Review for Planet RIX-13
Adventure games by Sometimes You
Planet RIX-13 shouldn’t work half as well as it does. It’s a low-fi space adventure with little narrative, few puzzles, a shoestring budget, and a laughable runtime. And yet somehow, despite all this, there’s something undeniably charming about this brief exploration of a retro-styled alien world. It certainly can’t make grandiose claims to greatness, but I enjoyed its simple, straight-to-the-point vibe that let me get in, get through it, and get right back out, all within a single play session.
Players control a lone astronaut whose spacecraft has just crash-landed on an unknown planet. As you’ll soon discover, there are others who have been here before, but the only traces they’ve left behind are their research labs and a handful of other structures dotting the landscape, and whatever records of their existence are contained within. Lifting the veil behind what happened to them is, to some degree, what you’ll be doing as you set about finding a way off the surface again yourself.
As you begin the game, only the immediate area around your crashed ship is available, with some buildings visible off in the distance (or so the game text claims) that you can walk to. From there, new locations open up as you fulfill certain requirements, like reading emails that contain coordinates for new destinations, or using a scanner to pinpoint the next place of interest on the map screen.
This already brings us firmly into the game’s puzzle-solving, as gaining access to computer servers or repairing machinery is part of what you’re tasked with to progress. Each location – most consisting of only a few screens that are quickly explored – tends to contain a useful item or two that’s needed elsewhere, so there’s plenty of jumping in between scenes using the quick travel map to find and then use inventory, generally leading to a new discovery or item to continue the cycle. Since you control the astronaut directly, interacting with the environment requires walking in front of an object and pressing a button to pick it up or activate it.
Some obstacles do require a little more thinking, such as a potion that must be mixed by first finding all the ingredients from among the planet’s flora, then deciphering a symbol-based recipe in order to make the potion correctly. Like all puzzles in the game, however, even this doesn’t take very long and is quite forgiving; if the potion is wrong, you simply start over without penalty. Finding the correct combination for a safe will require a bit of attentive poring over the emails and notes collected while roaming the research stations. Planet RIX-13 even features two slightly different endings depending on how an end-game challenge is resolved.
As you progress further, you stumble across structures clearly not of human design but rather seemingly created by an alien intelligence. Opening a strange door that you’re clearly meant to access requires collecting four crystals, each of which comes with yet another type of puzzle, these a little more mind-bending in design. The crystals seem to have some psychedelic properties, so you may find yourself navigating a tunnel that changes even as you walk along it, or become trapped in a room while a threatening water level slowly rises, where each exit door just brings you right back into the room.
The environment in Planet RIX-13 is hostile, and there are several ways to die, generally integrated as part of the organic puzzle-solving. For instance, some locations can’t be safely navigated until you’ve found a radiation filter for your suit; trying to do so anyway leads to a quick demise. These deaths are no more punishing than having to retry a puzzle, though. Failure simply restores you back to when you first entered that particular scene, probably just a few seconds earlier.
Given the simplicity of the puzzles, the game is quite a fast-paced affair, and the heavily zoomed-in side view further supports this. Environments are small enough that it takes no time at all to explore each one and complete the frequent traveling to and fro as new items are uncovered. Sound design is quite sparse along the way, as there’s no music present, only background effects of the environment or machinery as it operates, and without any company around, even our protagonist is relegated to utter silence. But everything goes by at such a rapid pace that you’ll barely notice these absences – the game can be completed in about half an hour or so.
The pixel art graphics look nice, though the décor is a bit on the spartan side as well. But each location offers new sights, and the speed at which they are introduced means there’s always something fresh to look at. After your ship’s crash site and a couple of abandoned laboratory outposts, players will explore locations like a communications bunker with a large radar dish out front, a mini nuclear power station, and even a launchpad for an emergency evacuation shuttle. The planet itself features untouched nature in the form of a murky swamp and an unmapped cave system. It’s easy for each locale to feel unique, as there was no need to naturally blend land features since every setting is jumped into directly using the overhead map, rather than gradually approached in-game.
The sense of satisfaction in Planet RIX-13 doesn’t come so much from a deep narrative as from the thrill of exploring abandoned research stations and an alien world, as well as the lightning-fast pace at which you play through it. Around every corner is some new item to find or new area to uncover, and before you know it, you’re done. Puzzles support this by not being very difficult, but just enough thought is required by some of them to make them worth their while without being obtrusive. Overall the game is a bit of an odd duck; there’s not much here for either puzzle lovers or those looking for a good story, but you’ll feel a strange sense of satisfied fulfillment when finished with it nonetheless, all in the span of a lunch break.