Review: Planet of the Eyes

Lost and alone is not a good way to land on a planet.  It’s even worse if you’re a little humanoid explorer robot, more prototype than advanced AI, and the wreckage of the ship holding the humans who went before you is burning all around.  Thankfully for the nameless little robot, it’s in a 2D puzzle/platformer, so its options are limited to going left or right, simplifying its quest immensely.  It still needs to track down the man who built it, finding audio logs along the way while figuring out how to escape from a strange and hostile world torn straight from a 1960s sci-fi book cover, but at least it knows which way to go.

Planet of the Eyes is an beautifully stylish retro sci-fi adventure that’s every bit as much about giving its art a good workout as it is providing puzzle/platforming action.  The silent little robot may be the player character, but the real star of the game is the strange planet and the angular art style its rendered in.  In fact, the quickest and easiest comparison would be Limbo, which was another game that divided its attention between a moody art style and platforming action.  Just like Limbo, though, Planet of the Eyes is a game you can complete in one sitting, and Steam’s timer clocked my first play-through at 110 minutes.  On the one hand, there’s no denying that’s a short journey, but on the other I’ve played it twice to completion and enjoyed the trip both times.  The jumping physics can be a bit strange now and then, but generous checkpoints and no life counter make any setbacks from dying incredibly minimal.

As a little robot hand-modified with AI by the ship’s handyman, there’s not a lot of derring-do in your construction.  No laser-zapper, no heavy armor, not even a Deadly Spike of Vicious Poking in your metallic frame.  You can run, jump, pull switches, drag and push heavy objects, grab ledges to pull yourself up, and survive a fall if it isn’t too far down.  It’s not a lot to go on but a clever ‘bot can make it work, especially when it’s got the power of some basic physics on its side.

PlanetEyes01
One of the earlier sections of the game, for example, has a downhill section of platforms covered in furry yellow spikes, which look harmless enough despite their pointy nature until you step on one and it instantly grows to impale you.  At the start of this section is a long, flat chunk of rock, and hopping on the end sticking out over the edge causes it to tip down the hill, giving you a platform to surf the spikes.  The other problem with this area, though, is that the yellow spikes grow on jagged rocky plateaus sticking up from the bottomless depths, so falling off your improvised board means either instant impalement or plummeting doom.  A later challenge has you hopping from one thin rocky spire to another as they tilt and collapse underneath your feet, giving just enough time to get from one to the next before it collapses.  Honestly, the challenge is more dramatic than difficult, but it looks great and feels unquestionably dangerous.

While the trip from crash site to story resolution is a short one, it’s filled with a good variety of areas that rarely repeat a trick.  Sliding down the spike-fields is a one-off, as is swimming through tunnels, bouncing over giant gaps from mushroom to mushroom, climbing out of a collapsing structure as it sinks into the lava, and any number of other set-pieces throughout the game.  Additionally, each area has its own distinct look designed using the lovely angular art style that comprises almost everything in the game.  Oddly, a few steel structures near the end of the game don’t fit in with this look, and seem like unfinished assets because of it.  There aren’t that many places where this happens,  and it’s always with grey metal objects, but when taken in conjunction with the glowing plants, shafts of light, lava flows dropping from the ceiling, and all the other props and scenery found throughout the game that fit in perfectly with the aesthetics of design, they stick out in a noticeable, discordant way.

PlanetEyes02
Closing Comments:

Planet of the Eyes is a short but memorable trip through a weird-worlds sci-fi alien landscape.  The strange creatures and fantastic environments create a nicely bizarre landscape to platform through, and the audio logs give a concise, well-acted story of a ship worker whose only friend is the AI he created.  Plus, for some reason, there’s a dance button, which serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever but hey, dancing robot.  Planet of the Eyes is the video game version of a short story — lean and precise with no waste, but still giving a satisfying experience within its purposefully-limited scope.  The universe is a strange place with endless unexplored mysteries, and if an adventurous robot doesn’t have a hope of ever understanding most of them, maybe it can at least platform its way to a reunion with those who care about it.