Space is a dangerous place, full of perils of the unknown. It’s no surprise we’ve crafted countless movies and games based on all of these hazards too. From the far stretching Alien movies, to the more semi-plausible movie Gravity, and games ranging from fictional eccentricities like Dead Space and Tacoma. I’ve recently had the chance to play Lost Orbit: Terminal Velocity on the Nintendo Switch, and discovered a blended game of narrative, speed stages, and puzzler all in one intriguing package.
Whenever we do get around to colonizing space and otherworldly places, there will most certainly still be a wide variety of jobs to be had, and it should never be discounted that we’ll need maintenance workers. In Lost Orbit, you are such a worker named Harrison. While out and about on a solo routine repair job a meteor strikes your tethered ship, blowing it to pieces and suddenly leaving you stranded in the middle of space. Never fear though, your basic survival instincts kick in as you fire up your jetpack thrusters, which incredibly have ‘nearly’ limitless fuel, and you begin your journey back!
As you begin your journey home, gameplay unveils itself as a blend of a top-down ‘SHMUP’ without any actual offensive abilities or guns, a puzzle navigational game, and a speed stage styled game. What does this all mean? Well let’s break down the elements a bit further.
You’ll view Harrison, your spacefaring person from top-down and he’ll be positioned normally around lower to mid-screen. Controls are in the form of left and right navigation/steering, and you’ll gain some abilities later that can allow you to barrel roll, boost and space-brake in a pinch. In this form the game follows the camera and features some functionality like a space shoot’em up game might. However your goal isn’t to shoot things with blasters or anything like that, but simply to dodge every obstacle on your quest to get home. You’ll slowly get there by completing stages and finding your way to the next jump gate.
Each stage rates you on a few factors; can you complete the stage mostly unscathed? This means not crashing into anything or anything crashing into you. It also rates you on how fast you can complete the stage. This is where Lost Orbit has some interesting pacing for players. When I first started the game, and through many early levels honestly, I played out the game almost as a Sunday ‘float’ around space. I wasn’t pushing my thrusters and I carefully navigated around the levels obstacles as they came into view. This however rated me pretty poorly and as it turned out, was the least fun way to play…sort of. The game actually wants you to push your limits, and go as fast as you can through a level, and many of the permanent upgrades that can be constructed later on by collecting Obtainium Shards aid in this speedy adventure. The game does a good job balancing these speed limits early on and it never felt inappropriately balanced as I increased the capabilities of really flying through a level.
When I mentioned the game also feels like a puzzler, that’s because each level has a set path through it, with diverging splits and stuff, but there’s often times many obstacles, or timed obstacles that must be overcome to win. One of the game’s more interesting mechanics also is that your screen edges wrap around to each other, meaning if you fly off the left section of your screen, you’ll appear over on your right. This mechanic is reinforced to the player with many levels created to utilize this, and while early on it’s a bit disorienting, it becomes an acquired skill after a bit of playtime.
It’s these mechanics that envelope themselves to create your core game experience. The game isn’t too terribly challenging, but there are certainly plenty of levels where I found myself respawning several times. In each stage you’ll have checkpoint gates and crossing them means that if you perish further past, you’ll respawn back at your last gate. And with the mostly subjective pacing you can take, the game never pushed me to a hard breaking point of not being able to progress, which is always a huge welcome. There are a couple of other modes the game tosses in, such as “Challenge” and “Time Trials”, but both of these just rehash the story with more prominently stated goals for a more challenging experience.
Now it would be fine to say that’s where the game wraps up on a level-based progression and call it a day, however Lost Orbit goes an entire leap extra and crafts a pretty clever and humorous story with dialog around the whole journey as well. The game is narrated by a sentient robot ship of sorts also flying around by itself that has just so happened upon you during your demise It effectively decides to tail you, observing off-screen things that have happened (like you attempting to eat some of that shiny Obtainium at once point apparently), as well as narrating the visible journey the player is engaged with as well. Without spoiling much, you’ll eventually meet up with it and a sort of bond will form as the story evolves.
It’s this crafted story adventure that fully brings this game to life in a meaningful way. Had it not existed, I would have played a handful of stages, and felt the repetition set in, which it still can to an extent, and then left the game. This storyline, and the nicely voiced dialog are what kept me around to see how this poor space man’s journey unfolds.
Lost Orbit: Terminal Velocity Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 6.5/106.5/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 6/106/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
Lost Orbit: Terminal Velocity is a clever narrative journey of a space repairman stuck in a predicament and he just wants to find his way home. Gameplay feels familiar to other genres, while finding its own unique mechanics to create a pretty enjoyable experience. It’s not a particularly deep game, but the voiced story is what keeps players engaged more so than the core gameplay.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.