Sometimes a certain component can make or break a game. In the past, we’ve talked about how sound can construct or destroy an experience; how storytelling can succeed or fail to captivate us; how conventions can be spurred for better or for worse; and how shoehorning creepy themes of sex and abuse can really ruin a fledgling game developer’s aesthetic. Although there were often a variety of things going on in each of the games previously discussed that led to me liking or disliking them, there are certain game elements that can be so flawed that other aspects that, on their own, would be passable or even good were it not for such a weak link. These flaws can be so glaring that they exaggerate other issues we would otherwise forgive. Today’s game is one with a decent setting, acceptable graphics, and an okay, albeit unoriginal, story that all suffers for the controls and the physics. So let’s push forward and take a look at what makes Cococucumber’s Planet of the Eyes unable to move in the right direction.
In Planet of the Eyes, you control a little robot with limited capabilities as it struggles against the environment of a strange planet that it crash landed on. Along the way, the robot encounters audio logs that tell us about a security guard who managed to program a personality into the machine, despite protests and concerns from the scientists and high-society technocrats who were also part of the project. Soon, the exploration becomes about being re-united with this misunderstood friend in hopes of increasing chances of survival. To do this, the robot must push, pull, provoke, and platform about the environment without falling prey to the hazards that riddle the area.
Like I said, the story isn’t tremendously original. I think we’ve seen plenty of stories about the soldier who knew better than the scientists. Personally, I find such a plot point irritating and contrived, as it perpetuates this notion that experts don’t really know anything and that all it takes is some down-to-earth conventionality to get things done. However, I’ll concede the appeal of the outcast, underdog character and instead just argue that Planet of the Eyes simply does nothing new with the concept.
The graphics are also nothing special. They’re not bad by any stretch, but when it comes to perspective, it’s difficult to assess the scenery at times and judge what’s an obstacle and what’s not, or when a monster or a falling rock is actually supposed to hit you. Adding to this confusion is the way the robot will engage in its own ragdoll physics, seemingly independent from the other assets. The end result is a layout that nearly looks well done, but instead winds up feeling a little disjointed.
As previously stated, these things in and of themselves are not really a huge detraction from the game. Sure, it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill aesthetic overall, but what really makes that obvious is how much trouble the robot seems to have pushing things around. First off, it’s not entirely clear what each control does. You would think simply pressing each button would give you some clues, but it turns out the main action button, if not actually set in front of something to act upon, will just cause the robot to dance. This is cute, I guess, but it took me a moment to adjust to the fact that this silly taunt shared a button with such important actions. Fortunately the game will tell you (once) that you are capable of pulling, but if you happen to be too far from the object, your robot will dance, and you’ll wander about thinking that you can’t actually interact with it.
In Planet of the Eyes, the robot can grab and move some things, while others it must jostle into place by jumping and running into it. If you have to do the latter, you’re in for some tedium. At times, the robot will just stop being able to move it forward. No matter how much you run into an object, it will after a few moments cease to move. The only solution to this issue I’ve found is backing away and running into the object again, causing it to inch forward a bit and then lock, requiring repetitive shoves to get something from point A to point B. You don’t really have a way around this either, as many obstacles really only have one solution: shove something in between the robot and the hazard. This all adds up to a frustrating, not-fun experience that inspires you to let it gather dust in your Steam library until you finally uninstall it to free up a meager amount of space (which I did).
Overall, Planet of the Eyes is a lackluster game. Though you could conceivably go into it hoping to just have a little generic platformer fun, in the end you can’t even get that. What little you can pick up on in the instructionless game is that your robot is severely handicapped, unable to move things easily, breaks readily, and just can’t seem to provide any kind of entertainment. Well, I suppose you can make it to a little dance. But really, do you want to pay $9.99 for that? Especially after the trailer on the Steam page opens with several instances of the robot being destroyed by everything imaginable. So really, I’d pass on this and find something that works properly, because even a mediocre game can be fun if the buttons do what they’re supposed to.