I’ve wrestled for death on this hostile planet many times, but my astronaut’s journey is ultimately interrupted by a giant, angry frog. Fortunately, my encounter with the reaper is only a fleeting introduction. My bosses at Kindred Aerospace seem to have found a way to cheat death – not bad to be the fourth best space exploration outfit in the galaxy. My newly made body emerges from the 3D printer of my landing craft and I go back to take another picture. And hopefully these recordings have left their mark.
My struggle with this frog may not have gone as I hoped at first, but the encounter is a great refresher on Journey to the Savage Planet and what Typhoon Studios want to achieve with their debut release. First, the visual elements are highlighted, which come refreshingly from a variety of bright colors. “We wanted a game that was bright and happy and inviting and not oppressive and negative and dark,” says creative director and studio founder Alex Hutchinson. At the same time, Hutchinson said the team wanted to deliver a comedic game. “If you set up situations where the player can mess up or do strange things, could they be involved in their own comedy?”
I get a feel for this kind of comedy when I bring my newly formed body back to the place where I died earlier. There, near the frog, is my old body. It hugs in a sad, fetal pose and is asked to bury it when I’m closer. I do this and the screen darkens while the text “Shame on your body” appears on the screen. The body is then replaced by a high-tech obelisk that shows how many times I have died since playing the demo. I look back at the frog and start the fight again. I am determined not to add another hook to any gravestone. Especially not for an enemy called “Slamphibian”.
In my defense, Hutchinson is in our office, showing the last third of the game that contains a brand new biome. Slamphibian appears to be one of the game’s more difficult opponents, which is appropriate given its environment. The two previous areas that Hutchinson showed were more coherent and also planetary than this place. Solid ground has given way to an abundance of floating islands and rock formations that make it difficult to get from place to place. Fortunately, my astronaut kit includes a handy rope that I can use to whip certain points and swing back and forth between them. A few environmental puzzles let me throw rapidly growing seeds at highlighted places where I can also place my own gripper points. I ask about this zone and how it doesn’t feel like a planet, and Hutchinson says there is indeed a reason for its strange nature that players will learn.
This feeling of unknownness extends to the entire universe in which the journey to the wild planet takes place. When you respawn or visit your DropShip, you can watch a variety of live action TV commercials for strange products such as groceries or an erotic phone service for blobs. They all exude a special Tim and Eric mood that I love. Your mileage may vary. These are interspersed with messages from your boss, the related CEO Martin Tweed, who is increasingly interested in your planet. He is particularly interested in the strange tower that protrudes from the surface of the site, which was previously thought to be uninhabited.
During my session, I can’t see what’s in the main tower, but I can examine a smaller area that will hopefully open the doors to the main tower. After upgrading my boots for an air raid, I can restart some previously inactive machines. Once it’s back online, it gets a little hairier. The cylindrical space fills with ascending lava as I go to safety. The tricky platforming is made easier by my ability to double jump. According to Hutchinson, players can eventually upgrade to a quadruple jump, which makes this particular challenge seem rather trivial.
Even with rising lava and hostile monsters, Typhoon Studios don’t try to punish players at every turn. Searching environments for scientific discoveries and exploring new spaces is a big part of the mission, and there are long stretches of silent contemplation. Even if these moments are interrupted by powerful frogs, there is overall a nice atmosphere of discovery in the course of the game. You will be able to see for yourself in a few weeks.