Miyazaki's wonderful mix of sci-fi and magic: a review of the 2D platformer Planet of Lana

By: Vladyslav Nuzhnov | 22.05.2023, 16:00

Planet of Lana is the debut game by Swedish indie studio Wishfully, which has been in development since 2018. It is a 2D platformer that tells the story of a girl named Lana and her faithful assistant, a tiny creature with extraordinary powers called Mui, who are searching for the protagonist's sister. And although at first glance it may seem that there are more than enough indie projects like this, Planet of Lana stands out among other similar games because of two features: its visuals and its world. The first one is reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki's work, and it's just a pleasure to look at. You want to play it to see new picturesque locations and explore them. And the game's world shows an interesting concept that gamers could already see in the Horizon series - mysterious machines in a world where people haven't even found electricity. However, given that there are not many games with this style, it is perceived as interesting. Of course, as a debut project, the game has some drawbacks - the puzzles are sometimes a bit long, and some require unrealistic timings to solve. By removing this, the game could be shortened by 30-40 minutes, and it would be beneficial.

However, as soon as I found out about this game, I saw something that made me want to review Planet of Lana. I didn't know that it had been developed and shown at various exhibitions for a long time, I just happened to come across it and wanted to play it. And looking ahead, I don't regret having played this game, it managed to hook me. The release will take place on May 23, and to understand whether you should buy it, gg 's editorial team will tell you about all the main points of Planet of Lana that you should know.

5 Reasons to Buy Planet of Lana:

  • You are tired of shooters and want something for your heart and soul
  • You are a fan of Miyazaki's anime
  • Not much free time and you are looking for a game that can be completed in one go
  • A wish to be among those who will say about famous developers in 10 years: "I played their first game"
  • You haven't solved a puzzle for a long time, and it's time to test your brain

2 Reasons Not to Buy Planet of Lana:

  • You just don't have a heart
  • Games with only a few characters are not for you

Quick transition:

Bravery Can Fit in the Smallest of Creature

Planet of Lana is a game that can be played in one day, so it is impossible to tell a lot about the plot without avoiding spoilers. Therefore, I will focus on the main details of the story.

The game begins with us finding ourselves in a village near a lake and playing around with our sister: running, jumping, hiding from an evil grandmother who is cooking something in the kitchen, and going for a walk outside the village - into the forest. And at this point, the game shows us what we will do until the credits roll. An army of mysterious machines arrives on the planet and kidnaps our sister. A little later, they destroy the settlement and everything they see. And so, according to all the laws of the genre, a little girl has to turn into a brave heroine and save her sister and, at the same time, the whole world. But don't be surprised by such a trivial (at first glance) plot - it is secondary in the game. If the developers really wanted to create a rich story, the characters would speak English here, not an unknown language consisting of a set of several sounds. However, this is not what attracts attention. The main thing about Planet of Lana is the atmosphere of travel.

A little later, Lana is rescued from a trap by a small black cat-like creature called Mui. And now Lana and Mui are two friends who will move together, help each other, fight against creatures and machines, solve puzzles and try to survive in this fantastic world, and if they are lucky, save it. I'll have to stop retelling the story here, because everything that happens after Mui's rescue is serious spoilers that you don't need to know.

Lana and Mui

Characters You Will Love (Yes, All of Them)

A few words should be said about the characters. Here, apart from Lana and Mui (if you don't count the sister and the people who live in the village), you (almost) won't meet anyone else, and I think it's the right decision. This way, this little story focuses on Lana and Mui, on how their relationship changes and how they become attached to each other. For a game that takes 5 hours to complete, 2 characters are more than enough. Yes, no one here speaks English or any other language - you can only hear a set of sounds from Lana. But her intonation, movements, and emotions create a portrait of the character, and you realise that she is a girl who loves her sister and Mui, and is terrified of losing them.

Again, we're talking about a debut indie game from a small studio, and in the end, they managed to evoke emotions. After all, by the end of the story, you have time to get a range of emotions: worry, fear, joy, and anger. If we recall Inside and Limbo, which are still considered the benchmarks among indie adventure games, no one made any sound at all, but did people love them for that? Such games have completely different features, and we will talk about them later.

