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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (469)

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Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5
Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks... 4.5/5
Eiyuden Chronicle: Risi... 3/5
Psychonauts 2 4.5/5
Castle in the Clouds DX 4/5

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Journey to the Savage Planet   PC (Steam) 

One-Shot Wonder    4.5/5 stars

“Journey to the Savage Planet” (“JSP”) is the first – and only – game released by Canadian developer, Typhoon Studios. Typhoon began its short and miserable life as an Indie startup in 2017 before the avaricious gaze of Google washed over it, and the studio was purchased and rolled into the ill-fated Stadia Games & Entertainment division in 2019. “JSP” was already well underway, though, and released on the 8th Gen Big Boy consoles and PC in 2020. Unfortunately, Typhoon was also being courted by Epic Games, which gave the studio a big bag of money to make their game exclusive to the Epic Games Store for a period of one year. Halfway through 2020, “JSP” received a port to the Nintendo Switch (as most things do), and in 2021, made its debut on non-Epic PC stores as well as Google Stadia.

Of course, the fate of the Stadia Games & Entertainment division is no secret. Google shut it down in 2021 before it could develop even a single game of its own, with Stadia transitioning to a backend service before being completely discontinued in 2022. So where does that leave Typhoon Studios? Well, Typhoon is dead. However, the people that made up the studio decided to create yet another Indie startup AND managed to finagle the rights to “JSP” as an IP, retaining ownership of the concepts they developed without Google’s input. That’s good news, because “JSP” is a fantastic game, and I’m heartened to know that there can legally be a sequel.

Presentation
Because it was an Epic Store exclusive on PC for a year, anyone paying attention should realize that “JSP” is an Unreal Engine game: Specifically, Unreal 4. This game engine underpins most ‘serious’ modern game development efforts, and while, in the past, it has earned its fair share of criticism for quirks, newer versions of the Unreal Engine can – and do – produce fantastic results that would have otherwise taken a lot more time and money. “JSP” is a gorgeous game, featuring a single open world where, if the player can see a place in the distance, they are almost guaranteed to go there at some point. The world is highly stylized and detailed, featuring amazing up-close texture work on both creatures and environments, as well as some of the most interesting and appealing alien ecosystem design since James Cameron’s “Avatar” hit movie theatres.

Audio is likewise well done, with great narration from an AI guide named E.K.O., voiced by Kendall Savage. Beyond that performance, “JSP” is packed with mixed live action and CG FMV clips both for interacting with the game world’s powers that be, as well as general worldbuilding via ‘fake’ in-game advertisements. These performances are fantastic, and the fake ads contain wittier social commentary than the modern excuse for “Saturday Night Live” (or “The Outer Worlds,” for that matter). The soundtrack, while mostly subdued banjo music, is quite pleasant when it does make itself known.

Technically, “JSP” is a very solid game. There are a few minor glitches and hiccups, though, and I experienced one Crash to Desktop during a boss battle, so there is room for improvement. Unfortunately, with the dispersal of Typhoon Studios and typical legal bullshit (which is just the kind of graft and excess the game itself loves to parody) between publisher 505 Games and Google, it won’t be receiving anymore updates or DLC. In general, though, nothing about the game’s technical presentation is offensive: It’s got Xinput support out of the box. There’s one reasonably-priced DLC, and, shockingly, in spite of its high-quality audio-visual assets, the game install is less than 6GB, which is stunning in the day and age of 100+GB downloads.

Story
The topic of the day in the global zeitgeist of the 2020s is private space travel. Much like “The Outer Worlds” did in 2019, “JSP” parodies the faults and foibles of mankind’s ascent to the stars… if today’s corporate culture is allowed to maintain its deathgrip on power and wealth.

Our hero is a nameless employee of Kindred Aerospace, the Fourth Best private space exploration company on Earth. As revealed through in-game emails and advertising, Earth has not managed to deal with its ongoing climate and population disasters, resulting in ever-worsening conditions on the ground, while the population struggles under comically overstated burdens of debt. Our fearless hero is sent to explore a distant planetary object – the titular Savage Planet – with the promise of cutting their existing debt in half, and is in regular contact with Kindred’s shady CEO, Martin Tweed.

