Sci-fi and games go together like Jean Luc Picard and a cup of Earl Grey, but capturing the spirit of adventure amongst the stars is a tough task. Sure, Marcus Fenix and his chaingun-toting pals might have raised the heartrate, but Sera is just Earth with angrier insects. Halo did it better, but it’s become hard to find too much intergalactic joy in yet another grey Forerunner structure. It’s No Man’s Sky that’s come closest to capturing the feel of exploring an infinite universe, packed with strange and occasionally wonderful creatures, but narrative wasn’t its driving force.
There’s a middle ground to be found, and Journey to the Savage Planet tries to find it. Taking cues from Hello Games’ eventual masterpiece with exploration of an alien world at its heart, but it wraps things up in an irreverent first person platforming metroidvania that keeps the humour rolling from start to finish.
Kindred Aerospace is not a good company to travel the stars with. They proudly proclaim to be the fourth best space exploration company, but you’ll soon get the impression that maybe there were only four to start with. Much like a cheap Ryanair flight to Malaga, nothing has been included besides your seat and you’re going to have to explore the alien world you’ve been dumped on as you’ve got no equipment, nor any fuel to get home.
So explore you must, and few games make collection and progression feel as natural as Journey to the Savage Planet does. From collecting resources from mineral sources and alien creatures, scanning and logging everything in sight, to gaining access to new equipment that suddenly unlocks new routes through the alien landscape you’ve been marooned in, there are few moments where you’re left completely lost and wanting for something to do.
At least it’s a particularly lovely looking alien world. Doing away with the greys and browns of a hundred sci-fi shooters, everything here is in technicolour with interconnected floating islands that feature different biomes and climates, providing habitats for an array of lively, and in a number of cases, pretty lethal creatures.
There is combat in the game, but a lot of the time you’ll use your gun for self-defence or as a means to an end rather than engaging in epic space battles. There are exceptions, one of which is the boss characters that crop up a few times in the course of your planetary tourism.
They’re classic video game bosses with glowing weaknesses for you to take advantage of, but engaging with them places more emphasis on dodging and platforming than just blasting away. You’ll find yourself frantically leaping around arenas with your heart racing in an effort to take them down.
Those heart-in-your-mouth moments aren’t just limited to the boss battles either, as you’re often platforming across infinite drops that will suck your stomach out from beneath you all too frequently. Your ever-growing set of tools steadily makes things easier in one sense, while begging for you to leap for even more unobtainable areas.
In turn, the weight of the controls makes that a reality, perfectly riding the line between empowering and testing you. There are few recent games where the simple pleasures of movement and exploration are a genuine highlight, but Journey to the Savage Planet feels fantastic to play.
It’s funny, too. The holy grail of gaming, making people spontaneously laugh, is rarer than an uncooked Pufferbird steak, but Journey to the Savage Planet repeatedly pulls it off. From the inept live action videos sent to you by the undoubtedly manic Kindred CEO Martin Tweed, to the onboard advertisements that take shots at consumerist culture and land then with aplomb, you’ll have a smile on your face more often than not.
While there’s an online co-op mode for you to explore the planet with a pal in tow, your only friend through the single player is the computer AI that runs your ship, and she is downright sassy. A lot of the humour and narrative checkpointing are provided by her pithy little comments, and whether she’s reading you a poem or putting the fear of god into you she becomes a genuine friend during your time on AR-Y 26.
The narrative as a whole doesn’t quite stick the landing – much like your latest foolhardy platforming effort – but you can happily blast through it in about ten hours and it’s really the exploration that keeps you coming back for more. Few games generate enough excitement, intrigue, or fun to have you hoovering up all the collectibles in order to bag all the trophies and achievements, but Journey to the Savage Planet will have you searching every nook and cranny, leaping seemingly impossible gaps and scanning every last rock, simply because you’ll want to.