Typhoon Studios’ Journey to the Savage Planet was very well received when it originally released back in January of this year on PC and consoles; it’s a genuinely funny and supremely well designed title that combines Metroidvania elements with No Man’s Sky-style procuring of resources on a bizarre alien planet filled with slick puzzles and smart platforming action. This Switch port may have had to dial back on the graphics quite considerably in places and definitely struggles to stick to its target 30fps a little along the way, but overall, the strength of the excellent core gameplay here transcends any of these technical shortcomings. This is an adventure that absolutely holds up, even in this slightly compromised state.
In Journey to the Savage Planet you assume control of an employee of Kindred Aerospace, the “4th best interstellar space exploration company”, who has landed on the planet ARY-26 – damaging their ship in the process – and must now investigate their surroundings, observing and cataloguing the local flora and fauna in order to determine whether the world is fit for human habitation whilst scavenging for the vital resources necessary to fix their ride home. On your initial foray outside the confines of your spacecraft you discover that the planet – assumed devoid of intelligent life by Kindred – has a mysterious tower at its centre and it’s your journey to discover the truth behind this enormous alien monument that drives the game’s narrative forward.
Gameplay consists of scanning every creature, plant and structure that you come across – gathering data that’s then collated into your “Kindex” – as well and hoovering up as much of ARY-26’s four critical resources – aluminium, carbon, silicon and a special alien alloy – as you can in order to 3D print and upgrade various gizmos that allow you traverse further into the planet’s vibrant interior. There’s an immediately satisfying gameplay loop that takes shape here; an excellent blend of relaxed FPS action, platforming and puzzle-solving that’s enhanced at every turn by the game’s excellent sense of humour.
Upon leaving your Javelin ship for the first time you’ll need to collect some carbon and silicon from a nearby cave in order to craft your trusty Nomad Pistol and blast through some alien icicles to gain access to the planet proper. You’ll then be tasked with finding the resources necessary to create a jump pack that allows you to successfully navigate the tricky platforms that’ll lead you further on towards your objective.
And this is how the game continues; you’re constantly required to find some resource to upgrade your equipment if you’re to navigate ARY-26’s terrain successfully – your central objective always to reach and ascend the monolithic tower whilst at the same time undertaking all manner of side-quests and scientific research requests from Kindred that reward you with the tools necessary to get there.
The platforming and light-hearted shooting feels great, tools are cleverly worked into smart environmental puzzles, enemy engagements are fun without being overly difficult and the game strikes a nice balance between being tricky enough to make you think whilst not holding you back so much you become frustrated. You’ll also unlock plenty of teleporters across the planet that make skipping around areas and returning to your ship to craft items a breeze.
As well as collecting the necessary bits and bobs to upgrade your kit, you’ll also constantly use the alien environment and its kooky collection of inhabitants to your advantage, and in this respect, ARY-26 is positively teeming with useful plants and animals. Bombegranate plants, for example, grow little bombs which you can use to blow open cracks in walls (you’ll need to upgrade your gloves before you can handle them for any useful length of time, though), there are vitality plants to shoot in order to regain health, seed bags that drop grapple seeds which can be affixed to surfaces and used as grapple points (once you’ve 3D printed your grapple tether) and all manner of other flora and fauna to help you on your way.
The local inhabitants, most especially the cute little Pufferbirds who you’ll find yourself constantly surrounded by, have their uses, too. Feed a Pufferbird some Grob – the metamorphological food paste – and it’ll very noisily poop out some carbon for you to collect, but you’ll also be forced to act in much more cruel ways, shepherding these cute little guys towards areas that are gated off by carnivorous Meat Vortex plants before lining them up and booting them up and into the jaws of the ever-hungry vortex in order to open the way forward.
