Lovely Planet Arcade’s bright world and cheery soundtrack are a trick. They’re simply delightful bells and whistles to lure you into the unforgiving, hardcore PC shooter that lurks within.
A sequel to Quicktequila’s 2014 Lovely Planet, Lovely Planet Arcade tasks the player with shooting usually (but not always, the jerks!) stationary enemies while moving as quickly as possible toward a pillar at the end of the level or completing the level’s goals. In addition to enemies, some levels also feature deadly terrain or bombs that have to be shot before they hit the ground. Each level rewards you with up to three stars: one for completing the level, one for speed, and one for accuracy. The game is divided into four acts, with over one hundred seconds-long levels split between them.
While keeping the core of Lovely Planet intact, Lovely Planet Arcade also departs from its predecessor in several ways. Lovely Planet felt light and mobile, arming you with a slim, fast-firing rifle and filling the terrain with jumps and platforms that made verticality as much of a factor as forward speed. Lovely Planet Arcade’s shotgun has a reload time that slows the firing speed considerably, giving a slower pace to your shots and requiring more precise timing. There are new enemy types, such as helmeted enemies who can only be headshotted, and also new features like coins to collect and portals to jump through.
While still demanding speed and perfection, the game’s movement feels slightly limited. Jumping to headshot the above-mentioned helmeted enemies, for instances, feels more like standing on tiptoes until your head hits the ceiling. There’s a certain lack of acrobatic flexibility that makes Lovely Planet Arcade feel a little boxed-in, and the shotgun didn’t always feel as fluid as the game’s speedrunning nature would seem to demand. But these limitations add to the arcade-y feel of the game’s title. It’s less of a speedrun and more of an arena... just an area you have to get through really fast.
At certain points Lovely Planet Arcade can feel almost too unforgiving. The game requires a higher level of perfection much sooner than Lovely Planet did. The difficulty ramps up quickly, and certain levels—such as the bomb ones—have impassible fail states that only twitch skills can overcome. You can skip levels and revisit them later, but a certain amount of them have to be beat in order to progress to the next act. Nevertheless, given the levels’ short lengths, a few failed attempts will quickly reveal what you have to do, and it’s seldom frustrating to replay until you can at least get through. After that comes the true frustration and delight of Lovely Planet Arcade: playing through levels again and again, shaving off precious milliseconds in pursuit of the high score. Unlockable modifiers add more difficulty, but I spent most of my early hours with Lovely Planet Arcade replaying Act One levels I’d already mastered, trying to get those three stars and then trying to get them... well, better.
Lovely Planet Arcade is a game that’s intense without being overwhelming, cute without being cloying, and unforgiving without being unfair. You can play it in short bursts or dedicate hours to mastering it. I’ve played the original for hours and spent even more hours watching speedrunners blow me out of the water, and I look forward to doing the same with Lovely Planet Arcade.