Release Date: 22 July 2016
Lovely Planet Arcade is a deceptively simple arcade style FPS that clearly has a view to speed running. Each level requires the player to move across a small floating island and shoot enemies and balloons without getting shot; there isn’t much else to it. The graphics are basic but ultimately non offensive. As you progress through the game’s four worlds a few new mechanics are introduced but nothing particularly fundamental changes. With a game this simple the key to success lies in difficulty and level design: if it remains too easy the game risks feeling repetitive, and if its difficulty comes across as artificial it risks feeling like an uninspiring grind.
Unfortunately, for me at least, Lovely Planet Arcade falls on the wrong side of this balance. The level design is not particularly inspired; beating the more difficult levels requires memorising and even optimising your route through the level to achieve a faster time requires less puzzling than repetition. Similarly, there isn’t really much satisfaction in finally overcoming the repetition. While other games notable for their difficulty and necessary repetition (such as the Dark Souls or Trackmania games) reward their player with the satisfaction of overcoming a tricky, yet fair, learning curve and high skill threshold, the more difficult elements of Lovely Planet Arcade arise mainly from hidden enemies or unclear mechanics (one type of enemy can kill you instantly without shooting, while another fires a projectile, the only visual difference is that the instant killer has his gun tilted upwards). As a result deaths feel cheap and infuriating, not fair, and victories don’t feel like achievements so much as reliefs.
With this said, I can see the simplicity of the mechanics appealing to some players. The gun can only point right and left, not up or down, and there is no sprinting or stamina, just one fixed speed. There also isn’t much (beyond the absence of a reticule and a slow jump animation) to prevent precision in a speed run, and there are plenty of (admittedly similar) levels to master. Because of this the game is actually very well optimised for speed running, it’s just that the levels themselves tend to feel either easy or cheap.