Sonic the Furhog
Here at Destructoid, we don't often review games originally released well over a year ago, but we are making a special exception for Freedom Planet. With a sequel just announced, I discovered we never reviewed the original, one of the best Sonic the Hedgehog-esque games I've played in years.
Yiff out in the night with your fellow furries and prepare to go fast.
Freedom Planet (PC [reviewed], Wii U)
Released: July 21, 2014 (PC), October 1, 2015 (Wii U)
Having started out as a Sonic the Hedgehog fan game, Freedom Planet unsurprisingly looks, sounds, and plays similarly to the beloved original Sega Genesis trilogy with a hint of some of the newer Sonic games. However, instead of rolling or jumping onto enemies to kill them, the two main protagonists, Lilac and Carol, have a dedicated attack button that makes them punch and kick. Simply touching an enemy doesn't inflict damage; instead, they have to be attacking, which can be both a good and a bad thing; good because you'll almost never get slowed down, and bad for a similar reason, as levels end far too quickly.
There are three characters on offer and each play differently. The main character is Lilac, a furry dragon who has a punch attack, a kick, a double jump that causes her to whirlwind enemies, and a mid-air dash that works similarly to the one from the classic Rocket Knight Adventures, which is by all means a good thing. The level design doesn't encourage the use of the mid-air dash very often, a shame since it's a unique move, but the times you do need it feel solid and thought out. The mid-air dash can also be used similarly to Sonic's spin dash to be able to instantly get a boost of speed from a dead stop.
The other character available in the story-based adventure mode is Carol the wildcat. Carol still has the same kicks and punches as Lilac, but attempting to double jump with her will have her gliding through the air. Instead of being able to dash, Carol has a rapid-fire kick that inflicts a lot of damage in a short period of time. She can also wall jump, which allows reaching parts of levels that may not be accessible to Lilac. The biggest difference between Carol and Lilac, however, is that she can pick up gas cans littered across levels to spawn a motorcycle. Yes, you read that right, a motorcycle. When on her motorcycle, Carol zips around quickly, and can still punch and kick, while double jumping makes her spin attacking enemies multiple times per second. Best of all her motorcycle can drive up walls, which is as useful as it is comical.
Adventure mode is the story-driven mode that includes plenty of cutscenes with fully voiced lines, but it is also probably my least favorite mode. The story isn't all that interesting or original -- an evil villain with an army of robots steals a powerful stone -- but mostly because the other bits of the story are hard to follow and make little sense. On top of that, the voice acting is inconsistent both in terms of quality and fidelity; some lines sound like they were recorded on a professional setup and others almost sound like a Skype call recording. Even worse some of the cutscenes barely add anything of value to the story or development of characters, like a drawn-out slumber party scene between the protagonists in their clubhouse that would have felt more at home in a fan fiction story about the character's lives than in the actual game. Also, when playing as Carol, players will miss out on bits of the story, which makes for an even more confusing and disjointed experience, as the narrative was clearly written with Lilac in mind.
While I appreciate the time and effort that went into the adventure mode, I think classic mode (which removes the tedious voice acting and cutscenes) makes for an all-around better experience.
Classic mode also features a third playable character, Milla, who is apparently a basset hound. Personally, I don't see the resemblance, but I'll take the developer's word for it.
Milla plays quite differently from our other heroes. Her attack button can be used to strike quickly with a single press causing a short green burst that works like a melee, or a long press spawns a shield. Milla's special attack spawns a green cube above her head that can be used as a long range laser beam or tossed as a short range projectile. When being used as a beam this attack propels Milla in the opposite direction; thus, it can be used to help navigate through the levels, along with her flapping ears that lift her up in the air for a short time when double jumping.
The level design feels familiar, as you're zipping from left to right, going up and down hills and around loops, while occasionally being forced to platform. However, levels do take their own spin (pun intended) on Sonic's formula; water levels allow swimming in any direction for instance, while other environments have buttons to physically press to advance. That said, no specific stage stands out, perhaps, as I mentioned before, because you breeze through them all so quickly. Each character has an exclusive level built around their unique abilities, but unfortunately, these aren't taken advantage of elsewhere. That said, if I had to rank these levels alongside the 16-bit Sonic games, I'd put them right between the second and third games for Sega Genesis, they are nowhere near as creative as anything seen in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but aren't as straightforward as Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Overall, Freedom Planet's adventure mode takes around two and a half hours to complete, which is a good amount of time for a retro-themed platformer. The only problem with this is I found myself spending most of my time battling bosses in later levels. Early bosses are fun and require little effort, while late game bosses are brutal and demand some skill. This is easily one of the worst parts of the whole experience. There are lots of cheap shots, and one hit kills. Many games by first-time developers have a tendency to be a bit more challenging to the average player, perhaps because the developers build a game for themselves.
While Freedom Planet isn't a perfect experience, it is still a very enjoyable and easily one of the best Sonic the Hedgehog-esque games I've played in years. If you were looking for something to scratch that 16-bit Sonic itch this might be it. Just don't say I didn't warn you about the questionable story, voice acting, and late game bosses.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Freedom Planet reviewed by Jed Whitaker
A solid game that definitely has an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
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