This delightfully dark sense of humour pervades most aspects of the game, from your twisted engagements with local wildlife, the hilariously dark company adverts and CEO speeches you can watch back aboard your ship and the constant nagging and patronising of your AI companion E.K.O – who can be switched off if her brand of irritating Claptrap-esque comedy isn’t completely your cup of tea. Typhoon Studios have nailed a really nice mix of Borderlands-style swagger with the addictive resource gathering and exploration of No Man’s Sky, dungeons and puzzles of Zelda and some cleverly designed Metroidvania aspects.
This isn’t – as it may appear at the outset – some huge open world to endlessly roam around; it’s more a carefully designed series of bespoke areas that open up to you as you solve their puzzles, traverse their dungeons and acquire the tools necessary to push the game’s mystery forward. You still have plenty of freedom to wander – it’s just on a much smaller scale than in some of the games that have very obviously inspired it.
It also doesn’t outstay its welcome and we blew through the campaign – without finding all of the collectible goo pods and fuel cannisters or completely filling out our Kindex – in about ten hours, although we reckon this could easily stretch to around double this time if you’re looking to complete all the side missions and scientific research requests. It’s also completely playable in co-op, something we haven’t had the chance to try in this Switch version. Indeed, you can explore the entirety of ARY-26 and solve its mysteries with a friend online and, although we can’t help feeling like this style of space adventure is one which suits a lonesome solo experience better, it’s still a great option for those who wish to party up.
Of course, if you’ve been keen on this one since its initial release back in January, you’ll likely know all this by now and it’s really the performance of this Switch port that’s of most interest here. In this regard, as we’ve mentioned, there is the expected downgrading of graphics – textures and surfaces have had their detail levels lowered all over the shop – but this is still, overall, a pretty good looking version of the game, especially in handheld mode where graphical sins are more easily hidden.
ARY-26 remains a vibrant and colourful world to explore on the whole but there are a few moments where things do get ugly, with some textures just straight-up refusing to load in, quite a lot of pop-in due to a lowered draw distance and some formerly wonderous alien vistas now looking like a bit of a hodge-podge of messy colours, bland textures and pixelated edges on occasion. Things do fare much better in dungeon and indoor areas, however, with some nice lighting effects in atmospheric volcanic areas and much less in the way of pop-in or messy textures.
In docked mode the corners that have been cut are more noticeable and it’s here that we found the framerate struggled the most, too. The game never turns into a slide show and for the most part framerate issues are negligible and don’t hamper your enjoyment in any meaningful way, but we definitely found that handheld felt and looked like the better option. Portable is also where shooting feels the slickest; there’s no gyro option for aiming but the game does have a pretty powerful aim-assist feature that makes it a breeze to snap to targets – and we found this felt best when played on the console’s small screen, with docked feeling a little bit more stodgy and unresponsive.
Overall though, Typhoon Studios and 505 Games have done a very solid job of bringing this one to Switch in a highly playable state – something we were initially sceptical of given the stealth nature of how it dropped onto the eShop – and, if you can forgive it the downgraded graphics, lack of gyro controls and odd framerate bump here and there, you’ll find an absorbing, clever and highly entertaining space adventure to get stuck into – one that easily rises above any concessions that have had to be made to get it up and running on Nintendo’s hybrid console.
Journey to the Savage Planet is a wonderfully unique mixture of No Man’s Sky-style exploration and Metroidvania puzzling and platforming with a wonderfully dark sense of humour that arrives here on Switch in a slightly compromised but still eminently playable state. ARY-26 is a fantastically vibrant planet to explore, filled with cute creatures, bizarre flora and fauna and super-slick platforming and environmental puzzle design. The monolithic tower that sits at the middle of this alien planet is a compelling mystery to work towards and the game doles out plenty of fun new tools and toys at just the right rate to keep you highly entertained as you jump, grapple, boost and blast your way to the secret at its core. There have been obvious graphical concessions made and the framerate does wobble from time to time – performance definitely feels worse in docked than handheld – but overall Typhoon Games has created an adventure that’s strong enough to transcend any of these slight technical shortcomings and absolutely remains an experience you should check out, if you get the chance.