by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
So there’s this adrenaline junkie named Diver. If it’s dangerous or exciting, Diver will be the first one to do it, shouting “Rad!” all the way. And recently, Diver took up a hobby wherein she dives at speeds greater than terminal velocity through planets, which is coincidentally called Planet Diving. Apparently flying through black holes got a bit too boring for her taste. She’s got a helpful robot pal - who I like to imagine is talking in a British accent because it would fit the tone of the game so well - named Buddy, who keeps track of all the money and reminds Diver just how dangerous and stupid the whole thing is. Not that she listens.
Planet Diver is lighthearted entertainment, in the sense that it is both fun yet low in substance or depth. That does not mean that it isn’t a blast to play however.
Challenging but Repetitive
Planet Diver is a vertical scroller set on a trio of alien planets, helpfully filled with plenty of holes and/or pits with which Diver can, well, dive in. Each of the planets contains different biomes which both change up the scenery and provide new obstacles as one progresses through the game’s 70-odd story missions and arcade mode. Even with unlockable suits and mods which change the way you can dive, the amount of content feels relatively sparse. The arcade mode is bland, offering little reason to play it, and the story mode contains a decent chunk of missions that serve as nothing but repetitive filler.
Thankfully, the act of diving is very much enjoyable and engaging. Diver begins each stage falling at terminal velocity and normally ends going far faster than that. Due to gravity you can only move horizontally, with your only vertical movement options being to slow down or speed up. Slowing down enables you to slip through tight spaces or to dodge falling obstacles, whereas speeding up destroys creatures and some obstacles which you will encounter in each of the levels. Failing to do either results in health loss and eventual failure. Be prepared to hit retry a lot.
It is challenging, yet rarely unfair. The short dive time allows for a quick restart in case things go awry, and the thrill of falling, dodging and destroying compels me to give each mission another attempt to maximise my ranking. In addition, to counteract players slowing down to survive each level, the developers smartly increased the value of stars - the currency used to purchase unlockables - the faster you go. It’s a nice risk vs. reward mechanism that encourages players to take a chance to experience the game the way it was meant to be played: as fast as humanly possible.
After some time with the game, however, everything starts to become repetitive despite the game's attempts to keep things interesting. Mission objectives are mostly repeated with minor condition changes; instead of defeating six enemies you must defeat 12. There are roughly seven different objective types in the game, fewer still are playable in arcade mode. And the suits and mods, despite offering changes to the formula, still pales to the simple fun that is the original suit. It’s best played in short spurts - anything longer starts to feel dull.
Stylish and Filled with Adrenaline
On the brighter side, Planet Divers looks fantastic. Each of the environs is detailed exceptionally well in pixel format, and even the reskinned versions of similar enemies (like bats) move differently and look so different that it is easy to tell them apart from one another. And Diver herself is one of the better realized designs for a character using this aesthetic in some time. My one complaint about the art style is that in conversation, Diver looks very poorly drawn, and is disconcerting to look at for any length of time.
The music also deserves praise, as the tunes provide a nice adrenaline pumping backdrop to the adrenaline pumping action onscreen. Unlockables included, I did not encounter a single bad song throughout my time with the game.
Planet Diver is a strange yet enjoyable take on vertical scrollers. What it lacks for in depth, it makes up for in its style and construction. It likely won’t last you long, but for those curious, Planet Diver is a curiosity worth playing.
Stylish, fun in short spurts
Lacking depth, Repetitive