What a Fabulous World It Is

And now for what catches you the most - the game world. The combination of a world in warm shades, invaded by a mysterious army of cold machines, in a science fiction wrapper, but in an era when only wooden houses are built here, is a contrasting but successful combination. Sometimes I even felt like I was on the planet Tatooine in the Star Wars universe - one minute you have a calm desert with a small settlement with a nomadic lifestyle, and the next an army of machines appears, seeking to destroy you. The game skilfully balances between the moments when those machines are not around, and you are immersed in a fairy-tale world, and the episodes when you understand why the developers have described it as an "epic sci-fi saga" in the Steam description.

I notice that indie studios are the best at creating the game world. We have already seen this in Stray and the aforementioned Limbo and Inside. So if you want to look at the game world first, Planet of Lana is for you. Because here, from time to time, you can still see various rock paintings on the walls, hints of another civilisation, and from additional tasks in the game, you can collect mysterious fragments that should form a complete picture.

Secret places where you can find fragments that reveal the world of the game

How to Play?

The gameplay here can be divided into 3 main components: travelling, puzzles, and encounters with opponents.

Travelling is more meditative. Walking through the locations, the game does not rush you at all and gives you the opportunity to enjoy the locations and the soundtrack. There's not even a run button, so if there are no enemies or puzzles on the horizon, you can walk around slowly with Mui and enjoy the moment.

Although there are some dynamic and intense scenes from time to time, they are not many. But for contrast, so that you don't suddenly fall asleep, they are perfect and are also directed at the highest level. Here the developers should give a plus.

I Solved All the Puzzles On My Own - Now I'm Smart

And now what you will be doing most of the time is solving puzzles. And their complexity changes in proportion to how far you have progressed in the story. If at the beginning of the game you spend 30-40 seconds to solve a problem, then at the end you will have to spend more time. But there were no more than 3 puzzles where I got stuck for more than 5 minutes. The first one was about solving a cipher that I just couldn't understand for the first few minutes. In the second one, I was simply dumbed down, and the solution was on the surface. But in the last one, I had to hit such a time limit that I started to feel like a StarCraft 2 eSports player, and it was just before the end of the story. And if you don't count these 3 situations, I liked most of the puzzles (not all of them, of course, we'll quarrel over some of them, but that's for later). I haven't played puzzle games for a long time, but here they are really interesting. In most cases, you don't need to think for a long time or perform any incomprehensible actions. It's enough to understand how everything works, and then you don't notice how you've been running around the picturesque world for two hours without a break and making your way along with Mui.

An example of some puzzles

By the way, about Mui. Most of the puzzles are related to him, because the arsenal of this kid is serious. First, you can give Mui commands. There are several of them. The main ones are: sit, follow, or lower the rope so you can climb. But later, new abilities are unlocked. I will tell you about those described by the developers to avoid spoilers. Mui can control other living creatures. For example, when interacting with a wall of black thickets, Mui can remove them or take control of an animal to move it to another place and clear the passage. Or, in dark locations, he can light up the path to help you find your way around. Perhaps not as many abilities as some people would like, but for a 5-hour game, this is the perfect set of skills that don't get boring because they are constantly combined, and you remember them all at once and don't get lost in which button to press.

An example of puzzles where you need Mui's help

Fun fact: Mui can't swim, so to get around on the water, he needs to be put on a tree and ferried across. You know, it's easy to compare this to The Last of Us Part I.

1) Lana & Mui; 2) Joel & Ellie

What to Do When Attacked by All Sorts of Gizmos and Creatures?

There's another type of puzzle: encounters with enemies. Lana and Mui don't have weapons, so they have to win with cunning.

The first and easiest option is when there is only one enemy and you just need to hide in the grass, wait for him to go the other way, and run away. There is a more interesting option - when there are several enemies. In this case, you need to get creative. Again, there are several options. The first is that you take your time, go through all the enemies and move on.

Second: you use Mui as a decoy to make everyone else forget about you. Just keep in mind that Mui can also be killed - he is not immortal. Therefore, in such situations, you need to analyse in your head how to quickly and safely bring him back to you and move on together. And another option: you take control of a machine or a creature, and even more opportunities open up for you. But you will discover these opportunities yourself, because I will not tell you here how to solve all the puzzles.

Examples of encounters with enemies

I'd like to thank the developers for the way they set up the save points. If you have completed several actions and solved half of the puzzle but died, you will start not from the beginning but from the last action you performed. This was very helpful when you die 10 times to figure out what to do next. You would have to start from the beginning every time, but this way you save time and nerves.

