It's been some time since I've played a game that has tied itself to my heart so effectively, but Planet of Lana did just that. The adventure from developer Wishfully swept me up in a journey that's engrossing, moving, and entirely memorable. Spending time in the intriguing world setting full of mysterious creatures and machines is a surprising joy thanks in no small part to its beautiful hand-painted art style, and the accompanying emotive musical score from The Last Guardian composer, Takeshi Furukawa.
Release date: May 23, 2023
Platform(s): PC, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
The changing environments and variety of puzzle scenarios throughout work together to keep me invested, and I continuously feel like I'm presented with something new. While it is reminiscent of the puzzle-platforming found in Playdead's Inside and Limbo, Planet of Lana firmly stands out thanks to its companion-focused mechanics, which make for more unique challenges. Protagonist Lana teams up with an adorable cat-like creature called Mui, and since they both have different strengths and weaknesses, the pair make for a functional duo who balance each other out well.
What strikes me most about Planet of Lana is just how effectively it makes you care about its characters, and what's happening to them from moment to moment. Even though they only communicate through select verbal cues in a fictional language, so much feeling is conveyed through their tone and the music. The bond that's formed between Lana and Mui is one you can believe in, and the attachment I feel to the both of them is what turns this experience into something truly special.
It didn't take long for me to get invested in Lana's journey, with Wishfully working to quickly draw me into the adventure and establish my motivation. Planet of Lana opens during a gentle moment between the protagonist and her sister on the outskirts of a peaceful village they call home. But the presence of mysterious machines shooting down from the sky suddenly cuts through the quiet, and Lana's sister is soon captured.
As the music starts to swell to evoke a sense of urgency, I race my back through the village I playfully ventured across just moments before. The contrast between calm and chaos is sharp: The joyful sounds of the once tranquil village are now replaced by screams and the clang of machines as people are taken away. Now alone, with her sister and her village gone, Lana has to set out to find her sibling and save her home. Already, I feel for Lana, who has lost so much so quickly, but there's a little light to come thanks to her encounter with Mui, who joins you on your journey shortly after.
Since you can't fight the machines directly, there are times where I had to utilize stealth to circumvent danger – using patches of grass or an overhanging ledge to hide. Each of the machines, which are somewhat reminiscent of insects, move in different ways, which lends some degree of challenge to these scenarios. While some are airborne and use a spotlight to search, others scuttle across the ground like a spider in specific patterns or directions.
Even when you encounter the same type of machine down the line, they won't always use the same pattern or direction of movement, which creates different puzzle-like challenges for each encounter. On several occasions, successfully making it past enemies hinges on both my timing, and my ability to work out a route that avoids detection. Another layer to the challenge comes from helping both Lana and Mui get to safety, since they can each only move to or reach certain places because of their own strengths and weaknesses. There's an ever-present tension to each of these encounters, since the machines won't hesitate in zapping you if Lana or Mui are spotted.
Courage and companionship
It's not just machines the pair have to contend with. The planet is home to some dark, rather unsettling creatures with a scarier edge who will attack on sight, but again, there are different ways to get around them and some creative solutions to discover. One of Planet of Lana's biggest strengths is the way it makes use of Lana and Mui's abilities. While the companion mechanics are effective in the way they have you solve puzzles, they also really impress upon you just how much they help each other, and more crucially, need each other to make it through.
Thanks to Mui's agility and small stature, the little cat friend can reach higher ledges or get through tight gaps, and they also have a unique power that allows them to control some of the unusual creatures that you encounter. As Lana, you're able to direct Mui to different locations and command them to interact with switches, which works well for the most part. On certain occasions, I find it slightly finicky to get the cursor to land on the spot I'm aiming for, but generally if you're standing in a good spot in relation to the place you want Mui to go, the button prompt will automatically appear above it.
There are also certain elements that only Lana can use, and since Mui is afraid of water, it's up to you to help them make it across safely. As the journey progresses, I fall in love with the bond they share. It's clear that they care about one another's well being and the support they give each other isn't just in the practical sense. After all, no one wants to face difficulties alone, and there are lots of quieter moments of affection between the two that tug at the heartstrings (and as an added bonus, you can pet Mui at any time).
Interspersed between the puzzles are cinematic sequences which ask you to complete simple quick-time events or navigate through a location. Each one feels like it flows naturally into the adventure to progress the story, and some even offer a moment away from the dangers of machines and creatures that allowed me to reflect on everything Lana and Mui had been through so far. Wishfully's lush world quickly swept me up, and there's an undercurrent of mystery to the planet that I find myself wanting to bring to the surface. Happily, there are clues and collectible shrines to find that paint a wider picture of the world, if you're only willing to look.
For me, Planet of Lana is all about connection. The connection between sisters that drives Lana forward; the connection between the protagonist and her loyal companion who keeps her going; and in a broader sense, the connection between humans, machines, and nature. But perhaps the most important connection is the one Wishfully effectively creates between me as the player and the characters. With a fantastic variety of puzzle scenarios and plenty of memorable moments, Planet of Lana is a beautiful, affecting adventure I won't soon forget.
Planet of Lana was reviewed on Xbox Series S, with a code provided by the publisher.