Everything in “JSP” is rather slapstick, goofy, and sarcastic. Of course, with ‘Borderlands’ series writer, Anthony Burch, at the helm, what would we expect? The snark and weirdness begins almost immediately upon starting the game, with the in-game ship AI, E.K.O. requiring the player to pass a brief ‘sanity test’ to prove that the long spaceflight didn’t mess with their mind. This test consists of answering a few silly questions and then ‘identifying yourself’ from a series of hilariously bad profile pictures. One of these profile pictures is a dog. I picked the dog, and for the entirety of the game, my character made dog noises instead of human noises. THAT, dear reader, is commitment to a gag!

In general, though, “JSP” does a great job of capturing the pulp science fiction appeal one would expect from its title, which sounds like it’s ripping off Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s a simple – and short, clocking in at about 15 hours for a blind completionist run, with an extra 2 hours for the “Hot Garbage” DLC – ‘there and back again’ type of story involving mystery, ancient aliens, and environmentalist moralizing that handles its subjects flippantly and with humor, even when they are deadly serious.

Gameplay
“JSP” is, in short, the next ‘Metroid Prime’ sequel that Nintendo has continued to drag its feet over. Yes, “JSP” is a 3D, first-person perspective Metroidvania, and it does everything it sets out to do incredibly well.

As they player sets out from their spaceship to explore the titular Savage Planet, they will find themselves armed with a crappy pistol and weaponized food-paste… and that’s it! Exploring, naturally, reveals naturally-occurring objects – like seeds and fruit – that can be used to do interesting things to the environment… and enemies. Some seeds turn into bounce pads! Some seeds stick enemies to the ground! Some fruits explode!

In addition to found natural objects, the player will also stumble upon a number of alien altars, which hold rare elements that can be used to craft upgrades that add character functionality. Typical things like a double-jump (and a triple-jump and quadruple-jump) and grappling hook are there, as well as glove upgrades that allow for the carrying of volatile fruits for more than 30 seconds. This upgrade system, in addition to the specific components acquired in specific places, revolves around 3 common materials and a rare material. Common materials can be found all over the map in ore veins (and drop from slain enemies), while the rare material exists in a fixed quantity, with each unit of it hidden away in a specific place. Thus, exploration is the order of the day, with the player required to use their current abilities to acquire upgrades, which then allow them to explore further afield. In short: Standard Metroidvania stuff. However, the world layout does make things feel a bit more open and non-linear than the typical Metroidvania, and the Ubisoft-inspired upgrade system allows the player to pick their priorities.

Combat is highly reminiscent of the ‘Metroid Prime’ series, granting the player the ability to freely aim and shoot at whatever they like, but also providing a lock-on option for targeting enemies and circling around them. There’s also a melee option that typically only works on ‘harmless’ creatures, for punting them off ledges or into the mouths of carnivorous plants. “JSP” features only a handful of boss battles, but they’re all well-done puzzle-battles that focus on a combination of maneuverability and tool use rather than twitch reflexes and precision.

While exploring, the player will also come across a number of teleporters that can be linked back to the ship, ensuring that retreading old ground never becomes tedious or irksome. However, “JSP” made the rather old-school choice of not including a map screen… at all. Instead, the player can upgrade their helmet to send out radar pulses that highlight the locations of various objects, ranging from rare minerals to the ‘orange goo’ that upgrades health and stamina. Of course, really masochistic players will no doubt love the snarkily-named ‘Old Game Minus’ mode, which disables pretty much all modern QoL features and adds perma-death.

Outside of optional restrictions for hardheads, the only real criticism I can level at “JSP” from a gameplay perspective is that it has some rather inconsistent treatment of falling from high places. Most of the time, falling into a bottomless pit means death, and a newly-cloned copy of the player character appears back at the ship and must retrieve – ‘Dark Souls’-lite style – any resources they were carrying from a crate ‘near’ where they died. Sometimes, however, upon falling into a bottomless pit, one of the ship’s scouting drones will rescue the player, plopping them back on the ledge from which they fell with only some minor damage. I definitely prefer the second option, but I still don’t understand the context of where and why one penalty for messing up a platforming section applies vs. the other. As a result, I delayed doing any even-remotely-tricky platforming puzzles until I had maxed out all of my character’s movement options.

Overall
“Journey to the Savage Planet” is a gorgeous, funny, quirky, and engaging 3D Metroidvania that lives up to the highest expectations of the subgenre. I was very pleased to learn that the scattered members of Typhoon Studios have reconvened under the new studio name, Raccoon Logic, and are working on a sequel.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 5/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


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