It’s clear from PixelNAUTS Games’ track record that they like doing things a little differently. Their first PlayStation 4 title, Contrast, released to mixed critical reception, but was praised for its unique take on platforming and storytelling. PixelNAUTS are now back with another title that turns the concept of genre on its head, called Lost Orbit. However, while creating something unique is always a positive thing, that concept needs to be backed up by a good game. Thankfully, Lost Orbit has united both uniqueness and quality successfully to create a fantastic and enjoyable game.
Lost Orbit puts you in the shoes of Harrison, a maintenance worker who is stranded in space after his ship is destroyed. Armed with only a jetpack, it is your job to aid him in getting back to civilization on his home planet. Partway through the game, Harrison meets a space probe named Atley, who acts as the narrator for the game. While the player controls Harrison, the story is told from the perspective of Atley, which creates an interesting juxtaposition. Despite never uttering a word, we began to care for Harrison more and more as Atley told us of his past and his desperation to get back home. And while the plot is never the showpiece of Lost Orbit, it did just enough to give us a good motivation to progress through the game.
PixelNAUTS Games describes Lost Orbit as a “dodge ‘em up”, and in its simplest form, that’s exactly what it is. The player must navigate Harrison through a variety of obstacles, as they take him from point A to point B. In between those two points are a number of obstructions that if collided with, would spell instant death for our protagonist. These hurdles include asteroid belts, abandoned mining machinery and deserted ships that still have functioning weaponry. The player can steer Harrison through the minefield of danger using the left analogue stick and the jetpack’s boost function, which increases his speed. Initially we found the basic controls to be quite unresponsive and had some difficulty manoeuvring our way around hindrances, but this was simply a teething problem that disappeared after the first half an hour of playtime. The defining thing about Lost Orbit is its complete lack of attacking options for the player, which significantly reduces the amount of ways you can tackle any situation. And this is where PixelNAUTS’ description comes into its own, the game is all about helping Harrison hang on to his life in this perilous situation and dodging anything that crosses his path. Not only did we revel in this sense of helplessness, but it also helps to make the game stand out during the current onslaught of 2D indie games. Lost Orbit isn’t about destroying anything, it’s about avoiding everything.
In between the start and finish of a level, the player can collect a resource known as obtainium, and this capital feeds directly into the game’s upgrade system. Split into three different sections, the enhancements aid the player in a variety of ways and increase the chances of Harrison getting back home safely. Utility boosters help to optimise movement through a level, with upgrades including a barrel roll and a magnet that attracts obtainium to you. Defensive advancements are self-explanatory, and they add the ability to deploy a bomb to destroy an approaching asteroid, as well as reverse thrusters that stop you in your tracks. The final upgrade tree focuses around the boost of the jetpack, and allows you to increase your fuel capacity, the recharge rate and the speed of your booster. Furthermore, the game gives the player the ability to re-spec Harrison if they think they’ve invested points into the wrong upgrade. While this upgrade tree is on the light side, we weren’t expecting it to be included in the game, and thus it served as a pleasant surprise that helps Harrison improve along with the player.
At the end of each level, Lost Orbit will rank your performance, awarding you a bronze, silver, gold or platinum award based on three factors. Such considerations are the time it took you to complete the level, the amount of obtainium you collected and the amount of times the player died. We rarely got anything above a silver in our playthrough, so it is clear that there is room for improvement in our ability, as well as giving players something to return for should they want to better their overall rank. We completed the game’s forty-two levels in just over two hours, and with a time trial unlocked for every mission upon its completion, we had more than enough content to keep us occupied past the game’s ending.
Accompanying the satisfying gameplay is the game’s appealing art style. Despite being set in the depths of space, Lost Orbit still manages to be colourful and vibrant, which creates a dazzling game to look at. Along with this is the game’s glorious soundtrack that changes itself to fit the tone of a level. In the early goings on of the game Harrison moves slowly and the soundtrack adapts itself to fit this tone by combining relaxing and quiet music with the slow traversal of the environment. Further into the game it picks up the pace and so does the music, so as the player zips and flies through the level, so does the soundtrack. The visuals and soundtrack come together to create a package that is both attractive and great to listen to.
When we first launched Lost Orbit, we didn’t expect to be treated to such a mesmerising experience. The game’s lack of attacking options forced us to think differently about our approach and in turn, made us fear every obstacle in our path. When the engrossing gameplay is combined with the beautiful visuals and satisfying soundtrack, you get a game that delivers in every single way. While we did suffer from some problems with the controls in the first few levels and the upgrade tree is on the short side, these problems aren’t enough to take away from the fantastic experience of playing Lost Orbit.