Galaxy Trail’s Freedom Planet kinda snuck out there under a lot of people’s radars at first, including mine, but its reputation quickly spread due to enthusiastic word of mouth. Originally conceived as a humble Sonic the Hedgehog fan game, it almost immediately shifted into an original concept. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013, it finally saw releases on Steam and GOG in 2014, and eventually made its way to the Wii U eShop earlier this year. It now stands with the likes of Shovel Knight as one of the best retro-throwback indie games of recent years.
And yet, a lot of people still seem to write it off for no other reason than because it somewhat resembles a Sonic game. Whether that’s due to stigma from the Sonic series or its fanbase, it’s not really a fair assessment. Freedom Planet takes its inspiration from several 16-bit classics, not just Sega’s blue mascot. For me, the best description I’ve heard of it is “if Treasure had made a Sonic game,” because in many ways, it feels more like a Treasure game than a pure Sonic game.
The controls are somewhat floaty, but not quite the same as the momentum-based mechanics of a classic Sonic game. What really sets it apart, however, is the presence of a dedicated attack button, which moves the game beyond being just a platformer into action game territory. While running and jumping is still very much part of the equation, mastering the variety of attacks and learning enemy patterns is also essential. And in true Treasure style, there are plenty of large bosses.
The presentation is immediately reminiscent of the Sega Genesis, but it really goes beyond that. Lots of large, rotating sprites, tons of moving objects, and liberal use of voice acting make it seem more like an homage to the 32X CD or Saturn. The sprite work is impressively detailed and well animated, which adds a lot to the game’s personality. And I loved that all of the cutscenes took place within the game’s normal side view rather than with Ninja Gaiden-style stills or animated sequences. For me, it makes the overall experience feel more cohesive.
As with any good Treasure game, the more you play it, the better it gets because you can really feel your skill increasing. And the game certainly makes it worthwhile to play through it several times. There are multiple playable characters, all of which play completely differently from each other (with an exclusive level available for each), so it’s a different experience to take each one through the game. There are also numerous unlockables, achievements, and just cool little secrets to discover throughout it, as well.
While some fans consider Freedom Planet to be a substitute for Sega’s recent Sonic games, or “Sonic done right,” I don’t really agree with that sentiment. It may wear its inspirations on its sleeve, but Freedom Planet stands on its own. It’s not a clone, but a game with its own distinct identity. And as such, it deserves to be explored further. Here’s hoping that Galaxy Trail has more plans for the charming world of Avalice in the future. [Update: And just two days after I posted this, the sequel was announced.]