Imagine your favorite video game as the perfect ice cream sundae. At it’s core, it has a sweet and satisfying chocolate flavor, something that you can count on and keeps you coming back every time. All of its sprinkles and toppings complement the already existing flavors and enhance your diabetes-inducing treat.
However, the success of adding more condiments and toppings has a limit; when you start mixing your gummy bears, peppermint patties, and Werther’s originals all in the same bowl, your once-great sundae starts tasting like a Dairy Queen garbage can.
GalaxyTrail’s game Freedom Planet (2014) unfortunately has more in common with those Dairy Queen leftovers than it does with a finely-crafted sundae.
Freedom Planet is a less-than subtle nod to the Genesis-era Sonic the Hedgehog games, but it’s still a joy to play and holds up on its own. Much like its progenitor, speed is king; players are prompted to quickly run through the game’s colorful and dangerous levels, defeat evil animal-like robots, and collect blue gems (objects that function much like Sonic’s rings and Mario’s coins). While this game is notably easier than old Sonic games and can get a bit cluttered at times, it retains the playful simplicity and excitement that made the original Sonic games so much fun.
However, it seems like the developers of Freedom Planet have also (unfortunately) taken some cues from Sonic’s more embarrassing and recent outings, like Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) and Sonic and the Black Knight (2009). Freedom Planet’s characters are annoying and the story offers little more than cliches and extended breaks from the gameplay. The game itself is very fast-paced, but the cutscenes and story sections halt the game to a crawl, giving the game a largely inconsistent pace and tone.
The story also has nothing to do with the game itself; they feel like two separate entities that were fused together into some kind of Brundlefly-like creature; unfortunately, unlike Jeff Goldblum’s character in The Fly, the developers of Freedom Planet apparently still aren’t aware of the monstrosity that they’ve created and are ready and willing to spawn another Freedom Planet title.
Instead of complementing each other, Freedom Planet’s plot, characters, and gameplay form something that doesn’t work, a Frankenstein’s monster of disparate elements that conflict with and confuse each other. Perhaps the plot and characters of Freedom Planet could exist in some other form, but they certainly don’t work when paired with the game mechanics that make playing Freedom Planet so much fun.
A game with disparate and confused elements (without some sort of greater purpose) is almost always a flawed experience.
Whenever I hear someone make the argument that they don’t care about a game’s story because “it’s just a game” or “I only care about gameplay,” I like to offer up the image of the Mona Lisa being framed by a bright pink, plastic frame with comic sans lettering on the edge that just reads “LMAO OMG.” The two elements, the frame and the painting, have totally different aesthetics, appeal to different audiences, and evoke responses that are oceans apart. The silliness of the frame make the Mona Lisa almost a parody of itself and the painting makes an otherwise silly and goofy frame somewhat serious.
Just like any other art form, the best games use all of the elements at their disposal (visual design, sound design, gameplay, fonts, color schemes, etc.) so to make a statement or evoke a very deliberate response.
For example, in Mirror’s Edge (2008), the conflict of the story is fuelled by the struggle between the freerunners’ desire for personal freedom and the government's desire for total control, about the disparate ideals of personal freedom through relative anarchy against rigid stability through loss of free will. The gameplay also reflects the same conflict of ideals.
On the surface, a large portion the gameworld is made up of relatively samey buildings painted with a bland yellow and white color palette; the city looks like a small-scale model of New York City, devoid of all of personality and grime that the original has. However, the player (as the main character, Faith) is encouraged to traverse these settings in unusual ways; the game has you vaulting over rooftops, climbing over scaffolding, and sliding down crane arms in order to jump from building to building.
The gameplay illustrates freedom through movement by allowing the player to navigate a traditionally rigid and uninspiring space through odd means, thereby showing that freedom can even overcome some of the tightest control.
Games with too many elements, or with conflicting elements, lose their essence and cohesion when elements don’t gel with each other. These games become jumbled messes and are extremely difficult to form a connection with or even understand because they ostensibly don’t even understand themselves.
Is Freedom Planet a terrible game? Certainly not, but it has some glaring flaws that can’t be ignored. With Freedom Planet 2 on the horizon, hopefully the folks over at GalaxyTrail learn from their previous mistakes and try not to mix gummies with broccoli like they did with their last less-than savory concoction.