Released early this year, Journey to the Savage Planet didn’t make too much of a splash on launch. I was aware of it, and it pulled my interest thanks to its great presentation, but now I’ve finally gotten to play it it’s not what I expected. I expected a fairly standard first-person shooter, but it wound up being a lot more than that. Let’s talk about it.
What’s the Game Like?
At its core, Journey to the Savage Planet is a first-person “Metroidvania”—a genre of games defined by a focus on exploration and item-based progression. You may have heard of some of the recent 2D hits in this genre like Hollow Knight or Ori and the Will of the Wisps, but by being one of the few 3D entries in the genre, Journey to the Savage Planet is pretty different from both of those. Instead, Journey to the Savage Planet takes some clear inspiration from the Metroid Prime trilogy of games released for Nintendo Gamecube and Wii.
But what does being a Metroidvania actually mean for gameplay? Basically, while you’re exploring the titular “Savage Planet” (called ARY-26 in-game), you’ll hit various roadblocks that require special items or upgrades to continue through. And while that’s an element of most modern adventure titles, games like Journey to the Savage Planet take that idea to the extreme.
This adventure won’t be without dangers. You’ll constantly run into various forms of wildlife during your travels that, for the most part, really want to kill you. That’s where the game’s combat comes in and it’s … fine. It’s your standard run-and-gun gameplay where you have to keep an eye on your ammo and grab health pickups when they’re available. There’s only a couple of notable combat-related upgrades you’ll unlock, but they don’t do much to vary up the combat encounters. That is disappointing, especially when there’s not much variety in the enemy design either. Boss fights are also few and far between—there are only three.
Still, you have a good amount of freedom during combat (it’s also pretty easy to avoid if you want) and general movement. Once you have all the upgrades you can run, jump, and zip through the map with ease, thanks to Journey to the Savage Planet’s most unique mechanic: Seeds. Seeds are picked up from dedicated pods and are used for various mechanics, from creating a grapple point for your grappling hook to causing explosions. They’re used in clever ways for both combat and exploration, and you can use them at any time, even enabling you to grab certain collectibles earlier than you should be able to if you think out of the box.
The World Itself
While the enemies don’t offer much variety, the world certainly does. Journey to the Savage Planet is not lacking in style, and the way every plant, cliff face, and creature are designed to fit the style creates a convincing world. There are plenty of interesting sights and biomes you’ll discover while exploring with the detailed animations of your player character making it clear a lot of work went into the visual aspect of this game.
And that effort was well spent, the visuals of Journey to the Savage Planet makes it feel unique even if the gameplay isn’t anything special. Some of my favorite parts of Journey to the Savage Planet were any time you were given a good vantage point of the planet. See, ARY-26 is no ordinary planetoid, rather, it’s a collection of large floating islands with various ecosystems on them. Your main goal is to enter the massive tower that all the islands orbit around, making your way up near the top of the world. Any time you’re given the opportunity to look off of one of the islands, you realize just how crazy the sense of scale is in this game.
While not all the areas of the world are on one map—you need to teleport between them anytime you want to switch—the developers clearly put a lot of work into making sure the world still felt cohesive. Whether you’re looking up at where you’re heading or down at where you’ve already been, the views are spectacular.
All of this helps to ensure you believe this world is real, even if the layout is a bit iffy. As I already mentioned, you need to teleport between areas that already form some cracks in the set-dressing. But once you enter the various areas and look past the pretty environments, things start to feel repetitive. You’ll start at some form of middle point, then have multiple pathways available until they reach their respective dead ends, granting various power ups, collectibles, or story-progression along the way.
This makes things feel rather samey and split apart while you’re exploring. Having the areas separated into different levels is understandable because of the need to load, but not having much overlap within those areas makes the environments feel more artificial than natural. Fortunately, the last area in the game does a lot to improve this with more overlapping paths, but a problem being solved three quarters into the game does little to alleviate the larger issue.
But then again, you’ll likely be making multiple runs through each of those separated paths, which is where the design gets a bit better. There are a lot of collectibles on this savage planet, including the orange goos you grab for health and stamina upgrades, lore tablets, and materials used for creating upgrades. These collectibles will often require you to make use of an upgrade you’ve obtained later on in the game, and it is satisfying to return with the needed gear to finally grab what was just out of your reach earlier.
The core gameplay and visuals make this a fun world to explore, but hardcore fans may leave it slightly disappointed for not reaching the same cohesive heights as the best games in the genre.
Time for a Story
Journey to the Savage Planet sees you playing as an unnamed explorer hired by an evil mega-corporation to explore ARY-26. But upon
crashing landing on the surface, you discover this is not a regular planet, and you’re tasked with exploring the map to see what the large energy source inside the tower is.
That’s a cookie-cutter concept for a game like this, but the writers made sure it didn’t feel that way. Every video from your boss or line of dialogue from your AI companion is packed with humor and it’s all pretty good. There are some great jokes, and the game makes sure to never take itself too seriously. There are even some bonus videos you can watch on your crashed ship that are purely there to entertain. It’s refreshing to see so much effort and passion put into this aspect of the game when many games of this caliber tend to ignore story and writing. It adds a lot of charm to this title and helps make sure you don’t forget it anytime soon.
Leaving the Planet
Journey to the Savage Planet is an interesting game for the genre. As one of the few 3D entries, it gets a lot of credit for simply existing. Which is great, because it’s not doing much to improve on any of the core tenants of the genre. But it’s still a game I was heavily engrossed by thanks to its charming world and excellent writing.
That said, you won’t get long to enjoy it. The story content of Journey to the Savage Planet will take you around 7-8 hours to complete. There are plenty of collectibles you can decide to chase after completing the main questline—which will likely boost your playtime somewhere between 10-15 hours—but the collectibles mostly just provide small stat boosts for a game you’ve already completed and some fun bonus videos. Not the worst incentive for 100% completion I’ve seen in a game like this, but it still might feel short for a $30 game.
If you’re a fan of the genre I think this game is worth a pickup. While the gameplay is fairly run-of-the-mill and the level design does have its issues, I still had a great time with Journey to the Savage Planet. It pulled me into its fantastical world and everything from the unique visuals to the charming writing kept me coming back. Even if you’ve never played a Metroidvania before, if what I’ve said here sounds good to you and the trailer pulls you in, you’ll likely have a good time.
Here’s What We Like
- Great Visuals
- Engaging Exploration
- Good Humor
- Fun Movement
And What We Don't
- Some uninspired world design