Xbox One, PC, Xbox Series X|S
May 23, 2023
In Planet of Lana, you’re taken off Earth and transported to a planet that is somewhat similar to our own. Desert planes and forest biomes galore. Except, not everything is as it seems. You play as Lana, a child who is trying to rescue her friends and family after they were all abducted by alien machines. It’s up to her, and her animal companion, to travel the wasteland and find the people she’s searching for. But will she destroy the enslavers, or try to understand them? Wishfully Studios is a Swedish-based developer, with Planet of Lana being their debut game. And it’s a banger of a debut too, with an art style you can’t help but fall in love with. Does Planet of Lana have you thinking in different ways, or does it make you feel like a robot?
Something in the sky, waiting there for me
When you begin playing, Lana is chasing after a loved one, and this is where we get introduced to the mechanics of the game. As she chases after her, you learn to jump on bundles of sticks, and duck under enclosed spaces, with Lana finally meeting up with her friend. As this happens we notice that there are multiple things trailing across the sky leaving trails of smoke. One of the trails leads to this large robotic alien with a cage underneath it that captures Lana’s friend, putting Lana back into pursuit. Lana runs past her town, finding it destroyed and the inhabitants captured. Running as fast as she can, she tires out eventually and falls asleep. It’s a massive introduction to the game, and can really capture your attention. While you don’t have time to get to know Lana’s friend, you do understand that she’s an important figure in Lana’s life.
After waking up, Lana meets this cat-like creature, who you manage to save, and who in turn saves you. Their name is Mui and I’m happy to report you can pat them! Mui is your companion throughout the game, who helps you with the puzzles around you. You control them in a way, with Lana instructing Mui to sit or to follow. This is where the “companion-based gameplay” comes in. Commanding Mui will help you in solving puzzles or getting to locations you couldn’t get to on your own. It’s pretty useful, and I quite enjoyed the companionship, especially when you’re in such a unique world.
A beam of light comes shining down on you
“I enjoyed just seeing how the two interacted with the world, understanding what motivates them.”
Admittedly, throughout the game, I didn’t seem to connect with Lana and Mui as much as I had hoped for. I did want to see the outcome of their story, and I was concerned about what happened at the end. But I found myself loving the art style of the game more than its characters. It’s not that there wasn’t any substance to the game, I loved the environmental storytelling. It’s just that I didn’t connect with our two heroes as much as I would’ve hoped for.
But, ultimately, Planet of Lana is one of those games where there is a clear hero’s journey that we follow. The markers in the journey are ones you’d find in the game, like the inciting incident, or meeting with a goddess. But in many ways, the game doesn’t feel like it’s about the plot, it feels like it’s more about the two main characters and the personal journeys they go through. And I quite liked that. I enjoyed just seeing how the two interacted with the world, understanding what motivates them.
One of the more noticeable things in Planet of Lana is the unfamiliar language the characters speak. We don’t get told how Lana feels, or what her thoughts are, we instead see it by her body language. And this also comes with fantastic environmental storytelling. We don’t get told how humans found themselves here, we see it by looking at cave walls. We uncover it through… art.
We climbed aboard their starship
The game is primarily a mix of puzzle and stealth. The puzzles are more similar to games like Portal where you can see where you need to go, you’ve just got to figure out the in-between moments. This is where that “companion-based gameplay” comes in. Mui is able to help you throughout the game, like lighting up an area or pressing a button. Sometimes the puzzles do take a bit of understanding to get through. This might be having Lana backtrack, or moving a log to expose some rock with a drawing on it. Busting out the pen and paper to help with puzzle solutions even came in hander on occasion. It’s a really unique way to create puzzles, and it’s very rewarding once you figure it out in the end.
The stealth elements are somewhat basic. It’s no Assassins Creed, but it works well for what the game aims to do. Most of the stealth elements have you hiding between bushes, slinking from one out-of-sight area to the next. The robotic aliens have censors to indicate whether or not they’ve spotted you. One can fly and it has blue, yellow, and red lighting to indicate levels of safety. There are also spider-like robot aliens who once they’ve seen you, you’re done. You’re also able to lure them out with Mui, who burrows in a hole. It breaks up the monotony of a straight puzzle game, and most of the time, the stealth sections are quite easy to get through.
Out comes a man from Mars
There is a stealth/puzzle section in the desert that unfortunately broke immersion and caused confusion. Most puzzles require you to have Mui with you to continue forward, this is because sometimes you literally cannot exit the area without them as their powers are needed. This specific area seemingly had no way for Mui to pass safely, and after continuous deaths, I simply ran to the end, unsure of what else to do. With Mui left behind I eventually hit a cutscene which brought the lovable critter straight back to Lana all of a sudden. I don’t know if it was a glitch or a less-than-perfect way to complete a section of game, but it certainly broke the immersion for me because of it.
A lot of the game’s puzzles are hard to understand but make perfect sense when you figure them out. However, there was one puzzle in Planet of Lana that I found more frustrating than clever. The problem with this specific section of gameplay is that it had you piloting a flying robot-like creature, however, the controls here aren’t as fluid as you’d want them to be. Combine this with some fairly unforgiving checkpointing and you have the recipe for a decently frustrating time at the hands of easy and somewhat cheap deaths.
Take me on board their beautiful ship
There’s a simplicity to the gameplay that is really enjoyable, and yet this 2D sidescroller also finds a way to contain a lot of depth. Basic interactions and animations feel great and the game continues to find satisfying ways to tell its story in a way only possible in the video game medium. Quick-time events do pop up, though thankfully you’re able to shut them off if they’re not your jam or you need to for accessibility reasons. I turned them off and found the experience still worked pretty seamlessly.
One of the big standouts of the game is its visual style. The robotic aliens allude to War of the Worlds (1898), specifically the large mechanical spider-like aliens. Considering that H. G. Wells was inspired by England’s colonialism, it’s no doubt that these themes also inspired Planet of Lana. Similarities can also be drawn to the Reapers from the Mass Effect series, which offers a similar analytical study as the machines from War of the Worlds. The art itself is just to die for. It has similar vibrant greens and blues as in Studio Ghibli films. But it’s also mixed with this paint-on-a-canvas feel and the aesthetics of Simon Stålenhag. Especially with the use of large hulking machines in urban and landscape environments.
The art style is something that kept me wanting more, to see more areas, to see these characters react to the environment. The art is so rich and is such a selling point of this game. The sound design also ties in with the art style and the themes. You get a real sense of where you’re stepping. Grass crunching against Lana’s foot, or the thocky sound of stone after landing a jump. The musical score behind the game likens to scores of sci-fi classics, like the Star Wars series, specifically the score of A New Hope (1977). The jaunty windpipes feel so familiar in a world that is anything but.
- The game's visuals are beautifully depicted
- Sound design fits in perfectly
- The use of puzzles is rewarding
- Environmental storytelling is fresh
- Puzzle/stealth formula is a cool combo
- A stronger connection to the main characters would have helped
- A lack of puzzle checkpoints can be stressful
- Occasional glitches
Planet of Lana is a vibrant and vivid dreamscape. From luscious greens to bright blues, it’s very clear how important art is in a game like this. Some issues hold the title back, such as a lack of checkpoints leading to frustration in puzzles. Though the environmental storytelling is strong, the puzzle elements largely work with the use of “companion-based gameplay”, and the stealth sections, while basic, make for a fun time. All in all, Planet of Lana is an engaging and unique game, and a world worth experiencing.