Comedic elements have been a part of games for as long as we’ve been playing them, but outright comedies are somewhat rare. These being experiences that you would, in the same way one might describe a movie, refer to as a comedy first and foremost. Notable comedy videogames of the past include LucasArts’ The Secret of Monkey Island and indie hit The Stanley Parable, where comedy not only informs the stories being told, the characters, and the writing – but the mechanics too.
Where solving puzzles in an adventure game can lead to outright hilarious and memorable moments. Where those interactive elements we call gameplay are played for laughs.
Journey to the Savage Planet from Typhoon Studios is a far cry from a sprite-based point-and-click adventure from the early parts of the 1990s, but it shares a similar sensibility in that all aspects of the experience could be described as a comedy long before you bring its co-op elements, engaging exploration, and vibrant science-fiction setting into the picture.
At a glance Journey to the Savage Planet might have the air of an action or survival game, which is a fair assumption to make when seeing its first-person viewpoint and main character walking around with ray-gun in hand. And sure, this is a well we visit far too often at AusGamers, but Journey to the Savage Planet is more Metroid Prime with light combat or even Super Mario 64 than No Man’s Sky.
“All aspects of the experience could be described as a comedy long before you bring its co-op elements, engaging exploration, and vibrant science-fiction setting into the picture."
As an explorer for the fourth-best name in space exploration, Kindred Aerospace, it’s up to you to catalog the fauna and alien life found across a strange new planet. The mission? To collect enough data to figure out if it’s suitable for colonisation. Human colonisation. Soon you discover a mysterious tower floating in the air in what looks like a sky fortress adorned by waterfalls.
The introduction sequence which incorporates live-action footage sets the absurdist comedic tone for the adventure that follows, which then flows onto those first moments spent walking around the colourful and strange alien landscape. Scanning anything and everything is a joy due to the mysteries you encounter and the amusing flavour text you’re presented with. A keen sense of discovery is a key part of what makes Journey to the Savage Planet engaging, but how this discovery then goes on to inform exploration in a very classic videogame-like ‘treasure hunt’ sense – well, that’s what makes the overall experience memorable.
Crafting, or the 3D printing of new equipment and gear plays a major role in the flow of Journey to the Savage Planet. Areas blocked off by a thing you might need – be it a space grapple hook to latch onto a floating ledge or better space boots so you can multi-jump like a space boss are those classic mental notes you take in adventure games where you’re not quite fully equipped. Truth be told the earlier moments do paint a picture that things could go in one of two directions; the first being a heavy focus on scavenging for materials and parts with a heavy dose of backtracking to return goodies to your home-base lest you perish.
The second direction or path being - to use crafting as that traditional unlocking of new sci-fi abilities thing. An approach that puts the overall focus on exploration and getting the tools you need to delve deeper into an intricate and well-designed alien world on a grand and exciting sci-fi adventure.
“A keen sense of discovery is a key part of what makes Journey to the Savage Planet engaging."
Journey to the Savage Planet is every bit the latter, and once you begin to visit new biomes and stumble upon strange statues and alien structures both natural and built by some form of intelligence, the world of AR-Y 26 quickly becomes the star of the show. Discovery is here in spades and it’s also matched by some excellent writing that never falters in the comedic sense or that of the alien-world awe you want from a good sci-fi. Level design, and we’re talking classic level design on display, grows in scope and complexity and verticality in a way that one can’t help but think about some of the great platformers and adventure games of the last few decades.
Journey to the Savage Planet is large, yet never overwhelming. After eating strange orange goo to increase your health and stamina you’ll learn that there are 100 of these orange bits of buff in total, scattered across the planet’s different biomes. It sounds like a lot, but in our co-op playthrough we managed to find them all and get an almost 100% completion ranking in around 14 hours or so. A collect-a-thon or icon hunt this isn’t, it’s a side of the experience that’s integral for those looking to get the most out of it.
Savage Planet is generous in that it never becomes too difficult to manage or get around, with fast-travel locations tied to the lore opening at regular intervals. One might say the fact that it doesn’t live-up to the Savage Planet of its title in the pure difficulty sense might be a detriment to the setting. But that feels like a subjective stretch when the overall nature of the game is fun, colourful, and upbeat.
As mentioned above the game can be played in co-op with a partner taking on the role of your meat buddy – there to serve the save file of the host. By giving each player the ability to explore together or forge their own path is a brilliant touch that in many cases encourages stories you can tell each other in addition to experiences to share. Solving puzzles, finding secrets, or figuring out a way to bypass the obvious path laid out by the design team, are all elements lifted when playing in co-op. And there’s enough experimentation for comedic moments to emerge as they do in the best multiplayer adventures. Journey to the Savage Planet works just as well when played solo.
“Solving puzzles, finding secrets, or figuring out a way to bypass the obvious path laid out by the design team, are all elements lifted when playing in co-op."
The comedy which can be described as absurdist is also full of heart and warmth, and there’s a focus on positivity you can feel throughout. Even though you can slap or kick the alien locals like a maniac, being non-violent and feeding creatures like Pufferbirds man-made Grob will in turn make them ‘excrete’ more carbon than you might get from watching them go splat against the wall of a space cave. Is this the better choice? Who knows, Grob looks like processed poison. In the end the violence is cartoonish in both nature and execution, more Looney Tunes than serious and always with charm and wit to spare.
And in a weird way it’s refreshing to find that the inviting colours and sights of AR-Y 26 and the great comedic writing keep the sci-fi of Journey to the Savage Planet well away from the isolation and dread that usually follows the genre around.