Fan art by Gashi Gashi (http://gashi-gashi.deviantart.com/art/Freedom-Planet-Artwork-359546496)
This is another one of those “under-the-radar indie game alerts” I like to do from time to time, but this is probably the biggest one I’ve done on this blog yet. This goes double if you were ever a fan of SEGA’s Genesis/Mega Drive action games. In relation to its apparent quality and craftsmanship, Freedom Planet could end up being one of the most criminally underrated indie games of 2014, right alongside Oniken.
This is also a case for why you should scroll down Steam’s New Release section every now and then. It’s filled with trash these days (which I honestly think makes it look more representative of the gamut of PC gaming), but there are still gems that might not make it onto a featured page. I think Freedom Planet is one of them, and I would never have even heard of it had I not scanned Steam’s New Releases on Monday.
After a quick search through well-known gaming websites, only Destructoid and Eurogamer have briefly mentioned it over the last couple years. Apparently this game got some love from niche fans when they released a demo in 2012 (which is still available at the game’s main website) and when it blasted through its kickstarter last year. It’s hard to say how much attention Freedom Planet will get now that it’s fully launched.
Basically, an indie developer set out to do what SEGA hasn’t been able to do in arguably 20 years — make a good Sonic game. Shovel Knight is getting all the love for being a great 2014 NES game, and in the same vein Freedom Planet is basically a 2014 Genesis game. It’s more than that though. After trying the demo and watching the launch trailer, it comes off as an impressively comprehensive love letter to fans of the Genesis Sonic games, the Saturday morning TV show, and the Archie comic. A significant dash of Gunstar Heroes is also immediately apparent. Others have made comparisons to Ristar, Dynamite Headdy, and Rocket Knight.
You run through side-scrolling levels that are designed with real intricacy and craft. A lot of Sonic’s old gimmicks are there as the game shamelessly employs springs, ramps, and loops. But, Freedom Planet doesn’t hesitate to employ things I never saw in Genesis-era Sonic. It’s definitely not just you running forward — it doesn’t just leave it all up to speed, employing some light puzzle-solving and multi-layered paths. The enemies are surprisingly varied too, smartly utilizing the game mechanics. One level in the demo even does something with its boss we don’t see enough — have that boss flee and then reappear to harass you in interesting ways throughout the second half of the level. The specific game of which Freedom Planet reminds me the most is Sonic 3.
Where Freedom Planet seems to go beyond “good Sonic game” and into “love letter” territory is its presentation and story. Basically, it tries to be a Sonic game with a storyline reminiscent of the Saturday AM TV show or the comic. As the opening prologue plays — entirely in the gameplay engine like many Genesis games, there’s a sense of a story that’s serious while also trying to stay within 90’s children’s TV standards. The villain is a cartoon villain, but his goal seems more complex than initially let on. Then they throw in some political conflict for good measure. Freedom Planet also employs a surprising amount of voiced dialogue which I’ll say isn’t terrible. It’s definitely a shade above “fan production” quality, maybe even in-tune with the era of entertainment it’s trying to evoke.
Maybe one reason Freedom Planet might not get the attention it deserves is precisely because of the fan base it appeals to. As soon as someone sees its anthropomorphized animals they might take it to be a game for furry fandom which has kind of a bad name in general “nerddom.” That itself has been attached to the reputation of people who still hang on to the Sonic license (the circles admittedly intersect). I think the weirdest parts of those communities have made people forget there was a time when furry characters with attitude were cool. Freedom Planet seems like a look back at that entire era. Plus, Dust: an Elysian Tail was good right?