Review: LOUD on Planet X

As a proud Canadian who has also worked as a disc jockey at their university’s radio station, you end up gaining an appreciation for the Canadian music scene. I mean, you basically have to, seeing as how all of our broadcasts are legally required to contain one-third Canadian content, but that’s kind of another story that eventually leads to me cursing heavily at the CRTC. The point is, we have a large stable of incredibly talented musicians that deserve any prominent showcases they can get, so highlighting them in their own video game is a great approach. Especially when it features them battling aliens, of course. And while LOUD on Planet X doesn’t quite reach Polaris-worthy levels of acclaim, it’s still a fun jam session overall.

Presenting itself as a unique combination of rhythm, shooter, and tower defense games, LOUD on Planet X gathers a host of acclaimed indie musicians as they get abducted and taken away to the titular Planet X…or something along those lines, the plot is a bit vague. Then again, the plot doesn’t even matter that much. After all, all you need to know is that aliens are attacking the stage, and much like in the classic that was Revolution X, music is the weapon. So having set up speakers to blast beams of pure rock along four lanes of approaching adversaries, it’s up to you to help blow them away.

Let’s get right to the most obvious strength of LOUD on Planet X: namely, that the soundtrack is absolutely flipping amazing. The fourteen-artist lineup contains the likes of such acclaimed Canuck heavy hitters as Tegan and Sara, F*cked Up, Metric, METZ, Purity Ring, and even CHVRCHES, HEALTH and Little Dragon to add a bit of international flair. Even with a relatively small twenty-eight songs (two per artist), the end result is an eclectic mix of punk, hip-hop, alt-rock, synth-pop and more that all flows together perfectly and sounds like the greatest Big Shiny Tunes compilation never made (side note: here’s hoping any success this game has allows Much to revive that series).

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The visual style is also nice and minimalist, featuring sleek, lineless artwork and nifty Mutant Blobs Attack-esque alien design. Even with limited animation, watching the little versions of each artist perform on stage is a cute little visual treat, and a particularly nice touch is the screen-clearing special attack (earned by filling up a meter as you blast away enemies) which causes a splash screen to appears that gradually builds a signature symbol or pattern associated with the band, like watching an album cover get constructed before your eyes. LOUD on Planet X has the look and sound of a grade-A rhythm game down pat, but as for the gameplay…well, that’s where we hit some snags.

The gameplay is simplistic and enjoyable, but perhaps a bit too simplistic at times. The goal is to tap along with the beat of each song, as the speaker in each lane won’t fire unless you tap it at the right time. But the problem is that the beat never really changes, so at times it feels repetitive, less like you’re playing along with the band and more like you’re the band’s metronome. More complex patterns would arguably be hard to combine with the tower defense elements, but a bit more variety and difficulty in mastering the rhythm would have been appreciated.

That’s not saying it isn’t fun or that there isn’t any challenge. Later stages in particular have you managing several enemies on multiple lanes at once, having to time things perfectly and act fast in order to make sure the aliens don’t reach the stage and mess up your speakers, acting as Plants vs. Zombies-style shields in addition to your weapons. You also have to deal with multiple types of aliens with different speeds and abilities (like splitting up when defeated or covering the screen in goo), so it can get hectic at times, but in a good way. The catharsis factor in blowing away mutli-eyed freaks is in full effect here, so even if it’s simple, it’s still simple fun.

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Of course, it’s more fun once you figure out things a bit more. Outside of a brief tutorial, LOUD on Planet X is a bit weak when it comes to explaining things, typically leaving it to tips shown during loading screens. It doesn’t hinder things too much, but it does create some brief puzzlement. Case in point, you may wonder why some enemies show a “2x” when blasted, and how you rack up a high score. As it turns out, once you achieve a certain streak of successful beats, the lanes begin to light up in sync with the music, and any hit you land in those lanes during that time they’re lit multiplies the points earned. But it was a good ten or so songs before I realized that was the case, since it never gets mentioned.

There’s also a slight issue with the game’s power-ups, which while making good use of the concert theme — bouncers that knock back the enemies, fog machines which slow them down, et cetera — don’t seem to be much use unless you’re really slipping up. And in later stages with faster beats, most of them are quite useless, lasting a few seconds at best. There’s also the issue of length, since while the game does put up a decent amount of action, it only takes about a couple of hours to plow through all of the songs having earned two and three-star ratings (at least that’s how long it takes on Normal mode, anyway).

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Closing Comments:

If there was a bit more polish to it when it came to challenge and variety in certain areas, LOUD on Planet X could be a potential rhythm game classic. As is, though, the simple and quick arcade-style gameplay combined with the incredible, lighter-worthy soundtrack still ends up making it worth the few bucks its asking for. At the very least, it truly does the Great White North’s music scene justice and hopefully lays the seeds for similar rhythm games with a twist to follow. Now if only we can get a sequel with some Black Mountain as well…

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LOUD on Planet X
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