Lovely Planet review: Katamari Damacy Arena 2K14
Beneath Lovely Planet’s adorable rainbow world lies a hellish challenge only Fatal1ty and Cliff Bleszinski could love. Sure, the premise of a shooter hidden within Katamari Damacy-esque graphics is a cute idea, but the FPS within isn’t just some mindless shoot ‘em up. This is a hardcore PC shooter that demands a mouse and keyboard, quick reaction time, and sharp aim the way arena shooters like Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament did. It’s not what I expected, not what I was looking for, and not something I expected to get so addicted to.
The game is presented as a series of brief time trials where you have to shoot all of the enemies and make it to a flagpole as fast as possible. You're graded based on accuracy and time, and awarded a three star score. The structure is akin to a mobile game, with dozens of short levels, leaderboards, and an ever-increasing challenge. There’s no story and no context, just pure, unadulterated gameplay.
You’re equipped with a...magic, stick, umbrella, thing? It fires purple squares and you aim, shoot, and jump using traditional WASD FPS controls. Enemies are red squares with faces on them, and sometimes they wear silly hats to represent their abilities. As the game progresses it introduces tougher obstacles -- “hostage” characters you can’t shoot, bottomless pits, spikes, and timed death fields that will kill you if you stay in them too long. Everything is designed to keep you moving and test your aiming dexterity, and it only gets harder. My worst nightmare? Apples that pop into the air when you hit cross certain checkpoints. You have to shoot them before they hit the ground or you’re killed instantly.
To give you an idea of the kind of dexterity this game expects of you, I’ll offer up this gem of a level from the second world: In it you must jump onto a spring, at which point two of these apples launch into the air -- one directly behind you, and another in front, but masked behind a hill. Your goal is to jump, bounce, spin 180 degrees, shoot the apple behind where you’re headed, spin forward again, and hit the second apple before it hits the ground -- all while traveling through the air, and all while accounting for the travel time of the bullets. Despite dozens of attempts I was always a few pixels off in even my best runs. I eventually had to move on, thankful that Lovely Planet only forces you to play a percentage of a world’s levels before unlocking the next one.
Regardless of the level of challenge and frustration, I found myself wanting to press on and defeat each challenge. Lovely Planet is like the Trials series in that sense, where a lot of the appeal is the game simply asking, “Okay, but can you do this?” Unlike Trials, though, Lovely Planet offers little else beyond that appeal, so you have to really like a challenge in a colorful world with cutesy music, otherwise you’ll be bored quick.
The lack of any kind of structure or level variety makes Lovely Planet an odd game to recommend. If you’ve seen one screenshot, you’ve more or less seen the entire game, and if you’ve played one level then get ready for around a hundred more of them. The game executes on its core idea quite well, but there’s a lack of ambition to it. It’s sad to see a game as colorful as Katamari Damacy, Proteus, or Flower wear that aesthetic without any sense of discovery or wonder.
Still, if you’re up for a unique challenge, Lovely Planet delivers. It could have been a time trial challenge mod for Unreal, Quake, or Counterstrike, but it’s set in a pastel wonderland instead. It’s a bit soulless, but I had a surprising amount of fun flexing my rusty keyboard and mouse skills despite that. In fact, if anything, Lovely Planet may go down in history as the most pleasant way to brush up on your FPS skills this side of Portal.
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