Optimisation, Visuals, and Audio

I played Planet of Lana on a Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3 gaming laptop (NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 + AMD Ryzen 5 4800H). At high graphics settings, the game ran at a stable 60 fps, and never once did the frames drop even to 55. Steam's recommended system requirements include a GTX 1060 graphics card, so a mid-budget PC should be able to run the game at 60 fps, if not at high, then at medium settings. Although for some reason I thought that the game might have problems with this, especially since I was playing the pre-release version. But everything works flawlessly. At the same time, the developers promise to release patches that should improve the optimisation (probably for less powerful PCs).

What about the Visuals?

The best thing about this game, and the reason why it's worth playing, is the visuals. As soon as you see this game, the first thought that comes to mind is: "It's just like Hayao Miyazaki". The style of Planet of Lana really resembles the works of the Japanese director, and this is the game's trademark. The authors drew the entire environment by hand, and this creates the feeling that you are in a painting that has come to life.

Planet of Lana has a diverse colour palette and successfully combines it in different scenes. At the beginning, it is calm green, blue and white colours that symbolise the tranquillity of the village where Lana and her sister live. In the evening, to convey the atmosphere of the sunset, the picture turns orange, and during the attack of the army of machines, which takes place at night, the image on the screen turns cold blue, just like the army that attacked the Earth. And this is all in the first 15 minutes of the game.

Changes to the colour palette in the game

There are no complaints about the variety of locations here either: a wooden settlement; lawns with tall trees, bushes, and grass; stone caves that hint that something mysterious has been living here for many years; dense swampy forests; beaches with the remains of ancient creatures; deserts, and more. All this is worth seeing with your own eyes. So, if you value visuals that you can take your time to look at in games, then this game is just what you need.

Picturesque game locations

What about the Sound?

The soundtrack was created by Japanese composer Takeshi Furukawa. And if this name is not familiar to you, then you have definitely seen or played something that he created music for. He was the composer of The Last Guardian game and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. And given the meditative pace of Planet of Lana, the game's soundtrack is the same - calm, dramatic, and sometimes romantic. Even the developers describe the game as follows: "This is not a story about war. This is a story about a bright, beautiful planet - and the journey to keep it that way." And this soundtrack perfectly conveys the atmosphere of travelling around the planet, where, despite the war, the characters try to find something beautiful and move on.

What We Did Not Like

Planet of Lana has a few drawbacks, and most of them are related to puzzles. The first disadvantage is that some of the puzzles are a bit long, especially when there are enemies and water on the location, and you need to swim to the other side of the shore, put Mui on a tree, and cross to the other side. This process takes a little more time than you'd like, and it's not because you don't understand how to do it right. No, everything is obvious, but you either had to cut out such fragments or shorten them. Instead of such moments, I'd rather try the puzzle that was presented in one of the screenshots on Steam, when Lana tries to use a rope to throw a large computer onto a robot (but this is not in the game). It sounds and looks more interesting than dragging Mui on a tree to the shore.

A cutaway puzzle that has an interesting concept

The second thing is that the controls are not always responsive. I was playing on a gamepad (DualSense), and sometimes when I pressed the jump button, Lana just didn't jump, and it was like madness when you do the exact same action. Over and over again, hoping for a change. At first I thought it depended on where I was jumping from, but it didn't always work that way. Jumping from one platform to another, standing in the same place, Lana could sometimes make it and sometimes not. Perhaps this will be fixed with updates, and there were only a few such situations (most of all in the final segment), but it spoiled the impression a little when you jump, jump, and it's not right. On the other hand, I didn't encounter a single bug in the game - Lana or Mui never disappeared, there was no important plot point or anything else that didn't come up. In this regard, everything is perfect, and I have nothing else to criticise the game for.

5 Things You Need to Know About Planet of Lana

  • Planet of Lana is an odyssey in a science fiction wrapper, where an army of cold machines attacked humanity, creating an unusual and fascinating contrast
  • Visually, this platformer resembles the works of Hayao Miyazaki, so fans of this style will not be able to tear themselves away from the game for a second
  • There are interesting puzzles, fights with enemies, and epic moments that add variety to the story
  • Lana and Mui's atmospheric journey can be completed in just one day
  • The game will be available on Game Pass (PC+Xbox) from the first day, so you can try the Wishfully project for free and you won't lose anything from it
Planet of Lana
Genre 2D platformer
Platforms. Xbox Series X|S, PC
Number of players Single player
Developer Wishfully
Publisher Thunderful Publishing
Time to complete 4-7 hours
Release date 23 May 2023

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The editorial team thanks Plan of Attack PR agency for kindly providing the game for review