Before you even get a chance to wistfully marvel Kerriganly at the serenity, invasion—and one a long time coming—touches down, disturbing the peaceful human nature that Lana and her native kin have long enjoyed. Though what you embark upon is a rescue mission to free the people you care for, much of Planet of Lana is about the world itself. Not yet ravaged by the war on its doorstep, it’s an idyllic, harmonious place and I appreciated the unexpected, lingering moments afforded to really drink it all in and focus on the things worth fighting for, rather than the fight itself.
As a “cinematic platformer,” Planet of Lana has certainly been shaped by the works of Playdead. It shares the wonderful, and sometimes arduous, sense of discovery that both Limbo and Inside offered while blanketing the adventure in an engrossing atmosphere.
As Lana, a brave young native, and small pawn in a much larger conflict, you’ll adventure across a violent, sci-fi paradise playing peacekeeper against a cold, inhuman legion of mostly featureless machines. Lana is armed with just her wit, stealthy cunning, and an unwavering sense of bravery in the face of her own crepe-paper fragility, which makes the perilous journey that much more foreboding.
I can’t fault Planet of Lana from a mechanical standpoint. The platforming is rather sound, effectively signposting what is and isn’t in reach of Lana at any given point. It can be tough to gauge which drops will send Lana to her death but the checkpointing is consistently good enough that there’s little risk in trying. If I were to pick on anything at all, the ragdoll animation that comes with dying can bug out on occasion. It’s funnier than it is frustrating, but it’s also the only fly in the ointment of an otherwise immaculate presentation.
One way Planet of Lana sets itself apart from Playdead’s works is in its adorable little companion. A small critter called Mui, not yet corrupted by the rigours of its wild life, takes to Lana and the pair become inseparable. Mui isn’t there just for its cute factor either, it turns out to be a pretty integral part of Planet of Lana’s gameplay loop. It’s almost equal parts exploration and problem-solving, though none of the puzzles offer up anything quite as mind-bending as Limbo’s gravity field, they’re still enough to get the brain ticking over. I always felt a jolt of gratification whenever things would fall into place. And despite being a wildling, Mui can take instruction. It has a surprisingly deep trick bag too—it can sit, follow, and possesses the dexterity to flip switches among other things.
Similar to Limbo, the game is structured like a linear series of puzzle rooms, often dressed up as lush portions of the still-beautiful planet. As you work your way through, there’ll be occasions when Mui is off-screen—often by design. I did appreciate the team’s forethought to include a visible indicator to show Mui’s stance, which helps to smooth over some of the longer, more complicated sections that often involve going back for Mui, who might be grounded for one reason or another.
New mechanics and puzzle elements are introduced with each biome, which definitely helps to keep the formula fresh throughout what is an admittedly brief runtime of about four or five hours, depending on how efficient your problem-solving is. Being a featured Game Pass title, I don’t expect the length to be a huge setback. You’ll drain and fill riverbeds to manipulate water levels, you’ll get Mui to sever electrical cables to create rope swings, and you’ll even hijack a surveillance drone to utilise against its own kind. It’s hard not to admire the imagination poured into every facet of the game.
The same applies to Planet of Lana’s art design, which I absolutely love. Especially the juxtaposition of technology and nature, and how the invading machines feel like the perfect thematic antithesis for the almost primitive residents of a peaceful fishing village. The overworld is rich with lively forests, and the iconic, hand-painted crescent moon backdrop seen in all of the key art peeks through the canopy to great effect, whereas the caverns beneath are spattered with historic, and mysterious, carvings and spider eggs—an effective signal for the danger that lies ahead.
There are a handful of incredibly memorable set pieces that go above and beyond anything most games of this ilk would ever deliver. Although I am not necessarily a believer in the notion that everything has to be playable, contending with a few quick-time events during Planet of Lana’s bigger, cinematic narrative beats isn’t the end of the world.
The design of the machine army itself feels classically sci-fi—smooth, clean, characterless orbs on spider-like legs inject fear through presence alone. There are clear patterns in their patrols, yet they seem hard to predict. They communicate only through their singsong chime, visualised by a kaleidoscopic rainbow of colours within their single “eye”. It’s a small diegetic slice of a beautifully melancholic score from Takeshi Furukawa, who doesn’t put a note wrong in his first game since The Last Guardian.
In a year that’s already given us Dredge, another phenomenal studio debut, I must declare Planet of Lana to be a pretty special game in its own right. More so than Dredge, I feel Planet of Lana could evolve easily as an IP—whether it be a sequel, a graphic novel, or an animated film, there are the makings of a saga here. As solid as the game is, I’ll have a hard time forgetting the beautiful contemplative moments that make up the moments in between. It’s mournful, hopeful, and bullishly effective at plucking at the heartstrings.
Planet of Lana is a profoundly moving title that couples its clever, companion-driven puzzle-solving with an irresistibly gorgeous presentation to create what is, so far, the year’s prettiest, heartrending indie.
Intuitive puzzle design
Absolutely gorgeous presentation
Nails the cinematic platformer vibe it's going for