Chipping Off the Backlog Episode 2 – Freedom Planet

Hello there readers! Welcome (or welcome back!) to Chipping off the Backlog, the series where I cover my quest to play and finish all the games in my collection.

Before I begin this next episode, I want to give a quick update on what’s been happening in my life. Part of the reason I started this blog was that I’ve been stuck at home due to circumstances going on in the world (this was originally written and posted in the Spring of 2020), and I wasn’t working a job because I didn’t want to work something outside of my house for the safety of my family. Well, I just got a job that allows me to work from home, which is awesome! But that of course means I won’t have all that extra free time for gaming and writing. That’s ok, only playing games for a while gets boring.

I’m going to continue working on my backlog, I’ve been having a lot of fun doing so so far. I also want to keep writing this blog, but I know I won’t be able to keep doing what I have been doing and make it work. So from here on out, I won’t be doing in-depth reviews of the games I play, instead I’ll be writing more general reflections on games and what it was like to finally play or finish them. I may rewrite my original inFamous post to reflect this, but for now, I want to push things forward!

(Previous post for those who need to catch up)

Last time around, I started my journey to play my backlog of games by finally playing inFamous. I absolutely fell in love with the game, mostly thanks to the parkour you partake in throughout Empire City. I loved how the game made you feel like a super powered being, and the way it handled the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative was excellent, but good lord I just wanted to keep scaling buildings and running over power lines! It was thanks to my newfound love of parkour that I began craving a platformer. It was with that craving in mind that I decided the next game I’d chip of my backlog was the Sonic fan game turned original IP, Freedom Planet!

Unlike many of the other games on my backlog, I’d actually put a decent amount of time into Freedom Planet. In fact, upon my revisit I realized that I had come close to beating the game when I first played it! So how come I hadn’t taken the time to finish it until now? Well, I had bought Freedom Planet while I was in college, when I had little time and little tolerance for videogames. At that point in my life, if I felt a game was too hard or “not worth it” I would immediately stop playing it and trade it in for something else. In Freedom Planet’s case, I got stuck at one of its hardest bosses, got sick of redoing the fight over and over very quickly, and put then put the game on the back burner. Thank goodness it was a digital download I couldn’t trade in, because I’m very glad to still own the game so that I could revisit the game and finally beat it!

In this revisit, rather than simply finish the file I had, I did an entirel new story mode playthough as Lilac, and then played through most of the game again in classic mode as Carol, and a few levels as Milla. I can easily say off the bat I had a blast and absolutely fell in love with Freedom Planet all over again! Of course, this would be a short post if that’s all I said, so I might as well go a little deeper.

As I mentioned earlier, Freedom Planet started life as a Sonic fan game, and it shows in the style and gameplay. There are plenty of loops and ramps throughout the stages, and many moments where you build up speed. There are also elements of Freedom Planet that remind of other games from the early 90s like Strider, Metal Slug, and Astal. But Freedom Planet isn’t just a tribute or throwback to those games. As I played through the game again and dug deeper, I realized tht Freedom Planet is a game that develops its own identity by thinking inside the box – rather than trying to entirely break away from the tropes of the 2D action game genre, it puts its own spin on some of those tropes to evolve them and give the game its own identity.

The most obvious thing Freedom Planet puts a spin on is how enemies hurt you. You don’t take damage from simply touching enemies, just from their attacks. As much as I love classic Sonic games, running into enemies and losing rings because of it is something I’ll likely never stop despising, so this is relieving for me. This change allows you to pick up the speed and explore around levels more freely, since you aren’t anxious about running into a foe and taking a hit. Of course, the game balances this out by giving most of its baddies projectile attacks. In rooms where you have to deal with a lot of bad guys, the screen can at times look like something out of a shoot ‘em up, with projectiles everywhere.

Another trope Freedom Planet puts a spin on, one I didn’t notice or realize until this revisit, is character special attacks. Most 2D action games and platformers allow you to use a special weapon or attack to make enemies easier to fight, but you often have to obtain it first and can easily lose it by taking damage. In Freedom Planet, each character always has access to their special attack, but it’s limited by an energy meter. Every time you use the attack, your meter depletes, and you have to wait for it to recharge, similar to waiting for a powerful weapon to cool down in a shooting game. Essentially, you’re never without a powerful attack to make foes easier to manage, but you can’t spam it. It changes the flow of enemy encounters and boss battles, forcing the player to find a good balance between standard and special attacks.

