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Journey to the Savage Planet is almost brilliant

Finished this one a few days ago (100% and all) and I have to say I really quite enjoyed it. It's essentially a first person Metroidvania – I wanted to find a better way to describe it but I don't think calling it a shooter is really quite fair and it definitely favours platforming, exploration and backtracking over combat. The influences from the Metroid Prime series is unashamedly apparent, and if you liked those games I'd definitely recommend giving it a shot.

However there are just a couple of little niggles that I think hold it back from being as great as it could have been. First, though, the positives:

The Good

  • The game's visuals are really appealing, to me at least. It's not a graphics powerhouse but it uses its art style and world design to great effect. It's definitely going for that goofy 60s/70s style sci-fi look, with weird-looking plants and aliens all over the place. It's super colourful but never overwhelming, you can always see what you're meant to and finding your way around without a map (there isn't one) isn't too difficult. The game also boasts some impressive views thanks to the next point:

  • The level design is strong, and features a LOT of verticality (I don't think that's a word but you know what I mean). Some of the platforming in this game will have you holding your breath as you jump across floating platforms over massive chasms and climb humongous towering structures. The third (of three) zone in the game is entirely based around giant floating islands like something out of a Zelda or Sonic game, it looks awesome and it's pretty exhilarating to make some of those jumps. I was actually a little disappointed when I discovered fairly late in the game that falling off a platform that is suspended over the sky doesn't kill you outright but just takes off a chunk of your health, but it still gives you plenty of those panic moments like in Shadow of the Colossus or the older Tomb Raider games. It's not deep, but it's fun.

  • There's very little bloat. A few weeks back I played through Bloodstained and one of the big complaints I had was that I felt it had too much gear, item farming, crafting and other 'RPG elements' that I don't think added much of substance to the game. This game does basically the opposite and not to say they are the same game or should do the same things, but it was refreshing to not have to worry about things like rare item drops, gear that requires a million pieces of shit to craft, or spending hours grinding to level something up so you actually have a chance. There are only three types of crafting material in the game, they are easy to find and there's more than enough to get everything. You only have one gun, but it gets plenty of upgrades and naturally so does your character. Collectibles grant you boosts to your health and stamina but most of them aren't too hard to find and you only need around 40 out of 100 to max everything. This game could have easily been a boring grind if they added some of that stuff and I'm so glad they didn't.

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The Bad

  • To be honest, combat is not good in this game. I was playing on Xbox so I'd guess it's better on PC, but for some reason the shooting felt very stiff. I'm no slouch when it comes to FPS games on console but I don't think they really got it right here. Now in fairness, this game isn't meant to be Doom, but there were a bunch of very frustrating moments when I was having to deal with fast moving enemies that I couldn't seem to land a hit on – and it doesn't help that some of the more powerful ones MUST be shot on a glowing weak spot rather than just anywhere. There's a late-game miniboss that's basically a gorilla-frog hybrid and it can only be damaged around its armpit area when it thumps its chest, but the game's a bit finicky when it comes to registering hits. The enemies in the game don't really gel well with its shooting mechanics, I find.

  • I was saying how the game doesn't have a lot of unnecessary bloat earlier, but I lied a little – there are a few upgrade tiers that can only be accessed by completing various little challenges contextualised as 'science experiments'. This isn't a bad idea on paper but some of them are a bit ridiculous and unnecessarily difficult. Things like "fall at least 50 metres and save yourself with your boosters" is fun and something you'd probably be doing a lot anyway, but you've got some that are like "kill two enemies at once with the explosion from a Prime Jellywaft". A Prime Jellywaft is a flying jellyfish-type enemy that shoots poisonous blobs at you and creates an acid explosion when you kill it. You have to kill it while it is near at least two other enemies and have the explosion kill them. Doesn't sound so bad, but it's a lot harder than it sounds because these enemies only spawn in certain areas and they fly around all over the place, so it requires a lot of luck and patience to get it right. There are a few other challenges like that.

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I'm not opposed to having these kind of challenges in the game, even hard ones like that, but some of them were a bit obnoxious. The thing is, once you've beaten all 4/5 challenges in a group, you'll unlock that corresponding tier of upgrades, so until you have beaten all of them you will have a bunch of upgrades ready and waiting to be unlocked after you do this stupid challenge, and then once you do you unlock like 7 of them at once which isn't that satisfying. I wonder if maybe having one challenge for each upgrade might have been better. Typing this all out now is making me realise that it sounds awfully petty, but it was probably the low point of the game for me.

The Meh

  • The humour in JTTSP was a little hit or miss for me. Your character doesn't speak, but you have this computer companion that acts as your visor, scanner, database and so on. Whenever you scan anything, she makes a jokey comment about it. If I had to describe it, it's like if the scan visor in Metroid Prime was voiced by a (female) Claptrap from Borderlands and every text entry for an enemy, plant or item was a snarky comment. To the game's credit (seriously, thank you) there is an option in the menu to turn her voice off. I probably did that within 30 minutes of playing. I'm not even against having a character like that provide colourful commentary, but it was too much, too often and I didn't need it.

On the other hand, the game does have a bunch of fake advertisements that I actually found pretty amusing. They all look and sound like exaggerated, twisted versions of the kind of obnoxious ads you'd see on American TV. There's one about a gelatinous ooze-themed hotline for ludicrously overpriced sexy talk with nebulous blobs and one about a machine that turns your excess meat products into a sentient 'buddy' who is totally not horrifying. They reminded me a bit of the fake ads you'd see in the old Ratchet & Clank games. Unfortunately there's only about 7 or 8 of them in the game, though.

  • The story. The game hints at some dark mysteries beneath the zany hijinks but I don't think it totally delivers on them. If you collect all of the logs from the guy who travelled there before you, you get some pretty interesting backstory that actually ends on a somewhat disturbing note, but the main story was a little flat. It's essentially delivered through a series of videos from the shady company who sent you to the planet that appear in your ship after certain progress points and in between the kooky corporate nonsense there are implications that something much more sinister is going on behind the scenes but I don't think it really landed like it could have. These sections are held up by the enthusiastic performance of the main actor (whose name I forget sadly) who plays the shady CEO of this company (who proudly boast to being the 4th best in their field) but otherwise it's nothing special. I would say he reminded me of Casper Darling from Control, though a little more in-your-face and obviously sketchy. That said, I do appreciate that the game didn't bombard me with lore entries to read through and scripted story sequences to watch, it left that stuff to the home base and let me get on with playing the game. I'd give it praise for that at least, it's clearly a gameplay-focused game and it mostly hits the mark in that respect.
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Now that I've sat with it for a few days, I'd say JTTSP was a game that I came away from feeling pretty positive. Those things I complained about were nitpicks really, but I do feel like this could've been something special with just a little work in those areas. They may have annoyed the shit out of me while playing but I can't say they made my overall opinion of the game all that much worse. It's not quite Outer Wilds or No Man's Sky, but if you're looking for a fun little sci-fi adventure I'd say give it a shot.

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