One of the reasons I love indie games so much is the sheer variety that they offer. Sure, some games are blatant rip-offs of others, but a lot of the time, they introduce entirely new concepts.
When I saw that Planet of Lana had been added to Xbox Game Pass, I was eager to try it out. The trailer looked compelling, and puzzle-platformers are right up there with roguelites as one of my favorite genres.
Whilst the triple-A market is always trying to capture the current trends and become the next big thing, indie developers create games with passion and originality. They don’t let the market dictate their game; they let their imaginations dictate it.
The game had a remarkably quick install time of only around 5-10 minutes, and in no time, I had it loaded and ready to play. I completed the entire thing in 2 sittings, and I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you. Let’s dive in with my Planet of Lana review!
A Tale of Friendship and Adventure
The game starts off by introducing us to our protagonist, Lana. She lives an idyllic life in a floating village by the sea, surrounded by people engaging themselves in nature and fishing. We get a sense of her contentment, and it’s clear to see that she couldn’t be happier with her way of life.
We also get to meet her best friend Elo. Together, they run through their village, getting into mischief. This is an excellent way to set up the bonds of their friendship, and Planet of Lana does an excellent job of conveying a lot of emotion with just a few simple actions.
However, the trouble starts not long after the two of them leave the village to explore the mountains. At first, it all seems so calm and quaint, with Lana and Elo wandering around some beautiful scenery. But then, all of a sudden, we see robots!
They couldn’t be more out of place in a setting like this, with the calm natural atmosphere of the mountains clashing with the dystopian sci-fi-esque nature of the robots in a genius juxtaposition.
These robots are anything but friendly, and they abduct Elo, with Lana narrowly avoiding capture herself. She desperately chases after him, but it’s no good. Worse, the residents of her entire village are taken, leaving her as the only one remaining. Thus begins an epic adventure of heroism and hope.
Early on in her journey, Lana meets a friendly creature called Mui, who’s essential to the gameplay, but serves a far greater purpose story-wise. Her emotional connection with Mui coupled with the challenges they face together, are at the forefront of what makes this game so charming.
The cutscenes are short, but they show her desperation and sadness at losing Elo. We can see just how much she misses him, and the longer the game goes on, the more Lana feels his absence. Her voice loses the edge of hope and joy, and we see her slip into despair.
The language used in the game is fictional, and at first, I was confused, but now I understand why the developers made that choice. It demonstrates how connection is universal, and what bonds us is our shared emotions, not our words.
The ending gave me mixed feelings. Without spoilers, I appreciate what they were going for, but I think they should’ve leaned more into the emotional impact. I felt like they were torn between two endings, and instead of committing to just one, they tried to combine both, and I felt it fell a little flat.
However, it was still very much enjoyable and was certainly worth the adventure that it took to get there. The immersion throughout the entire game was perfect.
I Get It, already!
My golly gosh, was the tutorial drawn out. And I’d like to specify, my issue here is not with the content of the tutorial. I liked the premise, as the tutorial was the entire introductory chapter. It was important for establishing the story, and I liked that it was a slower pace compared to the rest of the game.
However, the issue is that it treated the player like this was their first time ever holding a controller. For this next paragraph, I’ll be talking about Xbox buttons as that’s what I played Planet of Lana on, but you can substitute if you play on PC. Anyway, you jump by pressing A. That is the standard button across the board of pretty much any Xbox game. It could not be more intuitive.
Yet the tutorial reminds you to press A to jump… Every. Single. Time. Whenever you come to a platform, the reminder pops up on the screen, and it’s infuriating. It affects the immersion as it reminds me I’m playing a video game rather than exploring a new world.
The same issue happens with crouching. You press LT, which wouldn’t be my first guess but isn’t ridiculously unusual. Most games use B or L3 to crouch, but using LT to crouch isn’t necessarily rare. But try telling that to the Planet of Lana developers.
They feel the need to remind you every time you come to a surface you can crawl under, and this doesn’t even stop in the tutorial. You get the LT reminder constantly throughout the entire game.
