It's easy to take a quick glance at Freedom Planet and be totally confused. Based on all empirical evidence, Freedom Planet is a Sonic the Hedgehog knock-off. It's a platforming game with an emphasis on speed that stars some very sassy and expressive talking animals. There's even a consciousness effort to make Freedom Planet look exactly like a Sega Genesis game complete with the wholesome 16-bit sprite jagginess.
This is just how Freedom Planet looks though. In the gameplay this release from indie studio GalaxyTrail is so much more than a Sonic clone. Freedom Planet is inspired by Sonic the Hedgehog, not copying it. In many ways Freedom Planet delivers a much better and tighter experience than the blue blur.
The story behind Freedom Planet's similarities to Sonic the Hedgehog is actually quite interesting. Freedom Planet began life as Sonic fan game created by GalaxyTrail's studio head, Stephen DiDuro. The more DiDuro got into development of Freedom Planet the more the game developed its own identity. New original characters, gameplay mechanics, and story were created and Freedom Planet separated itself from Sonic entirely. In the end Freedom Planet's greatest assets are the qualities that it doesn't share with Sonic.
Freedom Planet relies on speed a great deal and in its action-packed moment it looks a lot like Sonic. The animal heroines will be running around loops and sprinting up on a completely vertical face on a nearly constant basis. Freedom Planet isn't all speed though. Health isn't determined by how many rings the cute critters have on hand but instead by a health bar. It's vital to keep an eye on that health bar too because Freedom Planet's various boss fights play out like a brawler. Bosses don't just get bonked on their head but are physically attacked with a punch, kick or a throw. It's a small change that results in enormous dividends as so much more strategy and consideration become involved in Freedom Planet than the average platformer.
The similarities are still present. Like Sonic the Hedgehog (or any 16-bit era platformer) Freedom Planet is relatively short. It's five hours to complete but the game is littered with collectibles and secrets. There are so many paths to success in Freedom Planet's 14 stages. There's no correct critical path. One playthrough isn't enough to see everything every stage has to offer. Freedom Planet never punishes you for choosing one route over the other. Instead spying a ledge just out of reach at the end of the stage just inspires a second run through.
The exploration and multiple paths don't just add replayability by themselves. There are three playable characters to choose from, two at the start and one that's unlockable mid-game. The playable characters aren't lazy reskins either. Freedom Planet controls completely differently whether you're playing Carol the aggressive wildcat, Lilac the headstrong dragon or Mila the bashful basset hound. Each of the anthropomorphic animal ladies has their own movies, special attacks and abilities. Carol has her own motorcycle, Lilac can charge up her speed for a powerful dash and Milla can hover in the air with her ears. These are just three of many examples. None of the three characters are better than the other. It just comes to personal preference but each heroine definitely has a very distinctive feel.
It's lucky that the Freedom Planet heroines play so different because picking a different character doesn't change the game's story mode much at all. Freedom Planet has two basic modes, Adventure and Classic. Classic plays out every stage in order with no cutscenes or background. Adventure mode adds in a fully voice acted and surprisingly long tale that links all the stages together. Since Carol, Milla and Lilac are side-by-side for most the story the cutscenes don't really change based on the selected character but the story is enjoyable. It's standard '90s platformer fare with a magical MacGuffin and a one-dimensional evil villain. It's in no way deep but to ignore playing it, at least once, is a mistake. Even when the dialogue becomes cheesier than three-cheese nachos smother in yellow sauce it's still fun and just the right degree of nostalgia.
Freedom Planet has been out for a few years on PC and PlayStation 4. It's only recently been released on Nintendo Switch, which is probably the best platform for it, given its pick-and-play nature. However Freedom Planet does have the misfortune of following Sonic Mania and Sonic Mania Plus. Freedom Planet doesn't feel as polished or exciting as either retro-inspired Sonic entry. It shouldn't be abandoned though it's just worth noting that Freedom Planet's more difficult platforming sections can feel frustrating, rather than fair.
Freedom Planet doesn't feel as new or fresh as some of the Nintendo Switch's other platformers but it's not trying to be either. Freedom Planet is fun, frenetic and a perfect throwback to the 16-bit era of gaming. It's essential for any gamer who loved their Sega Genesis or just appreciates the 16-bit aesthetic.
Freedom Planet is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC and PlayStation 4 for $14.99. Screen Rant was provided a Nintendo Switch copy for review.