Developer: Typhoon Studios | Publisher: 505 Games | Genre: Adventure, Metroidvania | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Exploited Explorers Apply Here
Journey to the Savage Planet is a video game that knows what it is. This self-knowledge is impressive, because JTTSP is many different things – a first-person action platformer, a Metroidvania-style exploration game, and a very funny satire, all in one colorful, pulsating package.
In Journey to the Savage Planet, you are a disposable working drone who is nominally treated as if they are an intrepid explorer. You’ve been tasked by your clearly awful and inept corporate overlords with finding habitable planets.
The game goes to pains to let you know that Kindred Aerospace is the “4th Best Interstellar Exploration” business in the universe. Your shoddy spaceship crashes, and you’re off to explore the colorful and intriguing world of AR-Y26. It quickly unfolds that not all is as it seems, and familiar sci-fi tropes emerge in often clever ways.
First and foremost, Journey to the Savage Planet is a funny game, and that is its strongest offering. This is no small feat – comedy is a tricky bit of business in any medium, but video games are particularly hard to get a laugh out of.
Many parts of this game are good for laughs. Design bits like the cheekily clunky loading screens or the disturbing inbox will make you chuckle. Others little touches are played broadly, like booger-y blobs you can throw to bounce on or farting little creatures that are fun to kick .
But the foundation of this journey is the biting satire of inept corporations, disposable employees, and rampant colonialism. Developer Typhoon Studios exaggerates these serious subjects with broad flair, as best exemplified in their satirical commercials.
As you progress, new advertisements pop into your ship’s rickety view screen for mysterious all-encompassing foods like GROB or helpful products like “Brain Wipes.” The production values for these ads are spot-on in their shoddiness, mimicking a kind hysterical Saturday morning cereal commercial remixed with some Tim & Eric for the weird kids in the back.
In one of the more savage little quips, “Mini Mall Monkeys” (from Lil Labs!), you can purchase a sea-monkey-like kit in which you grow a small society of shoppers where you and an elderly friend can “engage in a fascinating examination of Earth activity”! Declare a Black Friday and enjoy their violent frenzy!
They really nailed these bits, they’re confident, smart, funny, and you’ll look forward to new ones.
But what about the actual game? It’s a good adventure, though there are some rough edges. Gameplay consists of exploring areas, tracking down resources, and crafting upgrades, though you often have to disrupt indigenous monsters to make your way forward. In true Metroidvania style, upgrades open up previously inaccessible areas. You know the drill.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of exploration harkens to another side of Metroid – Metroid Prime’s visor scanning. In a clear nod to Prime, as you enter new areas, you can jump into a terrain-scanning heads up mode in order to take account of new creatures and features. Hold ‘R’ to scan and get the creature’s info and little collectible card.
Journey to the Savage Planet is no Metroid Prime… but for those among us who crave a certain bounty hunter’s next journey like a kid who wants one more ride down the Ridley-slide, take note, this part is fun and well done.
Looks Huge, Plays Small
Initially, the planet feels vast, and this is to the game’s credit. But as you move forward, it becomes clear that the developers had a somewhat linear progression in mind, as tracked via check points and convenient warp portals.
The planet manages to balance looking huge while feeling manageable, and it does so well. You can stray off the beaten path, and are often rewarded with resources or upgrades for doing so, but you can also progress forward relatively easily without feeling too constrained. The waypoint system is not exactly intuitive, but once you figure it out, it generally works. The overall effect is a well-executed trick.
The act of exploration swings back and forth between fun and predictable, and teeters occasionally into the frustrating. At its best, it’s a real joy as you are running along, double jumping across chasms and grappling from cliff to cliff. At times, though, areas unfold in ways that feel unintentionally unclear or uninspired. It’s a mixed bag–some of it is great, but here and there even small maps meander muddily.
And Also You Have A Gun
AR-Y26 is populated by creatures, many of whom function just as adorable little loot bags to kick and kill, others of whom will fight back. Unfortunately, combat is not this journey’s strong suit. In general, you shoot a gun or throw indigenous bombs or other situational tricks at hapless indigenous life.
The blaster works reasonably well, but it never evolves into anything particularly thrilling. Thankfully, enemy encounters are limited, and enemy weak points are generally telegraphed.
Combat is not so weak that it becomes an irritant, particularly in light of the focus on exploration, but the gun feels clunky and rote, especially in light of such an inspiring environment.
Journey to the Attractive Planet
While expectedly not as pretty as its console counterparts, Journey to the Savage Planet on the Switch still looks great in both docked and handheld modes. The environments are a rainbow of intoxicating foreign wonders, the monsters are well designed and intriguing, and it all makes you want to explore more, which feels like the point.
If you’re content to check most of the main story points off, you’ll only need to operate under the thumb of Kindred Aerospace for 12-15 hours, which ends up feeling like a good length for what’s on offer.
For most of the game the uninspired combat is secondary to exploration, but it becomes more important, and more irritating, as you go, so the endgame starts to feel a little frustrating. None of this is game-breaking, though. And if you happen to fall in love with this well-crafted world (and many will), there’s more meat on the bone to sink into and discover.
The Imperfect Mix-tape That You Love
Journey to the Savage Planet is a grab-bag of gaming influences. Comparisons to No Man’s Sky and Outer Worlds are apt on the surface, but JTTSP’s scope is smaller than either of these, which works out well for it. It’s humor is closest of all to the heights of Portal 2, and its exploration harkens more to Metroid Prime than anything else, both of which work.
While not every element is as strong as the next, Typhoon sticks the sometimes bumpy landing and has synthesized a really interesting game that borrows from many sources, but has its own unique trajectory and feel.
If you’re looking for a game with a genuine sense of humor that scratches a little of the Metroid Prime itch, it’s well worth a look. If, however, you’re looking for the gunplay and heroics of Destiny or other space-faring glories, you should probably pass.
Eat your GROB and grab a meat buddy, if you’re up for an adventure, Journey to the Savage Planet is a fun one.
All screenshots were nabbed from the author’s very own Switch, while docked, via a review copy that was provided by the publisher.