Not only is this unnecessary, but it takes some of the fun out of the game as it means I know immediately where I’m supposed to go, instead of being able to figure out the next move for myself. The only reminder that doesn’t bother me is when it tells you to use X to interact. In this case, it’s useful as it lets you know which items can be interacted with.
A Glorified Walking Simulator
It’s a bit cheeky calling Planet of Lana a puzzle-platformer. Technically it’s true, but it’s a platformer in the same way that a cucumber is a fruit. Sure, a cucumber has seeds inside, so by scientific definition, it’s a fruit, but you’d never put it in a fruit salad.
Similarly, Planet of Lana has platforms here and there, but there’s no platforming skill necessary. It’s essentially a glorified walking simulator with occasional platforms to try and distract you from the fact that you’re just walking in a straight line.
To be honest, it’s almost a good thing it’s not a real platformer, as the controls are not the best. The jumps have a bit of lag on them, and the movement is floaty and awkward. I’ve always said that smooth movement is the number one thing that makes or breaks a platformer for me.
If Planet of Lana had required any real platforming skill but had only provided us with that mediocre level of control, I’d have rage quit.
Whilst I’m on the subject of annoying controls, you have to hold the crouch button. It would have been so much better had they used a toggle on/ off system.
Instead, my fingers get achy from having to constantly press the button to stay hidden in the grass when there’s an enemy nearby. Some of the stealth puzzles require precise timing, meaning you can end up holding down the crouch button for a considerable amount of time.
Fortunately, though, the weak movement controls aren’t a problem. As I said, most of the time, you’re just walking in a straight line, with the occasional rock to jump off of. Planet of Lana is incredibly linear, with there nearly always being only one path for you to take. The exception is when you encounter two paths, where one of them will lead to a secret shrine.
Unfortunately, you won’t know which one until you try, and if you take the one that’s part of the main story, a lot of the time, you’ll be unable to double back.
Thankfully, the game offers a chapter-select option which means you can travel back to try and find any shrines that you missed.
Before I move on past the gameplay section, I would like to express my frustration that you can’t run or dash. The gameplay already feels a little lacking with its absence of fun platforming. The least they could do is let you move faster. Some collectibles here and there wouldn’t have gone amiss either.
Put Your Thinking Cap On
Whilst the ‘platforming’ side of the gameplay certainly didn’t appeal to me, I was a big fan of the puzzles. I felt that the range of complexity was just right, with most of them being easy to solve pretty quickly, with others taking several minutes.
I didn’t count how many there were throughout the game, but if you count the stealth sections as puzzles (which I do), then I reckon there must be a good 50-70 of them.
The puzzles rely on the teamwork between Lana and Mui. It’s an excellent way to integrate the mechanics, as Lana can do things that Mui can’t and vice versa.
Together, they use their unique abilities to solve puzzles and make progress. Usually, this means things like pressing buttons at the correct time to activate a platform for the other. However, it can also involve distracting an enemy so that the other can sneak past them.
One of my favorite puzzles involved having to figure out the solution to a series of sliding carts. You had to move them into position so that these large chimes would play the correct musical notes to open the door to the next section.
To figure out the solution, you had to interact with your environment, discovering etchings with symbols drawn on them that corresponded to the correct answer. This one took me a little while to figure out, and it felt so satisfying when I solved it.
Where the gameplay could be considered average, the visuals are anything but. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. The artwork is absolutely stunning, and I cannot stress that enough.
Choosing which screenshots to use for this article was incredibly difficult, and believe me, they look even better on a large screen when actually playing the game.
I honestly think Planet of Lana deserves a nomination for Best Art Direction at this year’s Game of the Year awards. Whether it’s a big enough game to get noticed remains to be seen, but I truly believe it could win out against even triple-A competitors.
What makes the art so special is how imaginative and unique it is. It doesn’t use the typical low-poly or pixelated assets you see in a lot of games. Instead, everything is hand-painted, and it makes such a difference. The level of charm and whimsy is unmatched, and it was really interesting learning about the artist’s process.
Throughout the game, you travel to different biomes, and that visual difference is important for portraying the intensity of the journey. It makes it feel like Lana has traveled so far and emphasizes how she’s so distanced from her home.
