Before Sonic Mania was a thing, Freedom Planet gave gamers a Mega Drive-like (or Genesis for you American folk) 16-bit platforming experience that was akin to that of the SEGA mascot’s glory days. Heck, it even started life as a Sonic fan game, so that should show most gamers where the inspiration behind the title actually came from.
After initially releasing on PC in 2014 and hitting multiple platforms after that, it has finally launched on the Nintendo Switch too, giving gamers the chance to take part in the nostalgically fun little adventure on the go.
The story behind Freedom Planet isn’t an overly complex one, with it essentially boiling down to a race between the game’s heroes and a group of villains to find a strange but powerful relic known as the Kingdom Stone. However, whilst it might not be a particularly deep narrative, it’s presented in a surprisingly cinematic way with plenty of interactions between characters that all features voice overs – you wouldn’t expect that from a 90s-esque platformer like this, right? It’s all a little corny and boils down to a ‘good versus evil’ setup by the end, but Freedom Planet’s tale is charming enough and surprisingly well presented.
The main game spans across a multitude of levels with the player able to play as one of two characters: Lilac or Carol. Each character has their own special abilities that help them stand out – Lilac has a move similar to Sonic’s famous spin-dash for example, whilst Carol is more like Knuckles with her climbing skills… and maybe a bit like Shadow for good measure, seeing as she can also blast across levels on a motorbike too. Whilst their abilities do make them both feel a bit more unique, the game’s levels didn’t always demand their use enough to really make playing as each character feel too different between playthroughs. They do each get a unique level of their own that focuses on their individual skills more, but for the most part you’re able to play through the game without thinking about them too much.
There’s also a third character to play as who has some interesting magic abilities, though they can’t be used through Freedom Planet’s main story mode – they’re instead reserved for the game’s ‘Classic Mode’ where you play through each level without the narrative included.
Gameplay-wise, Freedom Planet sees you working through a variety of vibrant 2D levels, all whilst vanquishing any foes that come into your path and pulling off quick and slick jumps across hazards and obstacles. There’s an emphasis on speed throughout the game with the player rarely having to stop pressing down the run button whilst blasting through each level, though there are a few puzzles scattered around the place that’ll force you to stop and think momentarily. They’re always simple enough and never pose too much of a challenge, but their addition is a nice touch that actually helps Freedom Planet forge its own identity.
There’s a big emphasis on taking different routes throughout the game’s levels too, with each one featuring multiple ways to approach it that’ll see you traversing each environment both vertically and horizontally. These routes all feature different collectibles too, so it adds an extra incentive to spend time replaying levels and seeing everything they have to offer. That being said, Freedom Planet’s levels could be a little guilty of feeling too long at times – given that the game emphasises going quick and speeding through each area, some levels will last you way longer than you’d expect. Thankfully, checkpoints are plentiful, so you’ll never meet any frustrating deaths that’ll set you way back.
Of course, whilst Freedom Planet is a fun game in its own right and the level design is absolutely on point, there’s no denying that it wears its Sonic the Hedgehog inspirations like a badge of honour. You’ll see jump pads that look like they’re lifted straight from the games, a lot of enemies are similar in design, whilst the characters themselves bear similarities too. It does enough different not to feel exactly like a Sonic game, but the similarities are certainly more than noticeable.
It does lack some of the polish that SEGA’s games have though. I noticed a small handful of graphical glitches, with characters seemingly able to stand upon vertical walls and curves whilst defying the laws of physics at times. I noticed a few occasions where the hit detection seemed slightly off too – this wasn’t a common issue by any means, but when trying to get that perfect hit on a boss when on the cusp of dying, seeing it miss when you just know it connected was a pain. In fairness, these are all minor flaws in what is otherwise a very enjoyable game, but they were things I noticed during my playthroughs.
Since I’ve mentioned them, the bosses do deserve a bit of praise. They’re all creatively designed and can be genuinely challenging – Freedom Planet’s standard enemies are fairly easy to take down, but the bosses pack a lot more punch and will take a real effort to conquer. The encounters were all well-presented though and I always looked forward to the stage-ending showdowns.
Seeing how most aspects of Freedom Planet reminded me of Sonic, it’s only fitting that the visuals would too. The game’s 16-bit style looks like it has come straight from the Mega Drive era – it looks lovely though, with some vibrant colours and the creative worlds proving charming throughout. It shares a lot of similarities with Sonic thanks to its anthropomorphic world and its layout, but it actually manages to better SEGA’s 90s efforts at times thanks to the modern effects it includes in places. It’s just a pretty little game to look at, and one that will spark more than a handful of nostalgic memories for gamers.
Format(s): Nintendo Switch (Review), PlayStation 4, PC, Mac, Linux