The basic premise isn’t the only thing Savage Planet shares with Nintendo’s series, particularly Metroid Prime. It’s a first-person exploration game, where you scan alien environments, shoot hostile wildlife, navigate hazards, and upgrade your equipment to access new locales. As you augment your spacesuit with double jump and grapple capabilities, or spot cracked walls that you lack the means to destroy and ledges you still can’t reach, it can feel very familiar.
But as your rickety ship suggests, this is Metroid Prime turned on its head. ARY-26 is a place of natural colour and warm skies. Pastel vistas burst with lush vegetation, while the warbles and cries of nearby animals spark curiosity more than dread. There are dangers, but this is hardly a vicious foreign world that your lone explorer has to tame to survive. It seems like it was managing just fine until you turned up, poking, slapping, and shooting things.
Some rather on-the-nose satire leaves no doubt that you’re the invader here, as an exploited corporate employee, sent to determine whether the place is ripe for settlement or resource farming. But it works to cleverly reveal the sinister side of the standard Metroid structure. Scanning means gathering data for your boss as much as to inform yourself, while flora and fauna are prodded and pulped in the name of science. Your measly starting equipment and lack of fuel for a return journey, meanwhile, are due to cost-cutting and your apparent expendability. Gear upgrades are programmed into the ship’s 3D printer, but you’ll have to collect the raw materials to make them.
The humour continues in the field, with moments of gooey slapstick violence never far away. Savage Planet’s ecosystem is crucial here, and although it’s rudimentary, there’s always scope for mischief. Not everything on ARY-26 is hostile, at least unless it’s provoked, so sometimes it serves another purpose or is just fun to play with. And with a variety of throwable items, from edible space paste, Grob, to organic tools harvested from indigenous plants, such as trampoline-like egg sacs, adhesive gunge, and explosive buds, shooting critters is often the least imaginative option at your disposal (although it is tempting).
Direct combat is thus less frequent than in Metroid games. Some species do always attack, some collectables are gated behind scripted encounters, and there are a few proper boss battles, but the onus is on exploration. When fighting does break out, it’s usually a case of timing dodges to expose a weak point, before quickly lining up a few shots, maybe chucking some explosives around to dislodge armour first. It can be taxing, especially as the controls aren’t as tight as most modern FPSs, but it’s always clear what you have to do, and the pace is rarely too hectic.
Indeed, Savage Planet excels as an adventure game that wants you to be adventurous, and to reward rather than punish your efforts. As you progress beyond the large solid base of the landing site, you find yourself atop towering cliffs, or hopping between fragmented islands of rock suspended in the sky. And with that verticality, the game dares you to throw yourself off ledges, whether jumping to bring a grapple point in range, cannoning forward towards a distant platform, or plummeting to lower strata, using a jet boost to slow descent at the last second. The more you power up, the easier it becomes to avoid fatal mistakes, and with so many hidden routes, caves, and treasures to discover, it’s usually worth the gamble.
At the same time, your chatty computer and tiny robot buddies help to ensure you don’t get lost or stuck. There’s no actual map in Savage Planet, which seems an oversight at first, but since everything is trackable, it isn’t ultimately an issue. When a path is inaccessible with your current gear, you’ll be told what you need and roughly where to find it. If anything, the game gives a little too much away, but it’s nice to know that whenever you’ve had enough aimless wandering, a marker will point you in the right direction.
ARY-26 is an exquisite place to explore (and exploit), seeking out openings, obscured paths, and possibilities. In following that Metroid template, it doesn’t offer anything dramatically new, even if the framing is different. And that framing – the toilet humour and ironic social commentary – might grate as much as amuse. But it knits together into a coherent thematic whole that adds a fresh energy to proceedings, and that classic design still has the power to absorb, entertain, and satisfy. When they’re put together with such expertise, the old parts are as reliable as ever.
To access later upgrades, you’ll need to earn promotions by conducting scientific experiments. Alongside scanning creatures and collecting live DNA, this means completing a range of equipment tests. In practice, these mostly involve killing things in creative ways, such as launching them in the air and shooting them before they land. Everyone needs a hobby.
A vibrantly subversive homage to Metroid Prime that demands to be explored.
Genre: Action adventure | Format: PS4 (tested) / PC / XBO | Developer: Typhoon Studios | Publisher: 505 Games | Price: £24.99 | Release: Out now