Lovely Planet Arcade – An interesting, but frustrating, sequel to Lovely Planet
Reviewed August 24, 2016 on PC
Disclosure: A PC (Steam) download code was provided by the publisher for this review
The first Lovely Planet was a intense twitch shooter wrapped up in a beautiful pastel-coloured abstract world. Lovely Planet Arcade takes that same art-style, but makes a numbers of changes to the gameplay that, on the whole, make for a worse experience. It has some decent ideas, but never feels as cohesive or as fun as the original game.
The first thing I noticed after loading the game is that it just feels slower. The difference was so stark that I ended up booting up the original game to make sure I wasn't misremembering it (I wasn't). After a few levels, the reason became clear - the level and game design in Arcade makes for a much more methodical, paced experience. The twitch gameplay is still there, but it now requires going in with a plan and then executing on it, rather than reacting to things as they happen. The new weapon, a shotgun, takes time to reload, so a misplaced shot can often mean that there is no way to recover. In a lot of ways, it turns Arcade into a puzzle game - the first few runs at a level are dedicated to learning the level and coming up with a solution, then I need to execute on it.
Act 3 also drove home the fact that this was a puzzle game first, shooter second. A new enemy type was introduced, which has a hitscan weapon and is literally invisible. It is all but guaranteed that I would die to them - the only way to find their location is to see the muzzle flash, by which time I'm already dead. It turns the game into a memory task, where the only way to succeed is to learn the enemy placement from multiple failed attempts. Enemies hidden behind corners are one thing, but the invisible enemies felt fundamentally unfair. The instant restart to a level went some way to mitigating the frustrations, but overall I didn't enjoy how Arcade mixed up the gameplay, and the more I played the more frustrated I become. It may be a puzzle game, but it hides elements from the player - enemies are invisible, or pop in without warning. It leads to me thinking about how I can see the level so I can memorise it, rather than actually solving anything, and I didn't find it at all satisfying.
Invisible enemies are not fun
Invisible enemies are not fun
That's not to say the game is without merit, and I'm sure some people will enjoy the challenge it presents. The new enemy types, such as those that briefly freeze time and those that cause the player to teleport to a new area when shot, are interesting and are often used in good ways. The art still looks extremely nice, and the soundtrack, though not as quite as catchy as the original, is excellent. Despite the limitations on movement and the reduced speed of the game, it still has a good flow and it controls well. Even though I didn't particularly enjoy it, Lovely Planet Arcade feels confident in what it is trying to achieve with its new gameplay, and I appreciated that it fully committed to this.
I'm glad that the developer of Lovely Planet Arcade chose to make significant changes for the sequel, but I'm not convinced that these changes were successful. Arcade doesn't scratch the same itches that the first game did, nor does the new gameplay come together in a satisfying way. It's certainly not a bad game, but it lacks the joyous free-form nature of the original game. I'd strongly recommend that newcomers to the series start with Lovely Planet, and only move onto Arcade if searching for a different type of challenge in the same style.