Planet Alpha marks Team17’s 100 release so far, and it’s been released for PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. We played the Playstation version to see if Planet Alpha does justice to Team17’s great legacy.
I have to admit that I wasn’t always a fan of Team17, but that had nothing to do with their skills or the quality of their games. Quite the opposite – it was because they were initially heavy supporters of the Amiga computer and that meant I never got a classic Alien Breed on my Atari ST. Team17’s work on the Amiga, however, pushed the envelope and helped give the Amiga gaming scene a few extra years in the early and mid-nineties – something that Digital Illusions (now DICE) also did with their Pinball games, by the way.
Now, Team17 is no longer known as a company that pushes the boundaries of what’s technically possible, but they’re a premier publisher of indie titles – and Planet Alpha nicely brings the past and the present together. It’s a gorgeous 2D platformer with puzzle elements, made by a small team of three. And it’s a game that caught my eye the moment I saw the first screenshots for it – a sci-fi themed platformer that brought back memories of classics like Flashback and Heart of Darkness. For those wanting a more recent reference…. how about Outland? The fact is that platformers like this have become rare, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game.
In Planet Alpha, you find yourself stranded on an alien planet that unfortunately is as dangerous as it is beautiful. You initially are lost as to what to do, but you quickly discover the main gameplay dynamic in Planet Alpha – your ability to control the cycle between day and night.
This doesn’t just radically (and instantly) transform the environment in a visual sense, it also serves as the engine that drives most of the game’s puzzles. Switching from day to night (or vice versa) has an effect on the animals and how aggressive they are towards you, or it might cause an organic ledge to move just into or out of reach because it impacts the vegetation as well. Later on, you’ll also encounter mechanical enemies that are affected by the cycle in different ways, which adds new challenges to the mix.
It’s a fun dynamic even though we’ve seen similar things before (I believe a recent Giana Sisters sequel had something like this), and the visual style and detail definitely helps to keep things interesting. You’ll start seeing certain elements being repeated though, so after a while you’ll run into elements in a level that feel repetitive – despite the developer’s efforts to find creative application for the day/night cycle dynamic. In that sense, Planet Alpha is a lot like Unravel – also a gorgeous puzzle platform game (which coincidentally also comes from Northern Europe) that can “only do so much” with its core dynamic.
That’s not to say that either game is bad – in fact, they’re both excellent. I didn’t think that Planet Alpha’s puzzle designs rose to the level set by other games in the genre though, and its narrative kind of falls flat after a while. Still, it’s a wonderful three to four hour ride that you won’t want to miss – it’s one of the most stunning puzzle platformers out there and has smooth flowing gameplay that rarely frustrates thanks to accessible puzzles and a forgiving (auto)save system. With this and Unravel Two, it’s been a good summer – and Planet Alpha is a nice blend of Team17’s early technical excellence and today’s indie emphasis. Let’s hope for at least 100 more!