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Planet of Lana’s ominous world is enhanced by an obedient companion

Your cute and obedient companion highlights Planet of Lana, a beautifully dark and charming cinematic platformer.
Planet of Lana review key art

Planet of Lana is a power fantasy for people with disobedient pets thanks to Mui, an excessively cute cat monkey whose willingness to follow orders frames a great many of the game’s puzzles. Mui will dutifully sit, stay, push buttons, knock ropes from ledges, and more things I won’t spoil. Using this creature creatively is a fun way to discover the near limitlessness of their service to you. Even the one thing Mui refuses to do – get wet – leads to unique water puzzles and expressions of kindness. 

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t begin by mentioning the game’s beautiful art, especially where contrasting elements, like forest and machines, overlap. Or the understated, no-words storytelling, which begins with the simple abduction of Lana’s village, before revealing its true depth later. All of these things are striking. But I became fascinated by how the rapport between girl and creature gave life to (otherwise straightforward) puzzles. 

>Planet of Lana review screenshot

Most puzzles aren’t difficult to understand, but the solutions can take practice to execute. I think of this as ‘platformer panic’, where you fail multiple times because you’ve mashed the ‘B’ button instead of ‘Y’ in the split second that ‘Y’ is required at the end of a complex sequence of movements. I understand that mastery is its own reward, but I’m often frustrated by needless complexity. For example, Lana may be required to run from a stealthy position to a tunnel, while directing Mui to initiate an action and land in the long grass, as a robot spider chases both. 

The sudden, scuttling movement of machines, the menacing fragility of the world’s natural creatures, and the primal wail emanating from Mui when you die, almost make this a horror experience. As such, intermittent, terrified platforming, alternating with carefree running through exquisite environments, captivated me.

Lana is usually safe in the foreground, while gigantic machines stomp around behind her, underlining her smallness. Then, there’s a sequence where you’re required to mash buttons in order to dodge incoming debris and attacks from the background layer.

>Planet of Lana review screenshot

Takeshi Furukawa’s music gorgeously illuminates these scenes. It’s carefully constructed from motific material that is more than it seems. What I had thought was a robot melody emphasised a narrative twist, making me question everything I thought I knew.

Sound and music also provide clues about what manner of beast you might face next, and the arrangement cleverly blurs cinematic underscore with diegesis, like when you play a melody to solve a puzzle, and it is then developed outwards through the orchestra, on the next phrase. My husband (also a musician) described the soundtrack as, ‘Hisaishi. No, Stravinski. No, Hisaishi,’ which highlights the seamlessness of its technical implementation. 

The story requires observation and is told (almost entirely) without dialogue, text or explanation. Some questions will remain unanswered. Apart from one song, which is pretty, but jarring because it’s in English, the only words you will hear are Lana giving commands to Mui, either spoken aloud, or whispered urgently when danger is near. The ending relies on your understanding of what these few (imaginary) words mean, learned by repetition. The story is elegant, rich and cleverly told. 

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I thoroughly enjoyed Planet of Lana, from the nauseating chomping noises when Lana and Mui get eaten (again), to the many more aesthetic details that are also mechanical, like how Mui can run slightly faster than Lana, and so can be used to push a further away button, as well as to bound away joyfully, towards an interesting secret.

As I look at my (now slightly disappointing) real-life dog, I know I’d do anything to save him from being abducted by robots or eaten by a giant slug. I also know that, faced with such a precarious situation, he’d screw it up, immediately. Thank goodness Mui is more competent. 

4 Stars: ★★★★

Planet of Lana
Platforms: PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One
Developer: Wishfully
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
Release Date: 23 May 2023

The PC version of Planet of Lana was provided and played for the purposes of this review.

Meghann O’Neill is a videogame roustabout, with a patchwork career spanning reviews, composition and education, often all three at the same time. She loves the creativity and cleverness that independent developers bring to the medium, especially in Australia. She’d love you to tell her about your game at @indiegames_muso on Twitter.