The Planet of Lana Demo Was Breathtaking

I’ve experienced some amazing demos during this Steam Next Fest but Planet of Lana was an early favourite. For all the others I have played, I’m not sure many can hold a candle to Lana and if you’re wondering why – fret not, I’ll tell you. (But do like the video and don’t forget to subscribe!)

Back to Planet of Lana. This cinematic puzzle platformer is one of the most gorgeous games I have seen. No conditionals here–I’m not talking about this year or this decade, either; that’s the level of artistic skill on display you’re dealing with here. Every part of this demo had that special feeling only a hand-crafted experience does. I have the firm suspicion that Planet of Lana is a labour of love, and that it might well be a science-fictional story to remember.

It all begins when a young girl, Lana, is prodded awake by Elo, an adorable smol creature of as-of-yet undefined origins. The two make fast friends in an adorable introductory scene and we’re off to the races. At first, all seems well – the sun is shining high, the back- and foreground are dressed up in the warmest, most calming shades of green and blue. What could possibly be wrong on a day like that? Exploring with Elo doesn’t come across as preparation but as play.

Even dark caves and mysterious creatures living under large boulders don’t seem altogether threatening–although the latter’s grasping tentacles are a little suspicious, aren’t they, and the sound cues a little more disquieting. This is a game that knows the value of silence, in the meaning of absence of music–it’s a very conscious choice to leave only environmental sounds playing for prolonged periods of time and Planet of Lana pulls it off expertly. When a sudden shift in atmosphere takes place, such as the first time you see a watcher, the soundtrack is doing so much of the heavy lifting. The serene mood of earlier is nowhere to be found and you know the stakes have risen. Watch: (psst, text people – there’s a section of the video that punctuates my point here. Pretend you’ve seen it…or…Imagine crickets cricketing for thirty seconds. The small kid is chillin’, runnin’ around, full of carelessness and whatever kids are full of–I wanna say chocolate??–when suddenly, MR ROBOT APPEARS! OH NO! WHAT NOW?! Anyway, that’s the gist of what you’re missing out on in the video.)

There’s something malevolent about the intelligence behind these watchers (psst, readers, that’s MR ROBOT for you); malevolent but stupid, driven by a limited algorithm. That’s my impression of it so far, and it serves to create an early contrast between it and our brave little duo of Lana and Elo.

I am a sucker for environmental storytelling. Platformers like this one excel at making full use of what’s on the screen because every shot is directed, the sequence from scene to scene is seamless and creates the effect of a reel of film that is never–or very rarely–cut away from. Planet of Lana tells you very much; what it shows you has such weight, such implications, however, that you fill all the blanks for yourself. It’s not always a succesful method of storytelling because it relies much more on player investment. I cannot speak with certainty as I only have my experience to judge by, but I’m already willing to storm the forums with crazy theories about robots and alien lifeforms. In all seriousness, I suspect Planet of Lana will be spoken of in the same breath as such cinematic platformer experiences as Limbo, Inside, Ori and the Blind Forest (though, admittedly, the last one is much more action-oriented than the prior mentions).

I’m going to give some more special attention to the OST. The composer recently shared a pair of tracks from the game’s soundtrack–they are genuinely breathtaking, as was everything I heard in the demo. They apparently recorded the music last summer in Budapest with a 70+ piece orchestra. Honest to God? The quality and effort have more than paid off. The music and sound design in the demo were otherworldly; I’d play the full game on their merit alone.

The twenty five minutes of this demo passed by without notice. Planet of Lana is slated for release over Q2 and trust me when I tell you, I will be there when it releases and I will be playing it, eager to see the bigger picture I’ve only caught glimpses of through this short, unforgettable experience. If the rest of the game is as good as this, I suspect it might be a personal Game of the Year contender for me.

If you’d like to be there with me for that–don’t forget to subscribe. I’ll be sure to revisit Planet of Lana for a full review soon. In fact, I can hardly wait.

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