Game of the Year! I think that is about as definitive as it gets from me. Not even a ‘this’ll be in the conversation’. Planet of Lana is my Game of the Year for 2023 and here’s why!
I decided during the February Steam Next Fest that Planet of Lana was a game that I wouldn’t even bother trying the demo of. I had seen enough in the few short trailers and screenshots beforehand. Now, I have been burnt with that approach before and I was a little fearful that it could end up being another case like that.
Right, before I go on… no story spoilers here, I won’t even touch on the plot at all, but I will circle the story a bit because of the way it is told… that will become clear (I hope).
The first thing that hits you when starting Planet of Lana is the atmosphere of the overall game. It is like shovel to the face, but if that shovel was made of hugs and everything lovely in the real world. The visuals, the sound design, character design, the style and a sense of being ready to go on a journey that will live with you way beyond the final scene.
You might often hear a game that has a certain style described as a living watercolour painting. To describe Planet of Lana as such would be doing the game a disservice, as it is something more than that. Yes it looks like and still could be hung in a gallery and not look out of place, but it retains that ‘something’ that keeps it looking like a game, but in a very good way.
Put it this way… the gallery below (and yes I am putting a gallery because just look at it) doesn’t do the game justice whilst playing.
You move through different biomes as you progress and each one feels wonderfully unique, but doesn’t fall into the trap other games do, where they feel disjointed from each other. Every transition between areas feels natural and like they belong.
Coupled with the sublime look of Planet of Lana, you also have an audio masterclass. There isn’t a musical backdrop to thing as you might expect, instead there are ambient sounds and the calls of Lana to Mui that help you feel connected to the two characters on their journey. However you also feel as isolated and in the dark as they do as the mystery unravels around them.
There are moments where the characters come across as a bit more relaxed and you hear it in Lana’s voice in particular, yet when the mood changes or danger is present, a hopeful, almost joyful call to Mui, is replaced with a nervous, trembling whisper. It is very subtle and whilst not the first game to do it. The pacing, the atmosphere, the visuals, your growing bond with the characters all makes the emotions feel every so real.
There story is told in a wonderful way too. Again Planet of Lana isn’t the first to use atmospheric story-telling and it won’t be the last, so I am not saying there is innovation or anything from developers Wishfully. However, what they have done is look at how to tell a story without major cut-scenes or famous voice actors and instead allow the story to grow organically.
There is no exposition dump at any point and the writers have taken a stance whereby they will respect your intelligence as the audience. It is very hard to explain without risking ruining the same experience I had for you. So just go in and let it unfurl in front of you.
One issue I have seen in other games, is that they look stunning, the story is interesting and everything, but the gameplay lacks or even in the worse cases, outright insult you. Yet here we are again with Planet of Lana and the team behind this masterpiece have seemingly nailed that aspect too.
Yes, you are essentially going from left to right and solving environmental puzzles to progress, but the pacing and the balance of those parts are spot on. You will spend time just moving along, with very little happening, but those moments build to something. Or even allow you time to comprehend what had just happened before you get to the next thing.
There some slow moments, where the most you might do it is avoid some dangers, or leap between some platforms, but then you get to some really interesting puzzles, or moments of real dangers. It is in these moments where you grip your controller a bit more tightly and live every nervous moment with Lana and Mui.
Then there are the puzzles. These are so wonderfully balanced and as I’ve said about the different biomes, they feel like they belong in the world. Nothing feels forced for the sake of having a puzzle. These can range from needing to find a way past an enemy, or finding a way to get Mui somewhere they otherwise can’t, or vice-versa with Lana. They use the world wonderfully well and they do make you think, but they aren’t so obtuse that you end up needing a guide ‘just this once’.
I am someone who will use a guide if it helps me get past a section that is stopping me progressing for too long. I know Planet of Lana doesn’t need this, because there aren’t any guides out there at the time of writing because the wider public didn’t have their hands on the game yet. So if I didn’t feel that frustration, then, for me Wishfully have absolutely got this element perfected.
Planet of Lana is one of those rare games, that is as close to perfection as I can think in a world where perfection is impossible. I can’t find fault with the game. Not even a ‘this section dragged on’ or ‘maybe less of this type of interaction’. Every single thing about Planet of Lana is just right. Get it, play it, experience it and please, please, love it like I do.