Yes, Freedom Planet feels like an old-school 2D Sonic game, but thankfully it manages to overcome some of the hurdles that bog down the blue hedgehog's classic Sega games. Freedom Planet boasts colourful characters whose story extends past a bland cliché of catch phrases. The art style consists of a gorgeous colour palette that results in pixel art that jumps off the screen. Fast-paced action is balanced with platforming segments, and the music serves as a perfect complement to the frantic setting. More than the sum of its parts, Freedom Planet is just plain fun.
There aren't many game modes available, but what's there is solid. You can select Adventure (stages with cutscenes), Classic (just stages, no cutscenes), or time trials. You are eventually allowed to pick from three characters – Lilac the Dragon Girl, Carol the Wild Cat, and Milla the Basset Hound – and this adds considerable replayability to the experience. Each character has a fairly limited move set but they are ultimately satisfying and unique, and you have to think differently depending on which one you choose. Two additional characters (Spade and Torque) are set to be released later this year as free downloadable content.
Lilac is your default character (the "Sonic" character of the game), a charming dragon girl that exclaims a pleasantly enthusiastic "Cyclone!" during her gliding spin attack in the air. You can perform a multi-directional dash attack which is limited by an action gauge; the cyclone attack also takes a small part of the gauge as well. She also has a short range attack, and can execute an uppercut from the ground or a downward kick from the air. The other characters have very different toolkits; Milla, for example, substitutes the formation of a block that she can throw at enemies in place of a spin attack. Regardless of who you're playing with the movesets feel solid, though on occasion it seems like certain situations were built with specific characters in mind. This isn't an issue when playing the extra stage exclusive to whichever character you select, but it can be frustrating when playing through the rest of the main stages.
The art direction oozes charm from the second you start the game. A surprisingly serious opening cinematic quickly transitions into gameplay, and bright vibrant colours soon dominate the screen. Occasionally Carol blends into the background, but that doesn't break the aura. The GamePad allows for off-TV play, and the visuals looks stunning even on the portable screen. Not to be outdone, the music flows with the action; it has just the right amount of pace, blending impressive drive with light-hearted nuances and melody. It's energetic and upbeat enough to keep the blood flowing, but not so much as to wear you out; the invincibility tune is particularly noteworthy.
Stages stay novel through the use of different environmental puzzles and patterns, and the recurring need to switch between fast and methodical gameplay helps to mix things up as well. The mechanics remain solid throughout the game, though there are some frustrating moments when using characters other than Lilac – the game feels like it was built for the dragon girl. Environmental tools like a swinging trapeze that propels you forward do a great job of keeping everything feeling fresh.
Enemy design is consistently interesting and varied. You remain on your toes throughout the entire campaign, and the game never overuses any one enemy type. Many enemies are charming in their presentation and reminiscent of days past; several enemies and obstacles directly reminded us of past Mega Man games, in a good way; there's even a section with spikes that drop from the ceiling a la Mega Man 2 for the NES.
Boss battles are engaging and exciting, simple yet enjoyable – for the most part. There were a few occasions that didn't feel fair, as you need exhaustive repetition to figure out what you were supposed to do. However, the game is great with checkpoints and never penalizes you too severely when you die, and the reward of a massive explosion that occurs when you finish the stage's final boss makes your victory especially satisfying.
You probably won't pick up the game for the story or voice acting, but because there's a large amount of both for a game this size they warrant discussion. Freedom Planet tries to flesh out its characters through dialogue and story, but for the most part this area falls short. What's there feels disjointed and at times random; perhaps the developers were trying to be humorous with that approach, but it just doesn't work most of the time. It jumps from serious to random and playful, then back to serious, without the ebb and flow that's necessary for a cohesive narrative. The story also falls into the trap of introducing too many characters in too short of a time span, and it's hard to care about almost any of them because there's very little development.
While Lilac's performance consistently hits the mark, the voice acting for the rest of the game varies widely in quality. Some characters don't have much passion behind their dialogue, and that omission is further highlighted through the contrasting strong performances of others. Sometimes the script doesn't mesh with the voices being used, and that results in conversations feeling disjointed. Volume is a little inconsistent at points, as one character speaks louder than the others, but never to the point of ruining the experience. On the other hand, at times the vocal exchanges feel raw and natural, something that is rarely achieved in this genre. There's a fairly significant amount of cutscenes and voice work, and the efforts are for the most part commendable, even if they fall flat at times.
Small issues aside, Freedom Planet is a fun and worthwhile experience. Replay value is high due to the hectic nature of the stages (you won't see everything during your first playthrough because you'll be moving too fast) and the diverse experience of playing with different protagonists. Add in the fact that there'll be two new characters as free DLC, and there's plenty to keep you coming back for more. If you enjoy platformers but never got into Sonic games, give this one a shot – you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.