Freedom Planet may have started off as a fan-game, but the finished product is an engaging and inventive platformer that does more than piggyback on the successes of others.
In recent years, it's been rare that any significant amount of time goes by by without a new indie title that leverages nostalgia and familiarity to carve out an audience. While many of these releases only seek to retread the past, the best examples aim a little higher — and that's exactly the case for Freedom Planet.
When development of the game started, Freedom Planet was envisaged as a Sonic the Hedgehog fan-game, which would use both the gameplay elements and the characters that have made that series so successful. However, as time progressed that vision expanded, and what has been released is a new experience all of its own.
Of course, Freedom Planet owes a great deal to Yuji Naka's creation, as the core gameplay is quite explicitly based on the Sonic blend of pace and platforming. Moreover, the character designs and the game's plot are imbued with the same Saturday-morning feel that the blue speedster and his many sidekicks and companion have grown to typify.
However, that influence simply provides a foundation that the team at GalaxyTrail have built upon substantially. This is much more than a knock-off — but, if you've been hankering for a quality Sonic title in the vein of his adventures on the Sega Genesis, it will no doubt scratch that itch.
Movement will feel familiar to anyone who's played the early Sonic games, but the addition of combat commands adds an extra twist. Being able to actively attack enemies at the press of a button may sound like a small tweak, but it's something that really changes up normal gameplay in practice.
Going fast is still a core element of Freedom Planet, but there's an argument to be made that it's actually far more varied than most 2D Sonic titles. The combat is a contributing factor, but the way puzzles are slickly integrated into the core gameplay is perhaps ever more impressive. Switches and pushable blocks are familiar territory for most seasoned gamers, but it's not the puzzles themselves so much as how they're placed in the game's stages. Rather than interfering with speedier sections, they're creatively constructed so as to improve the game's pacing and add variety.
One of the game's early bosses has an alternate method of completion where players can use their knowledge of a pushable block encountered slightly earlier by dropping it on the enemy's head and speeding through the encounter. This sort of gameplay may not reinvent the wheel, but it certainly adds some depth to the experience.
It might seem like high praise, but Freedom Planet often does a better job of avoiding monotony than Sega could manage. It's certainly an evolution of the ideas that were put forward back in the 1990's, and GalaxyTrail deserves a lot of credit for putting an obvious passion for Sonic to such good use.
One thing that might turn some players off is the cutesy look and feel that permeates Freedom Planet. It's easy to see where these influences come from, and there are likely many who will love the game's plot and its cast of characters, but it's not for everyone. However, it has to be said that the designs are a great take on the signature Sonic style. The aesthetic comes across really well, but these are all original creations. Plus, it's very easy to skip the many cutscenes that lay out the game's plot if you're just interested in the gameplay on offer.
All in all, Freedom Planet is a game that deserves to be mentioned among titles like the excellent Shovel Knight. It's rooted in the history of video games, but developed with an appreciation for the fact that times have changed since the classics of the retro era had their day.
Whether it's the engrossing gameplay, endearing character designs or light-hearted plot, Freedom Planet will likely offer something that puts a smile on your face. Plus, it's probably the best Sonic game we're likely to receive for the foreseeable future, even without the presence of the blue-haired hedgehog himself.
Freedom Planet is available now for PC, with a Wii U version set to follow. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.