It all starts off with us waking up in the desert, injured. Upon closer inspection we quickly realise that we're not on Earth. After finding our way out of this sandy environment we find ourselves in a lush rainforest filled with alien flora and fuana. It's not all wandering around checking out strange scenery, though, and it's not long before there are alien spaceships and we're battling killer robots. Welcome to Planet Alpha.
At first glance this new 2D platformer reminds us of an older game by the name of Another World (Delphine Software, 1991), as this also had a minimalistic approach to gameplay. Apart from moving left to right you can also jump and crouch, and it's with those same buttons that you climb and push objects around. The hook in Planet Alpha is that you have the ability to change the time of day at will, and the game world reacts to this change, making it possible to progress through environmental puzzles. Changing the time of day isn't just useful for solving puzzles and you'll probably find yourself fiddling with this feature just for shits and giggles.
While this is an innovative feature, the basic control scheme that the game is built around feels sticky and a little clunky, and our character doesn't react to our inputs as quickly as we'd like. For example, jumping feels unnecessarily cumbersome, and considering the pace can often pick up rather quickly, the deliberate feel of the movement wasn't always appreciated.
The puzzles are pretty easy as a whole, requiring a combination of timing, hiding, and jumping, but there are also moving objects that can provide cover, there's a handful of physical challenges to overcome, and of course you'll be regularly changing the time. Some puzzles require a bit of thought, but for the most part we don't think you'll end up getting too frustrated, especially since you'll have a good time just soaking up the atmosphere. Still, it must be said that the blend of sneaking and more action-packed scenes, along with the puzzle element represents a welcome change of pace.
At first Planet Alpha's artistic style looks odd, as the desert in particular looks a little underwhelming, however, after the desert section things get a lot better, and we start to see the clear influence of films like James Cameron's Avatar (2009). The way the plants and animals react to the change in the time of day makes the whole place feel alive, and light is used in lots of different ways too, which all combines to make Planet Alpha pop with colour.
It also looks rather retro at times, especially the design of the robots. With this in mind it's a shame that the design of the main character looks and feels bland. It looks like a child's toy from the 1980s rather than an intrepid interstellar adventurer. It just doesn't fit, and even the movement looks stiff. It feels like a misstep in a world otherwise full of personality.
Unfortunately the sound design isn't stellar either, as in fact most of the animal growls ended up being annoying rather than offering the immersive experience of being on a strange and alien world. Luckily there is some ambient music playing in the background, which improves things and enhances the otherwise lacklustre audio.
Planet Alpha isn't the most original platforming game, but it's definitely one of the most good looking sci-fi worlds we've explored recently. It looks the part and feels immersive, but it's weighed down a little by clunky controls, the design of the main character, and some early pacing issues. That said, you'll enjoy your evenings spent with the game, and the puzzles should give you enough variety and challenge that you'll likely think it was a trip worth taking.