Planet of Lana is a game that stood out immediately when it was shown to the public for the first time. I imagine that was not in small part due to the striking art style that is hard not to be amazed by. But, that isn’t the only thing this game, developed by Wishfully and published by Thunderful Games, has to offer. It also squarely fits into the cinematic puzzle adventure genre, a genre that is slowly but surely becoming one of the more popular representatives in the indie space.
The genre of cinematic puzzle adventure really needs to be separated into two individual parts though. There’s the cinematic aspect of it, the world, the atmosphere, the big set pieces. And then there’s the moment to moment gameplay of solving puzzles and traversing the environment that make up the puzzle adventure. I make this distinction, because, in my experience, these games tend to put a bigger focus on the cinematic value they hold, rather than the complexity of the puzzles. I don’t mean that as a bad thing either, some of the most engrossing atmospheres I’ve ever encountered in this medium come from games like Inside (2016) and Little Nightmares (2017), as well as both of them having set pieces that I will likely never forget. And don’t get me wrong, the gameplay in those games isn’t bad by any means either. In fact, it’s quite good, but I don’t think I speak just for myself here when I say that I play them, and remember the more cinematic moments. Although I do question if cinematic is really the right descriptor for what they are doing, but that’s a different topic.
I bring all of this up to say that Planet of Lana’s puzzles are more sophisticated than its popular contemporaries in the genre. This is in large part due to the fact that you’re essentially controlling two characters with very different skillsets. There’s Lana, the titular heroine of the story and the character you’re actually controlling, and then there’s her animal companion, Mui, who will follow any commands you give them. Mui is an incredibly helpful companion, as they can reach many places Lana can’t, due to their ability to jump much higher and further, as well as being smaller and fitting through gaps. But just as important as what Mui can do, is what Mui can’t do. Mui can’t swim or climb ropes, for example. Lana can.
There’s another layer to this though. Because the puzzles aren’t just about traversing the environments but also manipulating it. And here’s another major difference between Lana and Mui: Mui is able to interact with the wildlife and various creatures you will come across, while Lana can interact with technological control panels and robots. All of those then have their own abilities as well.
Once you add all of this up, there are a lot of possibilities to create interesting puzzles, and the team behind Planet of Lana certainly took advantage of that. While a lot of the puzzles admittedly come down to pressing buttons in the right order until you’ve made it to the other side of the screen, the manner in which you get access to said buttons varies greatly, and as such the puzzles never become stale.
I realize that all of this might make it sound like the puzzles are super difficult or something, but they’re not. I doubt you will ever get stuck on a puzzle over a longer duration of time without knowing what to do. But they’re not so simple that the solution is immediately obvious either so you might have to take a step back and look at what’s in front of you for a couple of minutes before the answer to the problem comes to you.
So, as I’ve already alluded to, the world of Planet of Lana is a mix of nature and technology. But that doesn’t really paint the whole picture. The planet we find ourselves on is one of almost untouched nature, with beautiful blue seas, green foliage everywhere, and animals living mostly in harmony with humans. Lana lives in a small fishing village with her older sister, when suddenly one day, mysterious spacecrafts come crashing through the atmosphere, attacking the village and kidnapping the villagers. Lana manages to evade, but sees how her bigger sister is taken by the invaders. The robots quickly take over the planet, and so we arrive at the natural world overtaken by technology setting I mentioned before. With nothing left to lose, and an undying will to reunite with her sister, Lana embarks on a journey.
This journey is where we come to the word cinematic in Planet of Lana’s genre description. While it may not seem like it at first, Lana’s personal journey quickly turns into an epic that recontextualizes everything Lana knows about her planet. As she wanders deeper into the unknown depths of her planet, she learns more about its past. And as she unravels more about its past, the imminent future awaiting her planet becomes clearer. With that also comes a realization for Lana, as to what her role in all of this is, and what she needs to do to prevent the worst from happening. I don’t want to say much more about the story, and I also don’t want to say too much about the major set pieces that Planet of Lana throws at you. Just know that they are fantastic and absolutely leave an impact.
All of this is accompanied by a score that’s just perfect. There’s truly no better word to describe it than cinematic. It reminded me of classic Hollywood blockbusters. These grand orchestral themes, which match every beat in the story. It doesn’t matter if it’s a moment of quiet, sadness, wonderment, danger, or anything else, the music is somehow always a perfect match for it. Then there’s also a certain melody which plays a key role in the story, and it’s a beautiful one that will stick in your mind. Throw in an original song that plays over one of the most breath-taking moments in Planet of Lana as well, and you have one of the greatest soundtracks you will likely encounter this year.
I can’t believe it took me this long, but let me finally talk about the visuals. Planet of Lana is absolutely stunning. The art style is incredibly unique as the whole game is hand-painted, and the result is impossible to argue with. The whole world is so vibrant with colours that pop off the screen, striking backdrops with a mindboggling level of detail, and through it all a visual clarity that never fails to highlight what’s important in a scene. It’s a gorgeous game that’s honestly unrivaled in what it’s doing.
If I had to criticize something about Planet of Lana, it might be the atmosphere that isn’t quite on the same level as similar games such as Inside (2016) and Little Nightmares (2017), but those are some of the best to ever do it, and Planet of Lana still has a very strong sense of place. I also have to say, as much as I enjoyed going on this epic odyssey deep into a planet’s core and its history, at the end of the day the story isn’t the most original thing ever told.
These are minor issues though, borderline nitpicks, and don’t take away from what ends up being an incredible experience that you will remember for a while after playing.
Nairon played Planet of Lana on PC with a review key. Planet of Lana is also available on Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.