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Journey To The Savage Planet is not a perfect video game. Its level design is sometimes just a bit too repetitive or obtuse; its stabs at comedy appear to operate on the theory that any intentionally shoddily shot bit of video content will automatically transform itself into a piece of Tim And Eric-esque outsider genius; and, perhaps most damningly, it has a quirk where, if you pick the adorable puppy as your character avatar at the start of the game, you’ll be hearing the sound of a dog whimpering in pain every single time you take a hit. (Seriously: Pick anybody else.)
And yet, it’s very hard not to like JTTSP. For one thing, it’s blissfully short: In a world of 40-60-hour gaming monstrosities, you can get a full exploration experience in less than half that time. The titular planet, for all its threats, is vibrant and beautiful. (And not actually all that savage; don’t tell anyone, please.) And, most importantly: You get a grappling hook and a jetpack to aid you in your explorations, and fuck if that’s not pretty damn hard to beat.
We’ve written extensively about the allure of the grappling hook before—the elegance of its swing, the way it transforms every level into a vertical playground, the sheer kinesthetic joys of hearing it thunk against its next waiting waypoint. Journey’s contribution to the clawing canon is, sadly, of the “only sticks to specific points” type, limiting the possibility for real high-flying ridiculousness. That being said, it does get an upgrade that allows you to grind across the planet’s weirdly bulbous and copious rails; the presence of multiple copies of these, for no real reason, in the game’s final areas, suggests that the designers at Typhoon Studios know exactly how thrilling that sense of speed is after an entire game of mostly plodding along the ground.
The jetpack, too, is clearly a creature of compromise: No unfettered, level-ruining flight capabilities here. Rather, it operates more as a double, triple, or quadruple jump, with an extra mode that allows you to charge up for a steep vertical ascent. And like pretty much all -ble and -ple jumps in the long history of gaming, it’s one of the most empowering upgrades in the entire package. As a sort of spiritual descendant to the Metroid Prime games—including a heavy focus on jumping from platform to platform while locked in a first-person view—Journey To The Savage Planet needs this kind of course-correction ability to stop the whole thing from getting infuriating. But it’s also thrilling to look over a vast gap between one of the planet’s flying islands, mentally measuring to see if the full capacity of your pack can get you across. It’s a joy to be able to re-evaluate earlier areas in terms of your new ability to catch air, opening up new routes and unlocking new secrets. It makes the inevitable “backtrack through the whole game to gobble up all the crap you missed” portion—baked into the genre, whether you’re going with the “Metroidvania” sobriquet or not—not just tolerable, but actually fun.
Moving well is one of those things that games usually either nail, or they don’t. Journey To The Savage Planet might need a couple of tools to get there, but once it does, the payoff is absolutely sky-high.