Freedom Planet 2 review

When it came to their next project, the team behind Sonic Mania trekked into the intrepid world of 3D platforming and came out looking rosier than ever with the recent Penny’s Big Breakaway – a fun and capable platformer, with inviting mechanics. Galaxy Trail, meanwhile, has decided to brush up and refine their 2D talents with Freedom Planet 2, with the connection being that the original Freedom Planet (awarded 8/10 by ourselves) started out as a Sonic fan game.

You’d think that there might be not much potential to broaden and deepen a fast-paced platformer, but even in its final moments, this sequel was still showing off surprises and new gimmicks, all while giving additional incentives to return to its exceedingly colourful world.

You’re given the option to jump into the Adventure Mode, with its world map, shops, and fully voiced cut-scenes, or play an abridged Classic Mode which presents dozens of stages to play through one after the other. Both modes give a choice of four characters – categorised as Brawler, Explorer, Power, and Speed types – who are armed with different weapons and abilities. In some instances, their own forms of transport too, with Carol the Wildcat able to ride a motorbike. The colourful quartet are up against Merga, one of the few remaining water dragons in existence. Out for revenge, her return requires the might and talent of three separate nations, prompting another globetrotting adventure around the world of Avalice.  

Almost immediately, Freedom Planet 2 reveals how far removed from Sonic it has become. What was once a brazen homage now only has the occasional nod or sly wink, and some of these are so subtle that they may even go over people’s heads. The levels are still littered with ramps and loops, but whizzing around is never a focus with bursts of speed only appearing sporadically, often as a reward for overcoming a difficult hazard. Every stage introduces something new, while more traditional mechanics have twists. There’s a lava world where temperature must be regulated and another based around resorting electrical grids. One stage also begins in darkness, with the power out, only for enemies to spring into life once it’s restored.

Many stages take 8-10 minutes to complete, and at two points in the storyline it’s possible to choose chapters, each ranked in difficulty. A couple of more elaborate stages feature later on, with one based around finding keys by raising and lowering water levels, and another set around a large elevator shaft with challenge rooms that can be tackled in any order. The pace here slows dramatically, putting a heavy focus on exploration, with runtimes close to exceeding thirty-minutes. Not even the later Sonic games offered such complexity.

The story’s first half is set within mostly mundane locations – including two levels in an opera theatre, and a dull armoury – and then during the game’s second half more sun-drenched locations are introduced, including a stunning tropical island, leading to a boss battle onboard a moving platform with impressive sprite scaling to create a dense jungle canopy below. As every stage ends with a boss battle, there are around two dozen to defeat, mostly taking the form of colossal mechs and robotic beasts. These all look great, in terms of design and scale, and usually have a secondary attack wave to learn. Most can be beaten after 2-3 attempts, with only one mid-campaign boss suffering from a difficulty spike. This was when I had to take more notice of the item system – two perks can be selected, along with a potion pot formed of different ‘layers’ that can improve attack damage or cause a ‘bleeding’ effect.

Indeed, Freedom Planet 2 is more combat focused than a typical platformer. Characters have health bars, as do bosses, and each playable character has a range of attacks including a jump kick and a barrage of claw swipes. Some of these, such as Carol’s spinning blade, can be used to reach new heights and propel her along the ground, much like a spin dash. A few bosses can be defeated quickly by cornering them and unleashing a claw barrage, but you may lose a life or two in the process – and only two retries are awarded. Restarting a checkpoint eats into your in-game currency reserves, which are used to help restore a museum to its former glory, as well as purchase vinyl records – with the options menu having both a jukebox and a photo mode. While it may sound odd to include a photo mode in a 2D platformer, there’s plenty to gorp at. Freedom Planet 2 is ambitious with its scale and amount of content, including several pitstops at picturesque towns, cities, and villages, each with incredibly detailed backdrops.

For such a lengthy adventure (we had ten hours on the clock before penning this review) it’s also a miracle that it rarely dips in quality, with plenty of variety from one stage to the next. One thing that may not please all and sundry though are the cut-scenes. They’re well animated, with characters having expressive facial animations, but the dialogue is very twee. Conversations with the mute townsfolk fare better, with most having something interesting to say.

All of this is delivered with a rare air of confidence. The team found their footing with the first Freedom Planet and has reached for the stars with this sequel, a goal they’ve managed to accomplish with ease. It isn’t a masterclass in platforming game design on par with Super Mario Bros. Wonder – the perk and potion system results in some bloat – but it’s still the kind of highly entertaining 2D tour-de-force that we only seem to see once or twice per console generation. It’s more proof, if any was needed, that good things can happen after leaving Sonic’s shadow.

Galaxy Trail’s Freedom Planet 2 is out April 4th on consoles. Published by Marvellous in Europe/Australia and XSEED in North America.

SCORE
9