America - Front
America - Back
By Brandon J. Wysocki 04th Feb 2020 | 2,841 views
During a commencement speech, Anna Quindlen is quoted as saying “Every story has already been told.” She goes on to say that once you’ve read certain notable titles, “you understand that there is really no reason to write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table…something that no one else in the history of time has ever had.” It’s easy to argue that Journey to the Savage Planet is derivative. However, much in the same way Anna Quindlen stated, the various elements come together in a unique and satisfying way, even if the game is not a masterpiece.
Journey to the Savage Planet is an exploration game where you scan and catalog flora, fauna, and other items à la No Man’s Sky, with platforming and adventuring in the vein of a Metroidvania, along with some light parkour type traversal. The gameplay is rounded out with run-of-the-mill shooter and collect-a-thon opportunities, as well as a touch of RPG elements (in that you can upgrade your base stats, as well as your items and abilities). Far and away, though, the aspect that stands out above the rest of the game is its terrific satirical humor, which I’ll touch on more as I go.
You play as a recruit in the Pioneer Program of the 4th best interstellar exploration program. You, along with a friend (affectionately called your Meat Buddy) if you go the co-op route, make a rough landing on the world you’re meant to explore. Due to budgetary issues, you weren't sent with any supplies, save for a 3D printer that can make useful items from the materials you forage on the planet. After some instruction from your helpful and hilarious (AI?) guide, EKO, you leave the ship and begin your journey.
As I mentioned, some of the exploration gameplay feels inspired by No Man’s Sky, and you could just as easily argue that the graphics and art style are similar too, even if none of that was deliberate. That’s by no means a criticism. The game is beautiful, has some incredible scenery, and is full of unique, funny, and interesting plants, animals, and other items to discover.
On top of that, the sound and music pair perfectly with the graphics and overall experience. To boot, I didn’t notice a single performance issue – although I did experience a couple of glitches during co-op sessions that resulted in us having to quit and restart. The silver lining there was that we didn’t lose any significant progress the couple times that happened.
As alluded to earlier, the remaining mechanics are solid, but not spectacular. There’s plenty to collect – well beyond what is required to complete the game. As pleasing as that can be, the Metroidvania elements added much more for me. There’s something so gratifying about eventually circling back to reach areas that teased you before by being visible yet out of reach in one way or another. Similarly, being able to endure and/or deliver more damage, as well as traversing more efficiently, in more entertaining manners, or to new or secret areas, is always enjoyable.
There are a decent amount of abilities to unlock and upgrade, several of which are essential to progress in the game. The deep level design does a great job of making use of those abilities. You’re rewarded for thorough exploration of each area, especially if you want to collect and scan everything in the game.
However, better than the excellent world design, the humor is what really made the experience standout. From strange and goofy messages from the CEO of the 4th best space exploration company, and bizarre and satirical commercials you can unlock and view aboard your ship, to the wonderfully funny and entertaining commentary of EKO, the game delivered laughs throughout. While some are simple fart and butt jokes that didn’t often do much for me, the (often fairly dark) humor and banter were a real treat.
What seemed like a simple, innocuous decision to make early in the game resulted in my character panting and yelping like a dog for the remainder of the game. Well above and beyond that, EKO provided some bleak comments and updates reminiscent of GLaDOS, in addition to deadpanning bad news and harsh criticisms. The humor, primarily that provided by EKO, was delightful.
While to this point most of the game has been described as pleasantly average or, better yet, above average, the combat is the notable exception. It’s not awful, but it is mediocre at best. It began simply and promising enough, but eventually became tedious. With the introduction of fast-moving enemies, some of whom have only small vulnerabilities you can target, the gunplay simply doesn’t feel particularly responsive or satisfying.
I played the entire game cooperatively, and while that often just felt like a nice bonus, I’m not sure I would have wanted to have pushed through certain enemies or bosses alone. For those who may be wondering, the difficulty does not scale relative to playing solo or co-op Fortunately, combat is not a huge focus, but it’s certainly a notable part of the game. The only other noteworthy negative is that you can beat the game in under 10 hours, and likely achieve 100% completion in no more than 15.
Derivative or not, and perhaps aside from the combat, every aspect of Journey to the Savage Planet is high-quality. Together, they fuse to make a very compelling and entertaining experience. An expression I like to use, and that applies here, is “jack of all trades, master of none.” While that often carries a negative connotation, it's not inherently bad, nor is it meant to be so here. As a debut effort by Typhoon Studios, it’s truly impressive. However, with the humor and excellent world/level design being the notable exceptions, it’s simply not much more than “good”. Like my lovemaking, it feels largely inspired by things I’ve seen before and is fairly brief, but can be a very satisfying experience all the same.