|Release Date||July 22, 2016|
Disclaimer: Review code provided
Lovely Planet Arcade has one of the most annoying yet catchy soundtracks of a game I’ve played in a long time. The music in the background changes for each act of the game you play. It’s all annoying, but it all gets stuck in your head for hours after you’ve finished playing the game, dissolving into the background as you focus in and seeping its way into your brain. Honestly “annoying yet catchy” is probably a great way to describe Lovely Planet Arcade as a whole.
Lovely Planet Arcade is a puzzle game masquerading as a simplistic first-person shooter. The game features 100 levels in which you must shoot all of the enemies, collect all of the coins and reach the goal pillar to complete. Your only means of interacting with the game are moving, jumping and aiming and shooting along the X-axis (you can’t look or aim up or down). It’s this simplicity that really undoes a lot of the fun that you’ll be having at the start of Lovely Planet Arcade.
At first the game is a fun test of reflexes – you run through levels lasting between 5-15 seconds with the aim of shooting all the bad guys, collecting coins and not getting shot in the process. Because of the fast paced nature of the game it never really gets old, you’re constantly just moving fast and blasting weird green snowmen guys with your shotgun (and bombs that you need to shoot before you let them touch the ground). If you mess up an angry Japanese man yells at you and you immediately restart. Dying isn’t really an issue because restarts are instantaneous.
And that’s a lot of fun for the first act, which took me about twenty to thirty minutes to clear. As you progress through the game it even starts to mix things up a bit, adding new enemies that can have effects on the game when you kill them – things like freezing time momentarily or blinding you. There are also enemies that are invisible or have shields (who require you to jump to shoot them over said shields). There’s definitely a decent amount of variety in the enemy types. From when the game introduces the enemy that can insta-kill you is where all of the problems become instantly noticeable.
Enemies that shoot you in the beginning fire projectiles that you can see coming and dodge as necessary. From act two onwards you’ll still have those enemies, but also enemies whose guns kill you immediately. This is where Lovely Planet Arcade flips from being a fast-paced test of reflexes to a game of memory. You stop being able to get through the levels because of good reflexes and a good aim. From act two and on it’s all about learning where all of the enemies and bombs are in a level.
It’s progress through attrition, basically. You’ll clear out the first part of a level, progress to the next part and be instantly murdered by a green snowman standing behind you who you couldn’t possibly have seen. Eventually it just gets to a point where every enemy and bomb will kill you, their entire purpose being simply so you know where they are and can act accordingly next time. Now you’re not quickly blowing through levels in less than a minute. Now it can take dozens (and more) attempts to clear a single level. And there are 100 of them.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – puzzle games like Lovely Planet Arcade certainly exist and they fundamentally rely on repetition for problem solving. Lovely Planet Arcade’s problem is that it doesn’t hold up well to repetition. Once you start having to repeat the same steps over and over and over again, you start to notice a lot of annoyances. My biggest problem is that there’s only one way to “solve” each level. You have to move in a certain way, kill enemies in a certain order, heck even the timing of your shots needs to be choreographed to perfection if you want to make it to the end.
There are no alternate paths. There’s no way to forge your own way through any of Lovely Planet Arcade’s levels, save for the way the developers designed them. You can’t sneak up behind some enemies that are griefing you because it’s just not how the game is supposed to be played. You can’t jump over a fence to take a different path (in fact, aside from killing enemies with shields, the jump button is entirely superfluous). There’s no variety, no experimentation – it’s simply memorise each step of the level by dying repeatedly, until you’ve memorised the whole thing and you move on to the next one.
Repeating the same thing dozens of times until you get it right isn’t fun. It’s dull. It’s also cheap. Really cheap. Invisible enemies who can insta-kill you are the worst offenders. But Lovely Planet Arcade will constantly place enemies where you have no hope in hell of spotting them first time around, or throwing bombs so you have no idea where they even are before they kill you. When the game is already set up in such a way that you’ll need to repeat its levels multiple times, adding in this extra layer of almost mandatory deaths just because felt like the developer was kicking me in the dick for no reason.
As you start repeating levels over and over again it also becomes apparent that there’s really only one level. I don’t mean that you’re just running the same exact level over and over again (this isn’t Umbrella Corps), but rather every level uses the same exact assets over and over and over. Levels quickly bleed into one another. There’s never an attempt to add anything new to the aesthetic of the levels. And while we’re on the subject of repetition – every time I caught the music that was playing on a loop in the background I thought I was about to grind my teeth into dust.
Lovely Planet Arcade starts out well enough as a quick-paced first-person shooter that relies on some decent reflexes, but the fun quickly falls away when it starts adding enemies that can kill you in a split second. When it stops being about reflexes and starts being about memorising routes and enemy placements, and you start having to go through levels over and over again, a lot of cracks start emerging in the gameplay and game design. Plus it’s just not fun to have to keep replaying levels that are meant to last 10-15 seconds at a time and make progress by a matter of inches each time. I can’t deny there was fun to be had in Lovely Planet Arcade at first, but by the time I was finished with it I felt nothing but aggravation.
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