Lovely Planet is a cutely packaged title that conceals a surprising amount of technical gravity. It's like opening a Hello Kitty backpack and finding nuclear launch codes within.
Bright colours, an upbeat soundtrack and a very minimalist, very Japanese art direction make it easy to link Lovely Planet with other quirky titles such as Katamari Damacy. What it is, however, is a first-person shooter stripped to the essentials for speed.
Players run and jump through 100 courses, each with the goal of shooting all enemies and reaching the pole at the end. Take one hit and it's an instant do-over, much like Super Meat Boy. There are no ammo boxes to pick up or side objectives to clear. The enemies are composed largely of sneering red geometric shapes that you fire little purple cubes at with a weapon that looks like Kirby's Pool Cue; a standard FPS this is not.
It is possible to clear each course by being cautious, but a lack of story and not much variety in the scenery makes playing this way feel not all that worth it. The game really pushes for speedrunning above all else, awarding bragging stars to those who complete the courses beneath difficult time limits. An on-screen timer can even be turned on to gauge progress mid-course.
Many courses take less than a minute to complete, but this is no fleeting breeze of a game. There will be plenty of repetition - just from taking hits and falls - to complete many courses. Add the perfection of time goals and the playtime will shoot even higher for players willing to take the challenge.
Precision is often important in Lovely Planet, and the controls on the Wii U version feel mostly up to it. There is some floatiness that might require some getting used to at first, but the sensitivity of the controls can be fine-tuned through the game options. It also does a good job of gradually introducing the controls through the first set of levels, giving players time to adjust to the basics before introducing features such as lock-on.
Things can still feel a little off at times, however, due to the layout of the controls on the Wii U GamePad. The lock-on button, which will become your best friend as there are no manual crosshairs, is at the L button, with jumping at LZ. It's easy to get jumbled when trying to jump and lock on in quick succession, and there's no way to map the controls differently. Really, though, a 100-percent comfortable setup seems nearly impossible, since the right hand has to almost constantly stay on the right stick to look around. Not an insurmountable obstacle by any means, but expect it to add to your restart total. Overall, it does feel like a PC setup would be slightly more ideal here.
Best times will unfortunately have to be a personal record, as there are no online leaderboards to post to. There have also been no bells or whistles added such as extra GamePad features, but they would likely be extra baggage in the hunt for perfect runs, anyway.
Lovely Planet may look cutesy, but its streamlined shooting is built for dedicated speedrunners (you can even watch a speedrun of it via Games Done Quick). Players who live for training, repetition, memory and self-achievement will find a quite solid and refreshingly different-looking shooter here, even if it's not completely perfect. With no story or bonuses or really any other elements to speak of, however, the widespread appeal feels limited. Definitely try the demo first if you can.