In 2023, standing out from the crowd of indie games has never been more difficult.
AAA titles have multi-million marketing budgets, so can often ‘pay’ their way into your face, whether it’s on billboards, on the side of buses, on TV or even through social advertising.
But with near enough 20 new games released every week, others are fighting hard for scraps. It makes it hard to get any kind of recognition, but it’s just as tough for media to judge what to cover or not.
Just this week, between the staff, we have reviews for 6 different titles, all releasing in a similar window. And there’s a bunch we just didn’t have the time to even look at or consider because of that, even though we’d love to.
If you’ll forgive this mini rant, there is a point to it. Because Planet of Lana really did stand out from the rest of the indie titles, both this week and over the past few months. And it’s a fantastic example of how a game can draw attention to itself, even though it’s not actually doing anything groundbreaking or earth-shattering, but still shows itself in the right ways.
It’s a game that has quietly, steadily been building momentum since launch. From that initial teaser trailer, to the announcement that Takeshi Furukawa is doing the soundtrack, then it got revealed as a Game Pass title and that led into a highly successful Next Fest.
Frankly, it’s been the perfect marketing campaign – from start to finish. And the finish is perhaps the most important part because it’s one thing to convince people a game is good, it’s another for it to actually BE good. And trust me when I say, Planet of Lana is good.
Very good, in fact. Because even though it isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary or different from other walking sims like Limbo, Inside, and Little Nightmares, everything it does do, just like its marketing plan, is carefully co-ordinated.
There is stunning detail in the visuals, excellent use of camera work, well-balanced and timed platforming sections, an intriguing, multi-layered story brewing in the background, each scene has purpose and tries something different. And to top it off, there’s a heart-warming relationship between Lana and Mui right at the heart of it.
Planet of Lana comes to us from Wishfully Studios, their debut game. And what a way to make a statement and impact. Cinematic quality visuals that flow wonderfully and a world-class composer at the helm, bringing heart, soul, energy, passion, and tension to the game at every turn.
Music is pretty much a core mechanic, in fact. Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, it will actually become quite crucial to how you progress and interact with the world and its denizens. Following one particular puzzle, a melody will stick with you and last the duration of the game. A melody that has purpose.
Just like I mentioned before, each scene and sequence you enter has some kind of ever-developing purpose. Whether it’s a scenery change, the introduction of an enemy, a story beat, or an entirely new way of playing.
The game benefits from some stunning visual variety as well, from abandoned beaches, overun villages, dank caves, deserts and more.
But the best part is you and your companion will have to help each other at every point, so there’s never a time where either feels useless or shouldn’t be there. Your little buddy, Mui, will have to climb up to higher ledges to cut a rope you can climb, and as Lana you’ll often have to wade through water to bring a log across because your pal can’t swim.
Working your way through each scene provides this wonderful sense of accomplishment that you just don’t easily find in most games. Puzzles are satisfying to complete and they challenge you at just the right level. And as you become more familiar with the game and the things you need to do, so you feel yourself getting more and more drawn in.
Planet of Lana isn’t a huge game. We’re certainly not thinking the length of a Zelda or Jedi Survivor, and frankly that feels perfect in-between the huge slate of AAA releases we’re just being bombarded with. I don’t think I have the energy for another 40-50 hour game right now, so this just slotted wonderfully into my slate.
But most importantly, Planet of Lana hasn’t been padded. It’s a gradual build-up to its conclusion with smart design at every turn. And if even a moment of tedium does start to seep in when you’re moving between scenes or just moving the left stick, it’s soon replaced with a wonderfully directed scene or a moment of some significant impact.
There’s one part towards the later stages of the game which just gave me this comforting, cozy feeling, sending goosebumps all over my body. My interactions were minimal at the time but that was ok because I was in the moment, appreciating the gorgeous music, in awe of the stunning scale happening in the background and just appreciating this game for what it really is.
Planet of Lana doesn’t get everything right, there were a couple of times I was confused by the button prompt and interactions as you often need to tell your body to stay or follow, or guide them to perform some major significant action. The range of the reticule to direct them or where they position after pressing the button sometimes seems to fall just short of where you want it.
But as you’re travelling from point to point, seeing the background come to life, feeling the world around you with a score that will surely be nominated for awards, you realise that you’re in the middle of playing something truly special.
So if anyone asks how do you choose which games to cover, how does a game stand apart, in what way can I get you to care about the thing I’m working on, I’ll point to Planet of Lana. Make note of its campaign, how it aesthetically did its own thing, and then somehow, through all the hype, managed to stick the landing.
That last part has been the failing of many a product, from the smallest budgets to the largest, and it is undoubtedly the key ingredient. But this is a massive statement from Wistfully Studios, a huge thumbs up to Thunderful as their exciting portfolio of games increases and a massive score for Xbox who desperately needed a big win on Game Pass this month.
Planet of Lana has completely blown me away and given me wonderful gaming memories to cherish for years to come.
Planet of Lana is the rare combination of potential and quality. With a soundtrack that will surely win awards, an unforgettable cinematic style that constantly impresses, mechanics and gameplay that evolve smartly, giving you just the right amount of challenge, and a friendship that warms the cockles of the heart. This is a wonderful adventure that, bar a few minor misgivings, has a bit of everything and will stick with you long after the credits roll.
+ Smart, well-executed mechanics and puzzle solving
+ Beautiful soundtrack that is among the best I’ve heard this year
+ Unique, quality cinematic style that flows marvellously and allows the adventure to truly shine
+ Intriguing adventure at the very heart of the game
– Some confusing button prompts lead to a bit of a frustration
– Aiming reticule and maneuvering Mui can sometimes create some confusion
Planet of Lana launches on PC and Xbox Game Pass on May 23.
Code Kindly Provided by Thunderful for Review Purposes
Played on Xbox Series X