Every biome is impeccably envisioned, with a clear art style and rich, cinematic vibrancy. I really can’t overstate how gorgeous the art direction is.
An Inspiring Soundtrack
The other standout facet of Planet of Lana was its incredible soundtrack. Siobhan Wilson has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard, and listening to her sing the song on the end credits made my soul feel at peace.
The vocals paired with Takeshi Furukawa’s delightful musical compositions were an absolute joy to listen to. In fact, as soon as I finished the game, I immediately loaded up my Spotify account and saved the Planet of Lana soundtrack to my library.
The music throughout the game is so relaxing; it’s so soothing to sit back and listen. Interestingly, a lot of the sections don’t even have music playing, but you never feel its absence. Instead, the game goes all in with the ambient sounds of wind and creatures.
The fact that the music isn’t constant makes you appreciate it so much more when you enter an area with a particularly prevalent soundtrack. The game is interspersed with cinematic masterpieces.
The sound effects are fun too. Mui sounds adorable when you stroke her, exactly like you’d expect a cute alien cat-like creature to sound. I’m particularly fond of the sound you hear when Lana jumps off a platform and lands on a rock. I know that I’m getting rather specific, but trust me on this. It’s full-on ASMR levels of satisfaction.
I teetered between giving Planet of Lana a 7 or a 7.5 but ultimately settled on a 7. I felt it would be disingenuous of me to rate it any higher as I’d be judging it almost solely on the audio and visuals, which don’t reflect the entirety of the game. The puzzles were fun too but didn’t stand out enough to push the score over the edge.
A couple of episodes ago on the Indie Game Culture Podcast, we had a discussion about whether indie games need to be fun. I was firmly in the ‘yes’ category, and I think that’s what’s missing here. The game is a fantastic experience that made me feel so many emotions.
I loved being able to relax and lose myself in the world. But except for one section where you got to ride a robot across a desert (seriously, that was awesome), I’m not sure I’d describe any other parts as ‘fun’ in the traditional sense.
Overall, Planet of Lana has a lot going for it. The gameplay reminds me a lot of Inside whilst still having its own distinct style. The story is nothing ground-breaking, but it’s emotional enough to capture my heart. As for the audio and visuals, they were truly exemplary.
With everything considered, I’d readily recommend this game, just don’t expect it to be anything other than a short yet enjoyable experience.
- Absolutely outstanding graphics coupled with a stunning soundtrack.
- You have unlimited deaths, and checkpoints are frequent, so you don’t have to redo much even if you die.
- There are native creatures spread throughout the biomes that help make the world feel more complete.
- Even though you play on a 2D plane, the game has a 2.5D appearance due to the detail of the art in the foreground and background.
- The game zooms in and out as you’re walking to force perspective and create visual differences.
- Movement controls are a little floaty, especially when it comes to platforming.
- It’s way too difficult to get 100% of the achievements as you need to do a no-death run.
- It should come with an arachnophobia warning as several giant spiders jump out and roar at you.
- Too linear. There was too much walking in a straight line, and not enough interactivity.
- The lack of a map or named areas/ puzzles makes it difficult to find a walkthrough for your specific section.
Planet of Lana Review: FAQs
Question: Which platforms is Planet of Lana on?
Answer: Planet of Lana is an Xbox exclusive, so it’s not available on any other consoles. However, it’s also available on Steam.
Question: Who composed the soundtrack for Planet of Lana?
Answer: The soundtrack was composed by Takeshi Furukawa, with the vocals being sung by Siobhan Wilson.
Question: How long does it take to complete Planet of Lana?
Answer: This will depend entirely upon how long it takes you to solve the puzzles. Typically, it’ll probably take you somewhere between 4 and 8 hours. However, a completionist run may be considerably longer as it may take several attempts to earn the no-death run achievement.
Melika played for somewhere between 5 and 7 hours (she was so immersed in the story that she lost track of the time). She collected several achievements, and will probably go back in to get more of them another time. However, she’ll never 100% it, as a no-death run would be nigh-on impossible.