This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Nom Nom Galaxy and Freedom Planet.
I didn't want to do another indie double bill so soon after the last one. It feels like taking two dates to the cinema and making a play for the hypothetical stereo surreptitious tit-grab. But I couldn't resist the almost serendipitous conflux of Nom Nom Galaxy coming off Early Access and Freedom Planet coming out on Wii U. And while the phrase "coming out on Wii U" is about as significant to me as the phrase "hopes to have children of her own someday", it's as good an excuse as any to take a look at it.
While the two games aren't thematically similar, they do both have titles consisting of an astronomical term and a word that ends with "om", and on top of that, both of them provoke precisely the same reaction from me: the words "how cute" muttered through clenched teeth.
So let's start off with Nom Nom Galaxy, aka "the one I want to get out of the way first." Nom Nom Galaxy is a sort of resource-gathering, base-building game in which the universe is dominated by all-powerful soup companies and you must travel to various alien worlds to establish new factories and discover new soup recipes. Gosh, isn't it quirky! It's Captain James T. Quirk of the Federation Starship Quaint-erprise!
Nom Nom Galaxy (I am going to fucking stab myself in the throat if I have to say that fucking title any more) takes the Terraria/Starbound route of the 2D Minecraft sort of jobbie, but with two major differences: Firstly, blocks fall if not supported, so it's possible to bury yourself alive in dirt and cry, "Hey, everyone, come look at my Rupert Murdoch impression", and secondly, it's much more goal-oriented. You move on to the next sandbox as soon as you've cornered the local soup market, and I appreciate that, because the trend with all these indie survival/base-building games that swim in the wake of Minecraft's success trying to catch its divine farts in their mouths is to just set up a world and some rules and then hope that the player will build nine-story castles that do bugger-all except to give them something to bore all their friends to death with every time they come over. Minecraft is the model train set of the modern age with none of the catharsis that can come of going at it with a sledge hammer.
So it's nice for a game to be something that you win. Call me old-fashioned, it's only the fucking definition of the word, and it's nice to be building something with a function, but while I was supposed to build a factory that's automated to a certain degree, I found that the time I could spend building a robot production line was better spent running around gathering easy ingredients and flooding the market with as many shitty unvaried soup combinations as I could. Essentially I was being the soup equivalent of EA.
If you are a fan of explore-y freedom type sandboxes, you may find Onomatopoeic Word Relating to Food Consumption Galaxy a bit restrictive since you can't venture too far without creating a return journey too long to make a decent production line. And the planets get kind of samey once you dig below the surface, not unlike kidnap victims, but I enjoy it for the same reason I enjoy coding. When I've set up a complex conveyor belt network that on its first test drops everything it carries into the space behind the fridge, I'm like, "Dammit, I can never remember when I need a semi-colon." Then I spend the whole mission manually carrying stuff up the conveyor belts, which in this metaphor is when you give up and hard-code everything.
So let's narrow our focus from a something galaxy to a something planet. Freedom Planet is an action-platformer that deliberately aims to resemble a game on the Sega Genesis, excepting of course it's about half a gig and if it were on the Sega Genesis, it would've needed a cartridge about the size of a wardrobe. But that aside, it's a rather convincing imitation of a Genesis game and by that, I mean one specific Genesis game: Sonic the Hedgehog, or rather Sonic the Hedgehog 3, right down to the multiple types of shields and background design more cluttered than a Magic Eye picture.
But since it was after Sonic 3 that the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise officially abandoned its potential for good games to focus more on trying to sand off its own eyelids on the floor of a car park, then it's perfectly reasonable for something to hop into the niche it left behind. But let's be blunt: Freedom Planet is a Sonic fan game. The giveaway is that it has a classic mode. You came out last year, Freedom Planet; If you're a classic, then I'm a World War II veteran. You mean classic Sonic mode, that is, just the levels back-to-back with no cutscenes, a mode that I am going to really fucking recommend. I'm going to hold that shit up like that monkey in The Lion King. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
To the game's credit, it replicates the feel and the pace of Sonic uncannily well, although Sonic was quite elegantly designed and Freedom Planet suffers from overcomplicating the gameplay a tad. I played through as the green cat-thing and I still couldn't tell you why only one of my two functionally identical melee attacks drained weapon energy. There is a hated lives system, but you just continue from the same point if you run out, so it's really just a nod to retro gaming about as vestigial as the tongue of a castrated dog.
On the whole, it's a solid game whose gameplay and art design reflects real effort, talent and enthusiasm, which is why it just breaks my little heart to have to say that the story cocks it up a filthy drainpipe. The voice acting is the warning sign. Firstly, every character has noticeably different audio quality as if all the actors were recording in different bedrooms, and secondly, there's voice acting! You see, despite obviously being a big fan of the retro Sonics, Freedom Planet paradoxically failed to notice the vital point that retro Sonic kept his fucking mouth shut!
On a world of anthropomorphic cartoon animals that's, legally speaking, totally not Mobius, a bunch of original characters (do not steal) who are all irritating, smart-mouthed, improbably-skilled warriors, because this is the bad anime thing where every character is under eighteen but has had three careers already, get enlisted to save the world for no reason besides obviously being great and it plays out like bad self-insert fan fiction, which it may well technically be. All characterization is established by having the cast verbally explain their personalities to each other. At one point, one of the three main playable characters says to the others something like, "Wait, you two finally agree on something?" And I said aloud, "What are you on about? They have never disagreed up to now! They first met two levels ago when you all decided on the spot to become BFFs and have a slumber party. And while we're on the subject, why did you interrupt gameplay for five minutes to make me watch that?!" Were the authors writing about these characters before they put them in this game, I wonder? Oh, Christ, we're playing as someone's fursona, aren't we?
I know people will tell me I'm just a misery-guts who expects too much of everything, but fuck you! You know where we end up if we all stop expecting much? Two words: President Trump!
- Star child: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- So if everyone is an anthropomorphic animal then was that sushi made out of murdered sentient fish
- Kawaii Five-O