Right off the bat, it’s easy to compare Journey to the Savage Planet to games like No Man’s Sky and Outer Wilds, with its bright, cartoonish art style and exploration-heavy gameplay. However, Typhoon Studios, headed by industry vet Alex Hutchinson, take some of the best aspects of both of these games and put them into one full, delectable package that I didn’t want to stop playing. It’s driven by a core loop of exploration and discovery around its world, and what its combat leaves to be desired, its humor, charm, and constant progression make up for in spades.
Journey to the Savage Planet wastes no time in setting its tone. You begin having just landed on yet-unexplored planet AR-Y26 and are greeted by the CEO of your interstellar exploration company, who proudly boasts of being the “fourth best” company in the industry. He assigns you the task of simply exploring the planet and determining whether it is habitable for humans by documenting its flora and fauna, though he does it in a humorously self-aware video message. As you set out to traverse the planet, it becomes clear that this humor and self-awareness is at the core of Journey to the Savage Planet. Your EKO, which becomes the voice that guides you and quips about every mission you complete, every enemy you kill, or every object you discover, carries this humor throughout the game, making for an experience that, from the very beginning, does not take itself seriously, and instead encourages you to simply have fun in its luscious world.
"Journey to the Savage Planet is an experience that, from the very beginning, does not take itself seriously, and instead encourages you to simply have fun in its luscious world."
Your overarching objective of exploring and documenting the planet transforms into your primary objectives to reaching the top of a mysterious tower that hovers over the rest of the planet. As your company left you with no gear due to “budget constraints,” part of the exploration of the world comes in collecting samples and materials to upgrade your suit, allowing you to gain new abilities that allow you to access new areas and reach previously unreachable secrets. Ultimately, you progress by finding particular alien objects of interest that allow you to untangle the mystery of the planet and show you the way forward, or, more commonly, the way up.
While the story never really got off the ground in terms of keeping me interested in the lore of the planet itself, the humor that runs throughout made it nevertheless enjoyable to play through. The writing is dynamic and consistently made me laugh, and it succeeds at doing what it’s intending to do with the story. In the vein of the initial mission video, there are also videos and text messages you can read on your ship that add a lot more personality to the world, and work for a quick chuckle in a lot of cases. Even in death, the game makes jokes, as you are explained to having been cloned every time you respawn, which allows you to find your previous corpse and dramatically bury it.
The game’s visual style furthers this lightheartedness as well, with its bright and cheerful color palette and incredibly memorable design that had very little in the way of technical problems throughout my time with it. There’s very little throughout the world that isn’t filled with personality, whether it’s the scanner that cracks jokes on the details for every individual thing you scan, or the huge eyes of the pufferbird that are as adorable as anything I’ve seen in a video game. Even the hostile creatures attack you in fun and interesting ways that keep you on your toes.
"The game’s visual style furthers this lightheartedness as well, with its bright and cheerful color palette and incredibly memorable design that had very little in the way of technical problems throughout my time with it. There’s very little throughout the world that isn’t filled with personality."
The world itself is also generally beautiful, and the environments are diverse and run the gamut from bright fields to dark, lava-filled caves without losing any of their charm. The constant sense of discovery from scanning every last item in the world makes it feel as though you’re progressing with every moment of the gameplay. That said, the game does sort of encourage you to leave scanning mode on as you run around, because it is the only way to document new items. This mode turns the colors around the world into an ugly green and yellow mesh, and it gets somewhat annoying to have to trigger scanning mode for every new object you encounter if you want to experience the real beauty of the world.
Each of the four major biomes carries the same tenets of the core exploration and combat throughout, but are diverse enough to feel like you’re traveling through unique areas, which is an important aspect, because you’ll become acutely familiar with the majority of the biomes throughout your time on AR-Y26. Each biome is filled with different scannable objects and secret areas that reward your exploration, and it strikes a strong pacing balance between giving you a guide for where to find certain hidden items and forcing you to search on your own. This sense of discovery is the game’s best feature, especially when you’re allowed to go at your own pace and search for hidden items, some of which even unlock a final ending after the credits roll. It was encouraging that after completing the critical path, I had only completed about 60% of the overall exploration around the world and had much more to uncover at my own pace. Even if the main story can be completed in just about 12 hours, there’s a lot more to the whole package that makes it worth your while to mess about in the open world.
The primary missions, on the other hand, are a bit more straightforward in their structure. They start in an open-ended sense, but by story’s end disappointingly become an exercise in following a waypoint marker. The late game missions really fall off a cliff in this sense, as they stray from the game’s best features in favor of a traditional raising of the stakes that falls flat. Many of these missions in the late game lean more toward focusing specifically on combat, which is ultimately the game’s worst feature. You play through the entirety of the game with the pistol you start with, upgrading your combat abilities along the way, but it’s too floaty for how precise some of the enemies require you to be, especially higher-level enemies and bosses. Much of the difficulty increases that occur throughout are manifested in higher numbers of enemies, but the combat is not tight enough to support these larger battles. These saw me taking more and more deaths, while I constantly wished for a way to return to the simple fun of being able to discover new areas and secrets hidden around the world.
"Much of the difficulty increases that occur throughout are manifested in higher numbers of enemies, but the combat is not tight enough to support these larger battles. These saw me taking more and more deaths, while I constantly wished for a way to return to the simple fun of being able to discover new areas and secrets hidden around the world."
Even in its worst moments though, Journey to the Savage Planet, never breaks from its lighthearted attitude, self-aware humor, and cheerful visual style, which makes it a constantly enjoyable experience. As I learned more about the world and gained more abilities to help me reach new areas, I couldn’t help but want to go back and find every last nook and cranny that I had missed or hadn’t been able to reach, which is a testament to how well the game pulls off its atmosphere and sense of discovery in every moment. Its core exploration-centric gameplay is incredible and had its hooks in me the whole way through. Though the planet may have been savage, the experience of documenting it was oh-so sweet.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Hilariously self-aware; Beautiful, cartoony environment and creature design; Constantly satisfying sense of discovery.
Unremarkable combat; Disappointing late-game levels.