need to know
Price: £10 / $15
Publisher: Kitfox Games
Developer: Kitfox Games
Website: Official site
What's a roguelike? It's getting harder to find an answer these days, with more and more games taking the basic idea of randomly generated worlds and adding enough of a spin that a single pseudo-genre can't really cover it. Shattered Planet features most of the tropes, including randomised worlds full of painful death. You play as a series of disposable clones, sent down from a spaceship to Planet Hey, Isn't This Bastion? to document wildlife and hunt for treasure on behalf of an occasionally generous employer. Where most roguelikes treat each life as a fresh, all-inclusive experience, here the currency found on each jaunt can be spent on permanent character upgrades. Does that disqualify it? Who knows. But it certainly helps when facing an army of killer aliens for the fiftieth time.
Shattered Planet is a mobile game that's made the jump to real computers, and that's easily its biggest weakness. It feels slight, despite a few changes and additions to the game, with little drive to explore and not a vast amount to encounter when put against the likes of Spelunky, Dredmore or The Binding Of Isaac. After just a couple of hours, I opened the Datalog—Shattered Planet's in-game encyclopedia—to see that the handful of enemies I'd seen counted as over half of what it had to offer, and already it was hyper-repetitive to the point I was ready to move on. There's more to the game than monsters of course, with pets to tame and collect, a pile of guns and grenades and consumables to gather, new character classes to unlock, and special events a little like FTL's decisions. It'll take longer to add all of those to the Datalog, but even so, it lacks the spark that makes return visits feel like a fresh adventure rather than a completionist chore.
That's a shame, because in most ways this is a clever, charming game. It looks lovely, with its crisp graphics and bright colours. It's full of fun touches, like the way grid squares bounce a little when stepped on, and it's got a fun sense of humour in everything from death messages to the way it sends you off on a brutal quest armed with nothing but a blindfold, a rolled up newspaper, and maybe a juice-box for health. Survival relies a fair amount on the luck of item-placement and map generation, but there's strategy too. You're chased away from your starting point by a monster-summoning poison that gradually spreads. Avoiding enemies usually a better option than taking them on initially.
The basic game involves simply exploring and retrieving crystals and scrap for upgrades back on the ship, but there are also four much bigger challenges—a random Daily that provides starting gear that you get to keep if you survive, and three specific investigations on Planet No, Seriously, This Is Totally Bastion that will happily stomp your face into goo.
There's no one specific reason it didn't click with me, though I can think of a few small ones—the atmospheric ambient music soon loses its sense of drive, the effects (beyond the thumping detection noise) are weak, there's not much to find in the world, and the item system has problems. You do find gear on the planet, including bottles of mystery goo and disguises, but you generate starting equipment by dropping dropping crystals into a slot machine that can create things of every quality level—a holdover from the free-to-play original that sold packs of crystals. It badly diminishes the joy of discovery by serving up five-star items for really no outlay, and then goes a step further by making them bundles of stats more than cool toys. Even if there's more stuff to find that isn't in its loot table, hitting Planet Have I Mentioned It Looks A Lot Like Bastion wearing a crown (and thus earning the coveted title “Fancy”) and wielding a completely unearned, hitherto undiscovered weapon removes much of the sense of exploring to see what's waiting. It's possible to skip this, but not wise. Failing to pack a helmet and weapon will bring your certain death even closer.
Shattered Planet's biggest problem is that it's up against a bigger challenge than just filling few quiet minutes. It's competing with an expanding roguelike genre whose standing champions go much deeper, hit a hell of a lot harder and have far more tantalising treats to discover. Shattered Planet is fine for what it is, but what it is is a mobile game that struggles to offer a compelling reason to sit down and dive in.