In 2017, animation Director/Producer Adam Stjärnljus created a studio-Ghibli inspired scene of a young girl peering out over a lush, alien landscape. After enthusiastic reactions from his friends and family, Adam went on to co-found Wishfully Studios, a Swedish indie developer that turned his original image into the charming 2.5D platform/puzzler adventure game, Planet of Lana.
With the studio coming from a background in cinema, it’s easy to spot the game’s filmic influences – from long tracking shots across sweeping vistas to the emotive orchestral score. Occasionally, though, this feels at odds with the quieter moments of gameplay. And while some of the environmental puzzles might feel all too familiar, Planet of Lana has a cute, furry trick up its sleeve.
Planet of Lana review
After a mysterious fleet of alien space ships invade her home planet and kidnap her sister, Lana sets out on a journey across lush forests, barren deserts, and gloomy caves to rescue her. Beginning in a field outside of her home town, you navigate Lana through a series of (initially) gentle platforming set pieces and environmental puzzles. It’s the usual standard fare to begin with – moving crates to reach a ledge or activating a switch with a heavy object – until you free Mui from an alien trap, that is.
How best to describe Mui? She’s sort of like a cat in the way that she moves and sounds. Mui also hates water (which forms the basis of later puzzles in getting her across swamps and lakes), but then, she’s also not like a cat because Mui will help you up when you’re dangling from a sheer precipice, whereas my cat, for example, would leave me to die.
It’s not just the fictional language Mui speaks that reminds me of The Last Guardian, but also that you can command and control Mui to help you out of sticky situations, much like Trico (although Mui is much more cooperative). Pressing Q on your keyboard tells Mui to stay in place; pressing and holding Q orders her to follow you again.
Just after meeting Mui, for example, you come across a strange, alien plant on the ground that extends a tendril-like platform when stood on. Of course, the second you step off the plant to reach the platform, it recoils. Instead, you can order Mui to stand still on the plant while you climb your way up to reach the top. This adds a new dimension to the game’s puzzles, keeping some of the more familiar platforming sequences fresh.
Do androids dream of eclectic sneaks?
Other environmental puzzles involve sneaking past alien robots. Here, you can hold the right mouse button and click to command Mui to go to a specific spot. As you venture further from your home town, for example, you’ll come across your first arachnid-like android. In order to make it past them alive, you’ll need to lure the robot out into the open and command Mui to wait by a rope that’s suspending logs above you. As the robot passes under the logs, you tell Mui to chew through the rope, dropping the heavy load and obliterating the robot below.
It might look like a cutesy Studio Ghibli adventure then, but Planet of Lana can be deceptively challenging. You’ll need precision timing to dash through gaps just as a robot is about to catch you; it’s real edge-of-your-seat stuff that provides a welcome change in pace to the more meditative platforming sequences.
Not all puzzles are made equal, though. At the end of the first chapter, for example, you come across a set of industrial pipes that play a musical note when hit. To advance to the next chapter, you need to adjust a slider on each pipe so that the pipes play a specific tune, which in turn, unlocks the door. There are a couple of clues hidden in the environment, but I must’ve spent nearly two hours looking for others to no avail. Eventually, I brute forced it, having no idea how I solved the thing. Without the benefit of looking up a guide, I don’t know whether I just needed to git gud or whether the puzzle was needlessly obtuse, but either way, it left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Thankfully, this was just a blemish on an otherwise spotless record, and, as the game progresses, Lana and Mui unlock more abilities that let you use previously hazardous objects in the environment to your benefit. There is some repetition to puzzles, but this twist keeps things fresh by iterating on previous designs.
As a lot of Planet of Lana’s puzzles involve sneaking stealthily past alien robots, it’s disappointing that the controls feel a little unresponsive when playing with a mouse and keyboard. To be fair, though, the game does begin with a message suggesting that its best played with a controller, but even so, you’ll occasionally miss jumps that you should’ve made which can be frustrating.
However, despite a few hiccups here and there, the game successfully conjures a rich, intriguing world, not least thanks to the beautiful, painterly art style of vibrant blue skies, fluffy white clouds and lush greenery; the latter of which scrolls in parallax across the foreground giving a sense of immense space and depth. Add to that a full orchestral score and you’ve got some stunning, cinematic sequences as the camera zooms out to a chorus of solemn strings in a moody tracking shot that would give Death Stranding a run for its money.
A sense of mystery is present throughout, and, while the story itself is fairly straightforward, the game tells it beautifully with little to no dialogue (save a few words uttered in a fictional language), reminiscent of Somerville’s‘show, don’t tell’ approach to story (not least because they both feature an alien invasion).
Planet of Lana is a charming little outing across a beautiful and mysterious world. While the ending may lack the gravity implied by the stakes of the story, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable journey full of interesting environmental puzzles and deceptively tricky platforming. Despite some gameplay repetition and occasionally unresponsive controls, Planet of Lana is definitely a game you should have in your orbit.