Imagine is Metroid Prime was really funny. This is that.
Have you ever found yourself sitting around, playing Metroid Prime, and thinking how cool it would be with some Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-style humor? Probably not, but that doesn’t stop it from being a match made in heaven. Journey to the Savage Planet blends these two unlikely tones, and the result is an unforgettable sci fi experience. The question is, can the Switch effectively deliver it?
Awakening either alone or with a friend (via online co-op), you’re charged with exploring a strange alien landscape. The whole thing is orchestrated by Kindred Aerospace and their Pioneer project. As you progress and hit against roadblocks, your AI companion will request blueprints for new gear from Kindred. These blueprints will then require you to find specific elements before they can be constructed. It is a story-appropriate excuse for not fully arming the player at the start. The regular communications from Kindred serve to expand the universe beyond the player’s experience, while also serving as consistently hilarious comic relief. As you find evidence of a prior civilization on the planet, the plot and your relationship with Kindred grows more interesting, propelling a genuinely compelling story. The constant loop of finding a roadblock then turning back to acquire new gear to overcome it will feel very familiar to Metroid fans. Journey to the Savage planet nails the sense of mystery and isolation those games are known for, while simultaneously infusing a lighthearted atmosphere.
At the start you’ll be equipped only with a basic pistol and your scan visor. The pistol will help you defend yourself against the sometimes aggressive animals on the planet. That being said, you are by no means a superhuman (or, for example, an intergalactic bounty hunter), so it is easy to become overwhelmed without proper precautions. Crucial to these precautions is the use of the scan visor. It can provide details on various elements of the environment, whether pertinent to gameplay or merely flavor text. The responses from the AI to these scans are also some of the funniest moments. As the journey continues, new gear like a jet pack, grapple hook, and various weapon upgrades will become available. In addition to these are items that can be picked up around the planet. Many take the form of seeds or other small objects that can serve a variety of purposes. My favorite of these is a throwable grapple surface. These can attach to certain surfaces allowing your grapple to pull you to new places even when an existing grapple point isn’t present.
The world of Journey to the Savage Planet is quite large and complex. Areas are often multileveled, with a plethora of caves and hard to reach plateaus. There are tons of hidden paths and areas. Exploration off the beaten path is always rewarded, which is good because you’ll be doing a lot of it, even when not entirely on purpose. Unfortunately, Journey to the Savage Planet doesn’t have a map, and it hurts the experience tremendously. Add to this some less than stellar quest markers and you’re in for a rough time. Quest markers only point in the direction of an objective, and with no map it can be hard to tell exactly what course to take to get there. This is a complex and oftentimes labyrinthian environment, and I would often spend a long time just trying to figure out how to get back to an area I had been before.
In its original release, Journey to the Savage Planet presented a beautiful, colorful world to explore. While at this point, we’re used to seeing adjustments made to Switch versions to allow giant experiences to go handheld, it is still interesting to see which method developers choose to use. Journey to the Savage Planet makes aggressive adjustments to texture resolution and level of detail distances to accommodate the Switch. Things like foliage and dynamic shadows are also aggressively pulled back. However, unlike many Switch ports, resolution remains relatively high. Enough of Journey to the Savage Planet’s identity is preserved to keep it looking generally good, but there are certainly moments where the low level of detail settings become painfully obvious. All of this would be well worth it if Journey to the Savage Planet could maintain its 30 frames-per-second goal. Alas, whether exploring or engaging in combat, this target is regularly missed. It isn’t unplayable, but it is certainly very noticeable at times. Adding a second player (while a wonderful function) only adds to these issues.
At its core, Journey to the Savage Planet is an incredible game that only misses a couple quality of life issues that make navigation a little more frustrating than it should be. That being said, the rest of its excellent design blows right past that oversight. The Switch version in particular brings with it its own unique issues, but once again the design outshines these issues. While I can’t say the Switch is the ideal way to play this game, it is worth playing in whatever form you can.