy in the eShop version. Despite typical FPS trends, this game is extremely pick-up-and-play friendly and addictive; I can sit down and have a blast with it for ten minutes just as easily as I can for two hours. And although I had to put it down quite a few times because of its extreme difficulty, I was always eager to come back for more.