What surprised me the most in my revisit of Freedom Planet was just how different the characters played from each other. When I first played the game back in 2015, I only played as Lilac, a dragon with a spin attack double jump and the ability to shoot through the air. Even initially on my revisit I stuck to her, and most platforming challenges and boss battles were a breeze. I was ready to say “Freedom Planet is a good game, but its best platforming challenges and boss battles don’t come until close to the end.” Then I finally tried out the wildcat Carol, who does not have a double jump, but can jump from a slide on walls Megaman X style and can jump between red platforms to get to certain areas easily. Carol not having a double jump, as well as her special attack being Chun-Li style quick kicks, presented me the platforming and combat challenge I look for in a 2D action game like this. It almost felt like I was playing an entirely different game when I switched. I didn’t spend as much time with the basset hound Milla, but from what I have played I can see the short range of her melee attack and the delay of her projectile make her the “hard mode” of this game, the delay of her projectile attack reminding me somewhat of a Belmont whip.

It’s worth playing through Freedom Planet as each character not just because of how differently they play, but also because each character has at least one unique level to their campaign, and each of them has certain paths that only they can take in each level. If you’re like me and love hunting down collectibles, you’ll need to master all three characters in each level to obtain all of Freedom Planet’s collectible cards that unlock art and music. Fortunately, one of Freedom Planet’s best aspects is the multiple difficulties alongside each character. If you like a character’s style or want to get all the items they can obtain, but you feel they make the game too easy or too hard, there’s difficulty options for that! Personally, between these characters and the difficulty options, Freedom Planet is one of the few games I can genuinely recommend to both casual and hardcore gamers alike. – Link to the 8bitdo controller I used for the review

The only criticism I have of Freedom Planet’s gameplay is the lack of D-Pad support (sort of). What’s head scratching about Freedom Planet is that by default it controls with an analog stick, which I know most people don’t care for with 2D games. There are a lot of controller customization options for Freedom Planet, but with most controllers when I tried to set movement to a controller’s D-Pad, the game recognized the D-Pad as a single button rather than four buttons. The only exceptions I found were my Playstation 4 controller and my 8bitdo Lite controller, the latter having a D-Pad in place on an analog stick. You can adjust analog stick sensitivity if you’re stuck with analog only, but if you want to use a D-Pad use a PS4 controller or an 8bitdo controller that doesn’t have an analog stick.

Even before revisiting Freedom Planet, I would have told you that the game looks beautiful. And now that I have revisited the game, I can very much reinforce that feeling, Freedom Planet looks beautiful. I love the color palette especially; it makes the visuals easy on the eyes and gives the game a “pretty” look for lack of a better description. The level of detail on the worlds and characters is also excellent. I noticed during this revisit that there’s layers to the backgrounds, multiple sets of objects different distances away. It reminds me a lot of Castlevania Symphony of the Night, which I would very much say is still the best looking sprite-based game out there.

Freedom Planet’s soundtrack is also awesome, blending chiptune sounds with real instruments, a style that never gets old to me. The music sounds great, and it provides the right kind of energy for each stage and boss encounter. Like classic Sonic music, this is the kind of soundtrack you should blast from your car stereo while cruise controlling down a freeway.

I wish I could say similar things about Freedom Planet’s story and storytelling, but I honestly cannot. When I first played Freedom Planet, I played on “classic mode,” which simply has you move from level to level with no story cutscenes. I decided to play story mode this time around to see if I was missing anything, and I felt that I really wasn’t. The story felt like the TV movie for a kid’s cartoon in all the wrong ways, with clichés that I saw coming or made me roll my eyes. The characters and character interactions were fun, but the story overall was nothing special.

What surprised me about the story was how many dark and frightening moments there were on screen. And I don’t mean Bionicle Mask of Light “rated PG for scary images,” I mean the fact there’s both a beheading scene and an electric shock torture scene on screen! Granted there’s no blood and neither scene lasts long, but if I had played story mode as an 8 year old, I would have run away from the game crying. Essentially, Freedom Planet’s story feels like it was made for kids but is not entirely safe for kids. Parents should have their kids play “classic mode” just to be safe.

Despite the issues with the D-Pad and my dislike for the story, I had a blast revisiting and finally completing Freedom Planet. It wasn’t just as good as I remembered it being, it’s better than I remember it. It’s a game that reminds me why I love videogames in the first place, as silly as that sounds. It’s an absolute blast, and I plan on coming back to complete playthroughs as Carol and Milla and obtain all the collectibles and hidden items. Even if you only casually like platformers, and even if you don’t like Sonic games, I can’t recommend Freedom Planet enough to you. And while I bought and played Freedom Planet on Steam, there are ports on the Playstation 4 and the Switch, so even those that say “I don’t like PC gaming” have no excuse to not try out this one.

Yeesh, the first two games I’ve played on this journey to play my backlog have been super awesome! How long will the super awesome last? Who knows? But I know it’s going to last at least a little longer, since my next game I’m chipping off the backlog is Castlevania Symphony of the Night! I’ll see y’all then.

Words by FauxLeisha

All images etc (c) their respective owners

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