Rolling, rolling, rolling…and taking names.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the “evil squares” of Square Planet have kidnapped and enslaved the race of ball people. To be fair, the balls were probably making ridiculous diplomatic requests, like “We demand bouncing, followed by rolling, followed by rolling of the third type. ” But that won’t stop your masked hero-ball from busting into their home and kicking some square corners.
This is the entire plot of Square Planet. Balls kidnapped, need rescuing, go get ’em. Your masked ball is then promptly dropped into the Square Forest and sent on his way without so much as a tutorial. Gameplay is simple and intuitive enough that it is easily explained through signage in the background, teaching you with a quick glance to tilt your phone to move and tap to jump. You’ll be warned about hazards similarly before first encountering them, such as a picture of your ball looking terrified as he falls into a lava pit.
On his journey, your ball will have to balance speed with platforming, as levels vary between fast-paced downhill rolling and jumping over lava, water, and to higher ground. Although early levels are easy to roll straight through without much effort, you’ll need to slow down and focus on timing your jumps, as well as finding alternate paths, in order to locate six of your kidnapped friends trapped in each level.
This gameplay is mostly a joy, combining classic gaming strategies and newer, less frustrating techniques. Square Planet is very reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog, both in its speed and premise, but also contains some more challenging Mega Man-style aspects. Some areas will require precise jump timing and knowledge of what is to come (or extreme luck), resulting in quite a few deaths at the hands of environmental hazards or enemy squares. Thankfully, checkpoints are frequent and appear after most major platforming regions, allowing you to restart immediately from just before your death. There is also no life counter or consequence for dying, as everything you did before your death remains (even if it occurred after the checkpoint itself). This may border on “too forgiving,” but I know it saved me from frustrating replays numerous times.
To add to the classic Sonic-ness, our hero also collects “square rings” along the way, which can be used to purchase power-ups like the double-jump or “friend finder”—a radar that points toward all the balls in the level—from the strangely helpful square merchant. The most important product the merchant sells are “secret paths,” which open up a new area for exploration and always contain a kidnapped ball near their end. Because you’ll have to rescue a minimum number of balls to unlock each level, these secret paths are critical to progressing through the game.
Rings are more than plentiful in the first eight levels of the game, but once you reach the second set, “Cube City,” the merchant’s prices greatly increase. Even forgoing optional purchases, like the friend finder, won’t guarantee enough rings for all the secret paths you’ll need to unlock to find your friends. You can replay levels and collect their coins again, but this quickly becomes repetitive gold-farming when there are no balls to rescue. Developer Majaka does offer coins for purchase, but this feels like a somewhat sneaky way of getting extra cash from players and a missed opportunity on additional platforming. Since the secret paths are completely inaccessible if you do not pay the merchant, you can’t work your way to them with skillful gameplay, and you are forced to shell out the rings, one way or the other.
Although the ring gouging is disappointing, the rest of Square Planet is a simply charming and addictive experience. The “evil” squares may have kidnapped your entire race, but they don’t seem to be doing much with them—the background of each level features squares performing a variety of casual activities: squares fishing, swinging, business squares going to work, policemen squares keeping the peace, but rarely interacting with or harming your ball buddies. Besides locking them up in cages, a few squares are seen using them as volleyballs for backyard parties—but can you blame them? You’re so bouncy.
These backgrounds events, and the entire world, are consistently fresh with very little repetition. “Cube City” alone will take you through square homes, office buildings, air vents, train stations, and onto an airplane (underneath square clouds). New gameplay features are regularly introduced, including rolling on the ceiling and turning off alarms. There are only sixteen levels available right now, with another eight coming soon, but they are each packed with plenty of things to do, see, and bounce on. Square Planet certainly isn’t flat.