Planetoid Pioneers, developer Data Realms’ latest physics driven 2D exploration game, is a unique experience with some issues (considering its Early Access nature). Before I give you our rundown of why you should (or shouldn’t) consider getting this game, I should add that this is the Contributor’s Edition, which includes the base Game-Only Edition, plus exclusive features like an editor and a workshop.
Well there’s really no narrative here. The game pits you, a grumpy old person in a space suit against the unknown mysteries of the planetoid (one among several in a system of planets) your rocket crashes on. Your objective? Repair your broken ship, and return home.
The game has a nice 2D aesthetic (with a watercolor painting feel) and makes good use of shadows and lighting. Not much else to say here.
Utilising the dev’s own in-house engine, called Crush 2D, the gameplay is fully physics driven albeit in a 2D environment. The game takes place on a variety of planets, each with unique set of activities. The default planet is Primoid which along with a handful of others is where you’ll spend your time playing. The layout of the planets is reminiscent of Terraria but unlike that game, the levels are fully handcrafted with items, enemies and traps placed exactly where the devs wanted to. The level design is good, with a lot of incentive for exploration and experimentation.
After landing on the planet, the player is only armed with an “atomiser”, a gun that absorbs objects in the environment to turn them into materials (classified primarily as Metal, Silicon, Carbon and Water) so that they can be used to make “blueprints” or copies of said objects. For example, you can absorb a light bulb and then you’ll receive a blueprint for the bulb; however make a complete blueprint of the bulb, you’ll need to absorb enough amounts of the object (indicated by a bar while atomising), after which you can create as many copies you like provided you have enough materials. This is especially handy for solving some puzzle-esque parts of the game.
Thus mechanic applies to most interactive objects in the environment and this is where the unique play of the engine comes in: everything is physics based; objects are fully destructible, even turning into tiny pieces of scrap (which are atomisable too).
However, there’s more to this game than just crafting: there’s a variety of places to explore: underground facilities, labyrinthine caves requiring clever use of the items you come across (such as placing a triangular wooden structure to get to a high place that you wouldn’t normally reach). There’s enemies – like robots that will try to vaporise you, turrets, owl-like creatures,, fiery crabs and mechanical creepie crawlies – and traps, like falling boulders. And that’s what this game does great: surprising you at every turn, be it with an expected encounter with a threatening alien creature or stumbling across a new weapon.
Speaking of weapons, the player has decent variety at their disposal (assuming you found them somewhere on the planet, usually tucked away behind locked doors and traps) like a grappling hook, pistol, jetpack etc and there’s even motorized vehicles that can be crafted and messed around with.
The player movements are kind of wonky due to the physics (somewhat similar to that in Scribblenauts) and are also affected by the terrain’s slope, leading to the space-suit clad player tripping and falling clumsily. It’s also possible for the player to lose an arm or leg, leading to which he won’t be able to climb well or will limp. While this is funny to watch, it’s equally frustrating as well (which is one of Pioneers’ many weaknesses, but more on that later).
This is one of the areas where the game shines: the audio composition is great, with catchy electronic music that lends well to the sinister and exploration based nature of the game. Each track that I’ve come across is superb and doesn’t feel out of place.
Some issues and weird design choices put a dent in an fairly enjoyable experience. Some of them are:
- Lack of a dedicated settings menu for visuals and controls (at the moment, only one for audio is present).
- While the blueprint system is a nice idea, implementing a backpack would be appreciated so that the player can carry around excess materials, weapons and items they find scattered around and use them whenever they wish (currently, you can only use what’s around you; if you run out of materials then you’ll have to wander around for materials).
- No health bar: The game implements a somewhat realistic approach to damage absorption; the player only dies after receiving a set amount of damage to the body or head. At least some mechanic to recover health would be appreciated as it’s frustrating to die and be spawned all the way back in some cave you came across near the beginning of your play through. Not to mention you lose your blueprints as well. *sadface*
- This is a pet peeve of mine, but I’ll mention it nevertheless: as mentioned before, the physics based movement system also adds some frustration to the gameplay; the character may stumble around and fall at times (especially when you don’t want to).
- Bugs: expected for a product still in development – I’ve had the game crash a few times, once when loading a planet and a couple of times when respawning. Other than that, nothing else to complain about.
As talked about before, the Contributor’s Edition also comes with editors and a scripting system (using Lua, a programming language) where players can create and craft whatever they like and upload it to the workshop. There’s also a local co-op mode that players can engage in as well as minigames like races, mechanical fights, and a mode which tasks players to collect balloon-like creatures across a planet and burn them in an incinerator as fast as possible.
I recommend buyers to hold off on getting the Game-Only Edition till it finally comes out of development. Those eyeing the Contributor’s Edition should note that it should only be purchased if you’re interested in the editor and workshop section of the game – a worthwhile investment, since a good chunk of the game content comes from the community side.
Ultimately, Planetoid Pioneers has the potential to be a great game thanks to well crafted levels, great sound design and a well placed emphasis on exploration. Definitely worth checking out for those into the genre.