A pounding electronica track seems to emulate the sound of a facility siren as you focus on the fast-paced gameplay, hijacking bodies as a parasitic space worm. As your current body is riddled with laser gun wounds, you eject from the host and slither across the floor to your next target.
Planet Blood is a rogue-like twin-stick shooter with a twist: you have to rely on a host body to get you through levels. Its simple pixelated graphics give it an immediate charm, and its seamless loading times to jump into the next go after you die is ideal for easy-to-digest gameplay.
From the get-go, you should know that Planet Blood is not a particularly deep or complex game. If you have ever played a rogue-like or a twin-stick shooter before, you will have played Planet Blood to some degree or another.
Its biggest revelation is in its primary mechanic.
You play as a parasitic worm who is fighting through a randomly generated and randomly populated sci-fi research facility to rescue another parasitic worm, who has been trapped and is being researched by a bunch of slightly crackpot looking scientists. In each level, you have to clear out the floor.
You start each run as just the worm. Despite having one hit point – meaning getting hit by anything can kill you when playing as the worm – hijacking bodies is a seamless process.
Touching an enemy, whether a pistol-armed mook or a purple drone with a machine gun, gives you control of them. Each character has a different way of attacking, which gives approaching each level Planet Blood’s only, and much-needed, depth and strategy.
The red drones can move quickly and are smaller targets, but they fire only grenades. Playing as a drone makes shooting enemies an act of strategy and patience. Conversely, playing as one of the marines armed with a shotgun gives you a large cone of fire, making it easy to breach and clear rooms, but easier to get hit, since you are occupying a larger human body and move a little slower.
Still, with only small variations for different host bodies, the game is basically lightning fast. Enemies are gunned down in surprisingly bloody ways, and with satisfying speed. Blitzing into rooms is sure to get you a few kills, but doing it too much in a single run will also undoubtedly get you killed. Sometimes, you have to use stealth to your advantage.
Enemies begin the level unaware of you, and the simple AI homes in on you the moment you walk in front of them. They are ruthless and maniacal in the way they pursue you, with no concept of self-preservation or taking cover. This means to play Planet Blood successfully you have to have good reflexes, and a grasp of the different enemy types.
The latter comes only through practice. And practice is easy to get. More often than not, your worm will end up dead on the floor, blown to smithereens by a drone’s grenade, or pulverized by a large turret.
If you were hoping you could memorize level layouts and figure out enemy placements, there’s no hope for you here. Planet Blood is a randomly generated game that also gives a random amount of enemies on each level. Sometimes the first level I spawned in was sprawling, but with only a few enemies. Other times, the level was short, with only a few rooms, but they were each inhabited by two enemies.
Along with money spawning in random containers as well as giving random amounts of money, Planet Blood can throw otherwise promising runs away as you are overwhelmed by swarms of enemies or can’t afford to pay for upgrades to salvage your winning body.
The upgrades are only for your current body too, it seems, so once you discard one of the hapless guards you have to save up enough for more ammo or grenades. This does add a layer of strategy – do you discard a body that has less health but more ammo to riskily try and hijack another body in the middle of your run?
But the entirely random nature of the game, meaning that sometimes the first level is more difficult than the second for example, makes Planet Blood fundamentally unpredictable and perhaps unbalanced. Some runs will end in wild success (or at least reaching a new milestone) whereas others will have you murdered for utilizing a previously effective strategy just because it spawned an extra enemy, that simply didn’t exist in any form in your last run.
How much you enjoy this depends on your love of randomly generated rogue-likes. I suspect for many a fast-paced twin-stick shooter with a large degree of randomness is an easy sell for many people. Planet Blood is addictive, with each run so quick and jumping back into the game so easy that it feels hard to put it down.
But the experience as a whole is short – with only five levels / stages of enemy difficulty (Stage 4 has a few sub stages), and just a few alternate worms to get – so it comes down to how much you enjoy the genre.
The innovation and ideas present in Planet Blood give me hope for the game’s success. Because I do hope it succeeds. It’s a game with an immense amount of charm, whose speed is its greatest asset. It is blisteringly fast and fun to play. As you get the simple control to leap from a body fixed in your brain, you become a terror of the Planet Blood science facility.
Maybe if it did have more levels, the thing would feel insurmountable. As it stands, the difficulty ramps up quickly and randomly, making each run feel fresh, like the game is adapting to your previous effort. You’ll notice that I both like and dislike these features.
The randomness is a selling point and a negative point depending on what you like from your games. I can 100% recommend Planet Blood to you if you are after an easy-to-digest top-down shooter with random elements and a cool new body-hijacking mechanic.
In one word, though: addictive. I might just play another couple of rounds now…