Planet of Lana began as a single picture. Creator Adam Stjärnljus drew a girl and a doglike alien creature staring up at a multi-legged robot, and placed them in front of a watercolor-hued pastoral backdrop. It became the genesis of everything I play in a 10 minute Gamescom demo, from look, to gameplay, to feel.
What’s emerged is a smooth, intuitive narrative platformer, which will feel familiar to those who’ve tried Playdead’s Limbo and Inside – but it swaps the morbid, overtly hostile atmosphere of those games for a gorgeous, naturalistic, and crucially hopeful perspective.
The demo shows us the first true section of gameplay, as Lana’s awoken after a fall by her new companion, Mui. Their collaboration is Planet of Lana’s key gameplay conceit – Lana is stronger, but can’t jump or climb particularly far. Mui is weak, but (with a trigger pull and an onscreen cursor) can get to out-of-reach areas, cut ropes, travel through burrows, and make life easier for Lana along the way.
Together, they traverse a planet invaded by robots for reasons unknown – leaving Lana the only human we see, at least in the early stages. Where this could feel mournful, it’s clear developer Wishfully intends this to feel more like an adventure than a horror. Lana chatters to Mui in an invented language (which Stjärnljus tells me has real meaning behind it – he hopes diehard fans will attempt to translate it after release) and Mui chirps back. The bond feels strong, even in the game’s earliest stages.
That also makes its moments of actual threat feel genuinely frightening. The majority of my demo is about platformer puzzle solving – Lana uses Mui to attract an alien creature with a rock on its back, allowing her to cross an otherwise impassable gap, or helps disconnect an electrical connection, allowing Mui to cut a cord and create a means of getting atop a cliff.
But the invading robots do make appearances – and with them, wonderful stabs of orchestral soundtrack that fill the otherwise diegetic noise. These aren’t so much battles as heightened puzzles. The first sees a robot patrolling, sending Lana and Mui scuttling through long grass to stealth past. The second is more in-depth – you need to send Mui into a hole in the ground, alerting the enemy, allowing you first sneak past, then lure it under a bundle of logs and crush it by having Mui cut a rope.
If a robot catches you, it’s an instant kill, but this feels far from trial-and-error. The puzzles in my demo feel well-drawn and interesting, and while solutions aren’t immediately obvious, the key interactive elements always were. Stjärnljus says he and the team – who have worked on the game for 5 years – have taken real pains to balance the feeling of puzzles that take thought to solve, without feeling obtuse. In a game that should take 6 hours to finish, that will be key to sustaining player momentum, but the signs are good.
It will help that the game is quite so pretty. Wishfully has blended painterly backdrops, block-color protagonists, and 3D interactive elements, but somehow created a world that feels whole out of such disparate parts. Walking through Planet of Lana’s forests and climbing its cliffs purposely invokes the spirit of a Studio Ghibli film, with all the sense of natural wonder and youthful adventure that entails.
Planet of Lana began as a single picture, but my demo ends on another: Lana and Mui staring across a truly vast world, with a gigantic, ominous ship hovering on the horizon. Just like that original image, it holds a lot of promise for a static screen – I’m very excited to see that one spring to life onscreen too.
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s Executive Editor of News. Follow him on Twitter. Have a tip for us? Want to discuss a possible story? Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.