The actual puzzles are, for the most part, based around Tycho’s inventory, and he has a handheld bicorder (accessible via the on-screen interface) with which he can scan objects in the environment, or even himself for any alien pathogens as a little “in” joke. (“Always know your status!”) The obstacles themselves are neither too easy nor too hard, like keeping a precariously-balanced spacecraft from tumbling off a cliff face or finding a way to cut to the front of the queue while waiting to get into the Pleasure Planet’s holo chamber. There is no hotspot indicator to help locate items or interactive objects, though a feature in the menu does mark navigation points on-screen.
When starting Pleasure Planet, I was expecting something a bit different given its subject matter. As it turns out, the sexual aspect is extremely tame and often understated, and the developers deserve praise for their tasteful approach to the content. I was ready for a comically raunchy romp a la Leisure Suit Larry, but old Larry Laffer was a heck of a lot more lurid than anything on display here. Outside of being able to have Tycho strip down and take a splash in a river or fountain (with any potential nudity comically covered by the environment), only to have him comment on how odd and out of context it seems, there is very little here that would cause even the most conservative eyebrows to waggle, unless one is offended by some gratuitous short shorts and leather outfits. On the contrary: I wanted the game to raise the bar just a bit more, injecting more ribald humor into the proceedings. Still, the messages presented during its VR vignettes, or by characters like the drag queen singing sensation Bazzarella, are positive and affirming. Unfortunately, outside of Tycho, who is a lighthearted but single-minded hero, the supporting cast has little going for it in terms of being fully realized characters.
Other than the frequent changes in play styles, this game could pass for a traditional third-person adventure. The graphics are bold and bright, and characters are nice enough to look at: Tycho and his crew sport a goofy Navy uniform consisting of cutoffs and crop tops, and the alien races are portrayed in colorful ways. Brutus himself will make appearances during Tycho’s VR segments, always appearing in some new form, such as a serpent or a leather jacket-wearing werewolf, always sporting his trademark rainbow mohawk. Some of the environments do feature interesting elements, like when a crash-landing inside an asteroid cave (in a mandatory Star Wars reference) sees Tycho suspended from the ceiling while a giant mutated mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth sprouts from the floor to chomp on him. On the whole, however, the settings are rather limited in scope. Most locations don’t span more than three or four screens, and two entire planet areas consist of only a single screen. Animation covers the bare-bones elements like walking, but much of the action is achieved either off-screen or indicated with dialog boxes.
The game’s music is also somewhat on the underwhelming side, with nothing standing out as particularly memorable. Songs range from acceptable to acoustically painful – the title screen features a track that sounds like an android gerbil that has been chucked into a meat grinder. When I wasn’t busy not noticing the background score, I was actively looking for the Volume Down button during some particularly jarring musical moments. There was no real reason to leave it up, either, as voice acting is entirely absent.
One thing that really compounded the problems inherent in Pleasure Planet’s frustrating gameplay and underwhelming story – at least in my experience – were its technical flaws. These issues ranged from the mundane to the bizarre. Starting the game or restoring a save required a lengthy load screen (up to several minutes at times!), though for the life of me I can’t figure out why, with a presentation that couldn’t possibly be very taxing to my system. Stranger still was the game’s odd penchant to slow down during any kind of animation or dialog boxes unless I rolled my cursor around on-screen. While moving the pointer, all background effects and text boxes scrolled at their normal speed, but even the smallest in-game movement slowed down ridiculously without my cursor intervention. Other glitches reared their ugly heads here and there, like two simultaneous music tracks overlapping each other on the load screen and a music track seeming to skip back and forth, creating a choppy and discordant beat.
Escape from Pleasure Planet is one of the few games attempting to hone in on an underrepresented thematic niche, which is very laudable. However, while it incorporates its homosexual elements very tastefully, it isn’t nearly as successful at being an enjoyable game. Hindered somewhat by technical shortcomings and a lackluster story, what really sinks the deal are the inconsistent, sometimes unfair, often frustrating or joyless changes in gameplay that force players to participate in filler tasks that are poorly explained, if at all. What results is an experiment that has a praiseworthy premise but falls short of providing any actual fun. I’d like to see Captain Tycho Minogue return for more galactic exploits, but this isn’t the game to cause his star to rise.