Planet Of Lana review: a gorgeous sci-fi tale that shoots for the stars
…and just about gets there
Planet of Lana has all the hallmarks of a story-rich platformer. Across its six-hour run time, you'll encounter a string of environmental puzzles, an evil plan concocted by a group of baddies, a rich orchestral soundtrack that swells at all the right moments, a cute animal companion, and a gorgeous world that needs saving.
On paper, it has everything you could possibly want from this kind of game, but in practice, it can also be Lana's undoing at times. It does everything well - admittedly some much better than others - but it feels like this sci-fi tale is missing something. That gut punch, that sigh of relief after a thrill, that unexpected surprise... You know, that extra edge to really make it sing. It’s still a very enjoyable adventure, but its lack of emotional highs means it doesn't linger long in the memory once you've seen the credits roll. Is that a roundabout way to say that Planet of Lana is a solid 7/10? Maybe, but we don't do that here.
The story follows the eponymous Lana, a young girl who’s having a lovely time frolicking around her home village when a fleet of nasty robots from outer space swipe up all of her people, including her sister, and blast off to a faraway land. Set on getting them back, Lana befriends a small cat-monkey creature named Mui, and the two pals set off to save Lana’s people and the planet as a whole from the invaders.
Lana’s tale about travelling through various lands and stealthing past the evil robots on her way to infiltrate a giant looming alien eyeball base in the sky is a setup that’s nothing short of an epic odyssey, one that recalls the scope and drama of Lord Of The Rings, but in a setting that feels closer to Star Wars. It's a great combo, and as Lana sets off into the wider world it very much feels like a David vs Goliath situation. What follows is an emotive, action-packed opening, a somehwat mediocre second act, before the action revs back up again for a thrilling ending. Lana's journey doesn’t really have many peaks and troughs, but more like two bombastic book-ends to a very middle of the road... well, middle bit. I wish it carried the same momentum that its opening act right the way through its credits, but that's unfortunately not the case - puzzles, platforming, and all.
Puzzles in Planet Of Lana are your usual platforming combination of moving boxes, climbing ropes, switching buttons, and stealthing past the skittering robots and the like. They're made more interesting with Mui, who is able to carry out instructions from Lana for some companion-based puzzle solving. Your little friend can jump higher and further than Lana can, can carry out commands like when to wait and when to follow, as well as bite through cables and rope. The puzzles are pretty breezy, but there’s also nothing particularly innovative that I hadn’t already seen in other games of a similar vein. That being said, I never felt the game beat you around the head with a puzzle gimmick. Each one felt uniquely designed, and when you solved it the game would quickly move on to the next one, which kept the game flowing at a good pace.
Also, sidenote, and I hate saying that the cute animal that is specifically designed to be cute is cute, but I can’t help myself. Mui is a charming sidekick and watching them bound after Lana on their stubby legs and listening to their little chatty chips is adorable. Also, every time they have to prepare for a high jump, they do a little butt wiggle before making the leap. This is the cat-like behavior I am totally here for, and I loved it. Every. Single. Time.
"I hate saying that the cute animal that is specifically designed to be cute is cute, but I can’t help myself."
The platforming I had more of a problem with. Lana’s movement feels noticeably floaty, which made anything that required precise timing a little fiddly. She's quite sluggish to control, and even little things like the smallest delay in her jump and how slowly she would change direction became frustrating. When approaching ledges, Lana can't jump up to them if she's too close, meaning I had to move away from the platform to find the sweet spot. Similarly, one wrong move and you might be chomped by an alien, zapped by a robot, or accidentally yeet yourself off the side of a cliff. It really affected those all-important timings and took some of the sheen away from what is, for the most part, a very beautiful game. So, let’s get into that.
The platforming and puzzles are not Lana's strongest elements, but the world is gorgeous. Its Ghibli-esque watercolour palette is obvious from the screenshots, but there’s more to it than that. Lana’s story may take you through a number of alien landscapes that, on paper, look like your usual planetary fare - there are forests thickets, dark caverns, boggy swamps, and scorching deserts - but there's a sense of cohesion to their distinct visuals and design that really makes it feel like Lana's been on an epic journey, even though it's only been a handful of hours.
Each area has their own wonderful set pieces, too. Since Planet Of Lana is almost entirely dialogue-free, Lana’s journey is slowly drip-fed through the environment, with each backdrop doing a surprising amount of heavy-lifting in creating its rich atmosphere. The game’s sound design is fantastic, letting you really sink into its locations with its peaceful rustles of wind through the trees or the burps and splashes of a boggy swamp, and its soaring orchestral music always kicks in at the right moment to accentuate the drama.
The robots also deserve special mention, though, as these dense, black machines immediately pop off the screen against its colourful backgrounds. The way they move is fantastic. Their hulking metal bodies on thin spindly legs mean they quickly skitter around like actual spiders. The rest of the robot alien fleet is also incredible, an ominous, oppressive force with which you’ll have a number of thrilling encounters. The way they're introduced, too, with smaller machines grabbing and pushing Lana's people into cages as more gigantic metallic machines walk across the scene in the background is hair-raising, like The War Of The Worlds meets The Matrix meets A Bug's Life. The cinematic encounetrs with the machines are truly excellent.
These cinematic moments are sprinkled throughout Lana, highlighting important moments in Lana and Mui's journey. They're always wonderful to watch, and for many will no doubt be enough to pull you through. But apart from Lana's desire to save her people from imprisonment, there are no other narrative beats that get explored here, and thematically it left me feeling a little empty by the time I saw the credits roll. There are some world-building reveals regarding a long-forgotten history of the planet, but apart from it being a nice solution to solving 'the robot problem', it wasn't given much weight. Similarly, and perhaps this is just me being spoiled by the likes of other cinematic platformers recently, such as Inside, Another World and Little Nightmares, but I kept hoping there would be something more going on beneath the surface of Lana's planet. Some extra twist, or another little tease, or a hint of something strange and mysterious to chew over, but sadly it never came.
Still, there's still plenty to like and admire about Planet Of Lana. It may not deviate much from the puzzle-platforming playbook, but its cinematic action sequences and environments are worth your six hours. It doesn’t quite reach the highs of Ori And The Blind Forest and Limbo and the like, but it’s a solid sci-fi tale and a wonderful debut from Wishfully. I'm excited to see what those folks do next.
This review is based on a review build of the game provided by the publisher Thunderful Publishing.