Freedom Planet 2 Hands-On Preview: Not Your Parent’s Platformer

Over the last few days, I’ve had the pleasure of playing around with a demo for Freedom Planet 2, which is in development at GalaxyTrail. The demo itself isn’t that long (one stage with a boss battle), however, the game is just that damn fun that I kept coming back to it, trying to beat my time and experimenting with the four characters in an effort to determine whose move set best fit my play style.

Before playing the Freedom Planet 2 demo, I had never heard of GalaxyTrail or the original Freedom Planet game. Though fascinated by indie developers and the masterpieces that they create, I often shy away from playing them, instead opting for AAA titles. Freedom Planet 2 makes me regret that decision.

It’s hard to gather much from a demo that can be finished in a little over two minutes, however, I have drawn the conclusion that Freedom Planet 2 is definitely not your parent’s platformer. What do I mean by that? Despite its obvious similarities to Sonic the Hedgehog, Freedom Planet 2 sets itself apart from traditional platforming games while still holding on to the charming components that define the genre.

Platforms: PC (Version Played), “TBA Nintendo Platform”
Publisher: GalaxyTrail
Developer: GalaxyTrail
Genre: Retro-Styled Side-Scrolling Platformer
Release Date: Summer 2017
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending

The Platforming
I tried playing Freedom Planet 2 first with a keyboard… horrible idea! Platforming games require a level of precision that is unachievable using a keyboard and mouse set up, at least, for me. My jumps lacked precision, my attacks missed, and I got my ass handed to me in the boss battle. That first playthrough took over eight minutes to complete.

Frustrated with my horrible performance, I marched to my office, dug out my Xbox controller, and hooked it to my PC. Now equipped with an actual controller and using the same character as I did before, I was able to complete the playthrough and defeat the boss in a little over two minutes.

I can’t say that I’m entirely surprised. The original Freedom Planet game features full controller support, which should have been my clue-in to just use a controller from the start. I didn’t, and I failed miserably because of it. Having the ability to use a traditional keyboard and mouse setup is a nice feature, one necessary for increasing accessibility, but I wouldn’t recommend it at all given the kind of game that Freedom Planet 2 is.

There’s A Slight Learning Curve
Seeing as this is a demo that originally appeared at PAX South, likely with the developers nearby to provide players with guidance, it seems almost unfair to knock them for the learning curve. But what the heck, let’s do it!

The Freedom Planet 2 demo doesn’t provide any sort of tutorial. Instead, the game throws you into the action, leaving you with the choice to either experiment on your own or revert back to the main menu, check the settings, and view the control setup.

In all honesty, this isn’t much different than the approach developers took with games in the past, such as Sonic the Hedgehog, which this franchise clearly draws heavy inspiration from. Plus, it’s really not difficult to simply pause the game and peak at the settings for a bit of clarity. Fans of the old school approach will likely appreciate the lack of handholding, and perhaps I would, too, if the button-mapping wasn’t so janky.

Trying to move while attacking is uncomfortable thanks to the current button-mapping and even with a controller, things still feel off. However, GalaxyTrail has confirmed that the current setup is not final, so here’s to hoping that things improve before the game’s release date.

Fast-Paced Action, The Way It Should Be
On a more positive note, once players get past the current control scheme, the learning curve dips drastically, and one can focus more on the action. The gameplay is addictive and fast-paced, although the speed of your progress is highly dependent upon the character you choose to use.

For something similar to Sonic’s gameplay, the best character to go with is Lilac the Dragon Girl. Her “Dragon Boost” move allows players to shoot past their enemies, crash through obstacles, and deal a hefty bit of damage while on the move. The other three characters aren’t exactly slow per se (Carol the Wildcat has a motorcycle), but Lilac definitely has the speed advantage.

A mixture of carefully placed zip-lines and springs helps propel the player forward, speeding up the action, giving players the choice to confront the many enemies littered throughout the stage, or rapidly progress towards the boss battle with your health bar intact. Much like the action platformers of old, speed provides players with gameplay diversity which in turn promotes replayability. The timer adds an exclamation mark to the point, driving home just how important the element of speed is in Freedom Planet 2, and it is that speed and the urge to best oneself that will compel players to replay levels long after they’ve beaten them.

It’s The 90s All Over Again… Sort Of
The overall aesthetic of Freedom Planet 2 stays true to the first game, drawing on the classic design styles of the 16-bit era, while somehow managing to set itself apart and create a signature style of its own.

For example, take the graphics. They’re clearly developed with the nostalgic games we hold dear in mind, yet they lack the unpolished and archaic look that comes along with the design limitations that were unavoidable for developers of the 80s and 90s – a look that some current indie designers strive to replicate. The graphics and character designs are more polished than the original Freedom Planet, which was itself a love letter to the Sega Genesis; however, they manage to remain equally as endearing.

While I wasn’t lucky enough to hear the entire soundtrack, the music that I was able to listen to was soothing and catchy, much like the retro games that Freedom Planet 2 emulates – perhaps even better. The one song I was privy to hearing was so melodic that I didn’t want the level to end, just so that I could hear it continue to loop in the background. A game’s soundtrack is an oft-ignored, yet vitally important feature, and when one hits the mark as well as Freedom Planet 2, it’s worth praising.

But the voice acting is what really caught my attention. Older games really didn’t feature much of it; in fact, you’d be lucky to find many games that did. However, the characters of Freedom Planet 2 all feature their own voice acting, battle cries, and cute catch phrases that make the game all the more immersive. Voice acting isn’t new to the Freedom Planet series, as the first game also featured stellar voice acting that GalaxyTrail received high praise for. However, Freedom Planet 2 uses it just a tad bit more liberally, instead of relying heavily on sound effects when jumping or attacking.

How Does It Stack Up?
Based off of the demo and the success of the first Freedom Planet game, I’d say this is one to keep on your radar. If you like colorful and artistic graphics, good music, and fast-paced action games harkening back to the 90s, Freedom Planet 2 is definitely for you. Quite frankly, I’d even recommend picking up the original Freedom Planet so that you can better appreciate the progress clearly displayed in the franchise’s latest entry.

Freedom Planet 2 will be released for the PC in Summer 2017 and a “Nintendo Platform” before the end of the year.

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When Brittney Williams isn't playing with her two sons or frantically attempting to clear out her video game backlog, you can find her posting news and opinions here at Warp Zoned or managing her retro gaming business. You can find her on Twitter at @The_Arkayde.

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