Planet of Lana is an upcoming cinematic side-scroller that looks every bit as enchanting as it sounds mysterious. Set to arrive on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on Xbox Game Pass this Spring, its developer, Wishfully Studios, looks set to take us on an intriguing journey across a beautiful sci-fi world known as Novo. As an11-year-old girl called Lana, we'll be joined by Mui, a little cat-like creature who becomes our helpful companion. After the fishing village she calls home is overrun by "cold machines", as creative director and co-founder Adam Stjärnljus puts it during an ID@Xbox preview event, the pair must work together to save Lana's older sister and the people of the village. With a look at ten minutes of gameplay, it immediately gives off Studio Ghibli vibes, with a gorgeous hand-painted art style and dreamy music from The Last Guardian composer Takeshi Furukawa.
As it turns out, the Ghibli films were a big source of inspiration for Stjärnljus, who also points towards games like Inside and the Oddworld saga as some of the side-scrollers Planet of Lana draws from: "We have a lot of indifferent inspirations, but definitely games like Inside or Limbo made a huge impact on me. And also Studio Ghibli, of course. Very inspired by Studio Ghibli films and especially the film Spirited Away which has been kind of like a guiding star from the beginning in terms of tonality, with this serious, emotional story but still a fun quirkiness to it. And really this sense of exploring another world, which we really want. And also games that I grew up with as a kid, these epic kind of side-scroller adventures like Oddworld and Flashback and Another World. That's something that I wanted to do from the beginning is bring back this epic, cinematic side-scroller adventure."
It's dangerous to go alone
Jumping in part-way through the adventure, Stjärnljus offers insight into how Lana and Mui can team up to make it past obstacles and get across the lush landscape. After meeting early on, Mui has already proven to be a reliable companion when we first meet the pair, and Lana is able to give the cute little creature commands to solve puzzle scenarios. From telling her to stay, follow you, or direct her to places Lana can't reach, Mui is said to be "agile and nimble", which allows her to jump higher and fit into spaces that are too small for you. Lana can also unlock special abilities for Mui, with one that shows her using a hypnotising skill on a creature to solve a platforming puzzle.
In a practical sense, this makes for interesting scenarios to puzzle your way through, with both Lana and Mui able to do different things separately to help each other. When you're on a journey that puts you in difficult situations, there's nothing quite like having someone by your side that you can depend on, and companions have always made virtual worlds feel all the more alive. Mui seems to be no exception from what I've seen so far, with the little endearing creature offering Lana help and company as they both navigate Novo.
As Stjärnljus explains both Lana and Mui have their strengths and weaknesses. While Mui is a strong ally as your creature companion, she also has a "fragile" and vulnerable side. She's afraid of water, which makes her dependent on Lana when they encounter it on their journey. With both of them being reliant on each other in different ways, Stjärnljus hopes we'll come to feel that Mui is a loyal friend we can form a connection with.
There's a definite draw to the idea of working together and forming a bond with Mui to progress through Novo, but it's the sense of mystery at the heart of Planet of Lana that really intrigues me. At one stage during the demo, for example, Lana ventures below ground and explores an old shipwreck buried in a swamp area, which hums to life after being activated by a magic stone she recently discovered. With Lana and Mui communicating through a language that Wishfully created "from scratch", the story of Planet of Lana is told without the use of words. Instead, we experience it through what we see and do, which means "players with more attention to detail can get more out of the backstory and story in general", as Stjärnljus says.
While we only got to see a small slice of the adventure, Stjärnljus also highlights that there will be different landscapes to explore such as thick forests, highlands and deserts, along with new puzzle mechanics that will be introduced, action sequences, and varied platforming to "keep you on your toes". From its beautiful painterly style to the mysterious world of Novo and the puzzles that put a focus on teamwork and companionship, Planet of Lana is shaping up to be one of the most exciting upcoming indie games on the horizon.