Hurtling down the deepest chasms of the most dangerous planets equipped with nothing more than a wing suit and robotic companion is not for the faint of heart, but it is all in a day’s fun for the protagonist of Planet Diver. Apart from the inherent risk of travelling at terminal velocity and beyond while avoiding natural obstacles there is also the small matter of the local fauna to deal with. It takes quick reflexes and a little bit of luck, but score chasing action fans will find Planet Diver just as alluring as it is for the fearless protagonist.
Apart from not smacking into obstacles or getting torn apart by your enemies there are a couple of goals in Planet Diver. The campaign mode features three different planets to conquer and each one has its own missions. You are given three goals per mission, but only the easiest (bronze) has to be completed in order to move on to the next mission. These goals can be anything from killing a set amount of enemies or travelling a certain distance to pulling off dangerous maneuvers like hugging the walls while traveling at top speed. Some missions are harder than others, but the game does take pity on players who fail repeatedly by offering them the chance to replay the level on a much easier setting. Doing so comes at a cost of not being able to keep the “star stuff” that can be collected along the way. In addition to healing your character star stuff also serves as the currency in the game and can be used buy new outfits, special ability modifiers and music, so it is worth grabbing. Access to the next planet can also be bought with star stuff, but it is more economical to do so by completing all the bronze missions as shop prices for the other items are quite hefty. There is a long list of outfits to buy, most of them nods to other popular games like Portal, Metroid and even Ms Pac-Man!
As your character is basically falling down a dangerous chasm your input is limited to moving her left or right to avoid obstacles and enemies. The game can be played using either a keyboard or controller, but currently movement is restricted to the d-pad only for the latter. While falling you can also press a button to briefly brake in mid-air or perform a speed dash. Your character is invincible while braking, so it is essential for avoiding certain obstacles or simply slowing down if she is falling too fast for your liking. Dashing on the other hand can be used to not only speed up, but also smash through enemies in order to kill them. In addition, the star stuff scattered throughout the levels have a higher multiplier the faster your character is going, so for the big bonuses you will want to keep dashing. The catch is that you have a dash meter that refills over time or by braking, so you can’t keep doing it repeatedly. Depending on the special ability modifier you have equipped your character can only take a couple of hits, but collecting star stuff and killing enemies does replenish her health.
Planet Diver features a rather interesting visual style and the liberal use of scanlines lends it an eye-catching retro look. Each of the planets feature three different biomes, for a total of nine and you’ll also encounter a diverse range of enemies as well as big bosses. Despite the speed at which the game moves the enemies are all instantly recognizable and have their own characteristics to deal with. For example, the bats and seagulls while dive down after you if you go past them without killing them while spiders cling to the walls and fling webs at you that slows your character down. There are also natural hazards such as falling debris water- and lava geysers as well as black holes to watch out for. The latter makes an appearance on the asteroid level and can invert gravity which results in your character falling up or down! The game doesn’t feature any speech, but the cheerful music tracks are a great fit for the action. It is a bit galling having to pay (in-game) currency to unlock more tracks, but all of the tunes are really good.
The 75 missions of the campaign mode doesn’t really feature much of a story and instead consists of some humorous banter between the diver and her robotic companion, Buddy, before each dive. Many of the missions are simply variations of each other which can result in some repetition when playing the game for long sessions. This means that Planet Diver is best played in short bursts to avoid tedium setting in. The game also features an arcade mode where the goal is simply to try and dive as deep as possible, collect as much star stuff as possible and kill as many enemies as possible. You can also compete for the furthest total diving distance, total star stuff collected and total enemies killed on the leaderboards. The endless arcade mode for each planet provides a good reason to return to the game after completing all the campaign missions or when you want a quick adrenaline fix. Since the chasms are randomly generated it also helps to keep the game from becoming too predictable. Planet Diver also features a ton of Steam achievements that further extends the longevity of the game for players who enjoy the extra challenge.
Considering its very reasonable price Planet Diver is not a bad investment. The campaign mode alone takes a few hours to complete and the arcade mode ups the replay value. Repetition is obviously a concern and players without fast reactions might find it a little frustrating, but overall we had a lot of fun with Planet Diver and can certainly recommend it.