When games venture off into the final frontier and take us to alien worlds, they're often big, sprawling adventures - sci-fi epics that take us to many worlds and let us decide the fate of the universe. Typhoon Studios, however, does something a little different with Journey to the Savage Planet, reducing the scale to produce an experience that's tight and refined and - at the end of the day - an awful lot of fun.
In the game, you (and a friend, if you want to play online co-op) are hired on behalf of Kindred Aerospace, a dodgy agency sending you to explore and investigate the flora and fauna of a world devoid of intelligent life. All you need to do is go and poke around and take a gander, but that's made a little more complex by running out of fuel and discovering that there's actually a huge tower on the planet indicating that there is, in fact, intelligent life somewhere.
You start off as your mute protagonist in your spaceship, with wise-cracking AI Eko talking to you and running you through what needs to be done. The game wastes no time in setting things up, giving you about 15 minutes to learn the basics before sending you off to explore wherever you like at whatever pace you want. It's a short and sweet introduction, and there aren't any cutscenes to wade through either.
That's not to say that it's an open world, as such. There are several interconnected open areas, but everything is linear in the sense that you can't progress to the next until you've got a particular tool, like a grappler or a boost for your jetpack. This is how Typhoon guides you through the game, encouraging you to explore isolated areas one at a time before moving onto the next, all of which is intricately designed to contain secrets aplenty.
It's a little like a Metroidvania too, in the sense that tools you unlock later in the game can be used in earlier locations to unlock secrets, like orange eggs that increase your maximum health and stamina, as well as the resources you'll need to craft optional upgrades and story-essential equipment. The catch with the latter is that these need specific alloys you'll need to find at certain points in the story, again acting as a narrative thread to keep the pace.
A very useful journey and mission marker system helps keep everything simple and accessible even when you unlock more areas and missions. You select a mission and pressing R3 (we reviewed it on PS4) shows your objective marker, meaning it's hard to get lost, even when you wander off the beaten track rather drastically. You always know what you need to do in order to progress, and side objectives are there for those who want them.
These tools are varied in scope, although there's not a boatload of them. Each has their own specific use for puzzles (explosive bombs for explodable walls, for example), but can be used however creatively you'd like. They're rather unique and reminded us of something like Ratchet and Clank, especially with funny effects like luring Pufferbirds over or covering them in goo to slow them down.
In fact, the whole personality of the game is what makes it stand out from the crowd, as it's a genuinely funny affair that doesn't try too hard. Eko's quips and the slapstick nature of the comedy work to make this light-hearted and enjoyable at all times, because there's nothing quite like kicking a bloated chicken off a ledge is there? Also, it's colourful and has imagination by the bucketload, so it's always inviting to explore the various biomes.
There's also a gun you can use as well, but the combat remains very light throughout. There are only a handful of creatures that attack you unprovoked, and for the rest of the time, you'll use the pistol to shoot down seeds to get more items or perhaps even to let out some frustration, depending on how many times you've died recently.
The focus is, as you'd expect, on platforming, exploring, and using the items in your arsenal to access different areas and look in unexpected places for more resources/collectibles (of which there are many, which could keep you entertained for hours after the main credits have rolled).
Everything handles well and runs smoothly on the PS4, and for the less-than-10-hours of runtime the game offered, we couldn't really see any technical hiccups. In fact, the whole colourful package sparkled, and the exploration and platforming are incredibly smooth, as they should be given the focus of the overall experience.
It's because its focus is so tight that Journey to the Savage Planet works so well. It doesn't try to overstretch itself and instead if gives you an experience that's linear enough so as not to be overwhelming or confusing, with enough hidden secrets and areas in levels that we were reminded of the intricacies of games like Dishonored, where everything has a purpose.
There's a lot stuffed into the package Typhoon Studios offers, and we had a lot of fun wandering around and exploring this charismatic world's vibrant locations and discovering what they had to offer. It could have been a touch longer when it came to the main story, granted, but when all's said and done this is a unique dish packed with flavour, one that we'll happily dip into for seconds.