A heartwarming tale of a boy, his robot, and the vastness of space.
Every month or so, I’ll scroll through the eShop looking for space games. I’ll see a cool spacey sounding title only to find yet another 16-bit, throwback, vertical shooter waiting for me. I generally click away from vertical shoot-em-ups rather quickly as it has never been my genre. I almost did this with Lost Orbit, but as the trailer started playing I had to do a double take. Lost Orbit takes the actual flight elements of a vertical shooter and infuses them with some endless runner DNA. What results is a simple, yet challenging game about rocketing through space trying not to run into stuff.
Lost Orbit opens with a nicely animated cutscene of our hero being stranded in deep space after an accident. The whole event is viewed by a mysterious robot who also narrates your journey. The player character never speaks, and his dialogue is only ever relayed by the robot. The story, while regularly humorous, manages to be remarkably compelling given the simplicity of the gameplay. It struck a tone similar to the Pikmin franchise and I quickly became captivated. The music also stands as an unexpected highlight, with a nice mix of ambient and more dramatic tunes.
Gameplay is straightforward. At the start you’re able to navigate in any direction and boost. As you progress through a level, you’ll pick up chunks of obtainium (an obvious play on the worst named McGuffin in all of sci-fi history). At the end of each level, you’re graded on time, completion, and deaths. While you can turn around and grab any obtainium you missed, it may affect your time score. The higher you score in each category, the more bonus obtainium you’ll receive. Obtainium can be redeemed at any time for upgrades that enhance or add to your abilities. Upgrades can allow you to increase the efficiency of your boost, slow down, or even drop a bomb to clear some obstacles. One early upgrade even allows you to barrel roll, complete with flavor text referencing that old Papetoonian proverb, “Do a barrel roll.”
Groups of levels are divided up into systems that you’ll pass through on your long journey home. Each of these systems introduces a couple new mechanics: Planetoids can be orbited to recharge your boost meter, or skimmed off of for a quick burst of speed; bubbles will halt your movement, but allow you to exit in any direction; ramps catapult you over obstacles. Every single mechanic that Lost Orbit introduces brings with it a great balance of risk and reward. The quick, high-score-based gameplay is perfect for portable play on the Switch with one unfortunate exception. Loading times, both into levels and back to the menu, can take a little longer than they seem like they should for such a simple game. They’re not bad by any means, but they’re long enough to keep Lost Orbit from being a quick hop-in, hop-out game. One of these loading screens even left me stuck on a black screen at one point, but to be fair, I’ve been unable to recreate the error since.
Lost Orbit takes a simple premise and builds it into something that is more than the sum of its parts. Load times aside, it is a fantastic portable experience on Switch. Solid, ever-evolving gameplay and great presentation make this an easy pick up for anyone who likes high score games.