There’s nothing like crash-landing on an alien planet. Journey to the Savage Planet doesn’t always get it right, but it has echoes of classic Metroid Prime, says Jacob Aron
20 February 2020
I have lost track of the number of alien worlds I have walked on. That is partly down to playing No Man’s Sky a few years ago, a universe designed by an algorithm that offers 18 quintillion possible planets to explore, says its developer. I must have trudged across a good few hundred. But infinity gets boring – give me a well-crafted experience any day over random permutations.
My latest alien expedition came in Journey to the Savage Planet. You play as an employee of Kindred Aerospace – the fourth-best interstellar exploration company, its keen CEO tells me in a video message. Your character has crash‑landed on planet AR-Y 26 and must find their way home.
The game is, in a word, wacky, and not in a good way. One of the first things you do after emerging from your spaceship is to smack an alien chicken in the face. Humour is a tricky thing to get right in video games – after all, timing is everything in comedy, and getting a player to fit the developer’s script often fails – and it didn’t really work for me here. But once I decided to turn down the volume and ignore the hit-and-miss gags, I had a great time ambling around its weird world.
AR-Y 26 is presented as a pristine alien realm, but it quickly becomes clear someone has been here before you, and the game’s plot involves solving that mystery as well as finding a way home.
As in No Man’s Sky, you must gather elements such as carbon and silicon from the environment to upgrade your equipment. The game also borrows liberally from the exploration titles of the Metroid series, most notably Metroid Prime. That classic sees you playing as bounty hunter Samus Aran, gradually acquiring upgrades to her spacesuit that allow you to access new areas of the planets she explores.
The genius of the Metroid series is that obstacles early in the game become a cakewalk as you upgrade your character’s abilities and equipment – a once impassable chasm is no match for a double jump and impenetrable walls fall easily to a newly acquired missile launcher. It is a great feeling to charge through an earlier part of the game world, having previously spent hours painstakingly going the long way round.
Savage Planet does the same thing, but its best upgrades are only unlocked by doing so-called science experiments. These are tasks that can theoretically be performed at any time, such as scanning the various alien flora and fauna (another facet of the gameplay with echoes of Metroid) or taking samples from specific creatures (basically hitting them with a sciencey-looking stick).
Sadly, I found many of them too fiddly to bother with because they required you to take the time to line up creatures in the same location to blast them with a specific weapon. I guess this was an attempt to improve on the Metroid formula, but it is hard to mess with a classic successfully.
Despite these shortcomings, I enjoyed navigating AR-Y 26, particularly once I got hold of a grappling hook upgrade that could send me whizzing across the skies at high speeds. But I couldn’t help harking back to the days of playing Metroid Prime on my trusty Nintendo GameCube console. If you have never had the pleasure, rumours suggest an upgraded version of the original game will be released for the Nintendo Switch later this year, ahead of a new sequel. That’s another expedition to add to my list…
Journey to the Savage Planet, Typhoon Studios PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Metroid Prime, Retro Studios: Enjoy on Nintendo Wii or Nintendo GameCube.
No Man’s Sky, Hello Games: Play on PC, PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.
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