With a sequel already announced and well into development, it's fair to say we PlayStation folk are a little behind in playing Freedom Planet. Nearly three years after its initial launch on PC, the Kickstarted retro sidescroller has finally arrived to provide some pixelated platforming action. The good news is that, pleasingly, it was worth the wait.
Taking inspiration from a huge range of 16-bit era action games, Freedom Planet plays like a montage of all your favourite aspects from the likes of Mega Man, Gunstar Heroes, Ristar, and, it must be said, Sonic the Hedgehog. However, while it wears its influences on its sleeve, developer GalaxyTrail has merged everything together seamlessly, resulting in a nostalgic-yet-fresh experience that maintains its own identity.
The story adds to this, although it's not the game's strongest aspect. An evil warlord named Brevon crash lands on the planet Avalice, and so seeks the power of the Kingdom Stone, an ancient artefact that provides energy to the three kingdoms. He plots to manipulate the nations into war in order to steal the stone for himself. Our protagonists become involved when they rescue Torque, a "Chaser" who informs them of Brevon's sinister plan. As a set-up, it's okay, but the execution is not quite there. The story ends up being slightly confusing, though you are able to get the gist. The dialogue doesn't help as it's exceedingly cheesy, and the voice acting is passable but the audio mix is all over the place, with some voices much quieter than others.
Still, at least the characters themselves are well realised. There are three playable heroes, all of whom have different abilities and traits. The dragon Lilac is the fastest and has a Dragon Boost that lets her shoot off in a burst of speed. She also has a sort of double jump / whirlwind attack to gain some extra height, and has a few punches and kicks to boot. Carol the wildcat is slightly slower but has faster attacks, and can wall jump or even summon a motorcycle to help her navigate the levels. The third playable character is Milla the hound, who can do a Yoshi-style floaty double jump and summon a shield to deflect incoming attacks. She can also summon green cubes of goo to throw at enemies.
This trio of protagonists means you can effectively play through the game three times and have slightly different experiences. Their fighting styles change how you combat enemies, but more importantly, their traversal abilities allow you to fully explore the large, intricate levels. The stages are long and feature multiple different routes. There are also areas and hidden items that are only accessible to certain characters, so it's worth exploring with each of them. Though playing through the story three times might sound laborious – especially considering the surprising amount of dialogue – a "Classic" mode allows you to skip it entirely, leaving you to conquer the levels one after the other with no interruptions.
The mix of platforming and light combat is a lot of fun, with the big stages full of enemies to plough through. There is a nice mix of themes throughout the levels and new enemies are introduced constantly, which keeps things fresh to the end. The boss encounters are hit and miss, however. Mini bosses pose little threat, but big bosses ramp up the challenge significantly, which can put a dampener on proceedings if you've been breezing through and suddenly hit a wall. The bosses are imaginative and offer some fantastic battles, but can feel a little unfair at times.
It successfully walks the retro walk with its intense bosses, then, but finds far more success in its presentation. The pixel art is rather lovely, and it can at times look like a long-lost SEGA game. Booting the game up, it dresses itself as a 16-bit game right from the GalaxyTrail logo; the studio really nailed the aesthetic. The sound, while not quite as convincingly retro, is decent overall, with some catchy tunes and satisfying, twinkly effects accompanying the speedy action.
What we end up with is a 16-bit throwback that's worth playing for the reasons that matter the most. The story isn't great and we encountered one or two glitches, but its shortcomings are nullified by excellent platforming and arcadey action. The lengthy levels are impressive, and the three playable characters all offer fun ways to get through them. If you're after a solid 2D platformer to tide you over until Sonic Mania, Freedom Planet will definitely scratch that itch.