Even just loading Lonely Sun leaves you with a good feeling. It’s just so pretty. The gentle JJ Abrams style solar flare, the geometric yet beautiful objects and the use of tone to give a feeling of texture and depth.
Lonely Sun is set in the cold lonely depths of space where solar systems exist without the warm fuzzy glow (or gaseous burning fire) of their very own sun. The object of the game is to guide the sun to the solar system by completing five very individually crafted levels with each level representing a planet.
As the player, you have to manipulate each levels own gravitational physics in order to collect what you need to complete the solar system. Each level has different visuals, sounds and physics. Care has clearly been taken to make this an absolute feast for the senses. The levels are carefully built to be challenging yet achievable with practice (and my usual doses of swearing). As the player, you have to experiment with the mechanics of each level. It’s not going to be the same for each round you play and this makes the experience consistently interesting.
It isn’t plain sailing though. Designed as a metaphor for life, the developers do not include checkpoints as “life doesn’t have them”. Instead the player is supposed to learn, develop, respond, improve and persevere. Although this is a pleasant sentiment, there wasn’t much allowance for a range of ability by doing this (we all know my own very limited skills) so I would have preferred to see a more tapered difficulty in that the easiest levels where you could have some checkpoint provision and later the normal and harder difficulties have them removed. I think my engagement with the game would have been sustained longer if I felt I were achieving a little more rather than just repeating myself over and over.
In fairness, as we have found in other reviews of mine, my playing ability is somewhat *ahem* limited. Yes, I’m having Skelattack flashbacks. Therefore, that really is a limited part of the judgement here. What about the other features that you can find in Lonely Sun?
Each level takes place on one of the planets. You have to collect 5 cores in total to complete the solar system and no two planets are the same. Each one has a name (which were designed with the elements in mind), its own visual and audio style as well as its set of challenges. Every planet has a different range of dangerous objects that would end your progress and return you to the beginning. These are sometimes static and sometimes moving objects – some are obvious and others you have to learn are dangerous. You learn the hard way and have to begin again, remembering what you learnt from the last time. You also have awkward things like terrain and floating chunks of debris in the way just to spice things up. You therefore may have a really good run going and then splatter yourself in to a thousand pieces because you ricochet off of a rock the wrong way. And then you start again. Again.
I would have preferred to have gone back to the last piece of core I had picked up and continued. It really makes one rage quit on a whole different scale. Its like playing a really good looking game on a retro console before the existence of memory cards. Very frustrating but with that old-fashioned arcade compulsion to keep trying to just get a little bit further. One of the developers warned me not to break my phone while playing and to expect to swear profusely so the level of challenge is clearly anticipated:
“Lonely Sun is not a game for everybody – it’s difficulty reflects the core idea – you need patience and never give up. Is that putting a lot of people off? Sure. We were not looking for a massive/wide audience. Lonely Sun is almost an experiment, which seems to be quite well received so far. It’s just the first step.”
The audio on the game is recommended through headphones which is quite right. It is immersive and individual for the challenges of each planet. I particularly enjoyed the lightening effects and sounds in the Amtheo level which kept distracting me from all the sharp pointy killing things I would subsequently crash in to (not that I’m bitter).
The controls are very simple swipe gestures using one finger, however its a fiddly one being designed for the iPhone. Those of the rotund finger persuasion may have trouble at first getting used to how small everything is. I was surprised at how quickly I adapted though and soon found I could control speed, trajectory and direction in a variety of ways by tweaking the way I swiped.
The mechanics and physics built in this game are exquisite. Every swipe has a plethora of outcomes and I can only imagine how complex it is to design each of these outcomes. The design aesthetically is also beautiful and even when you do destroy yourself on a shard of ice, it looks really very nice. That and other little carefully thought out features such as weather effects, movement of objects on different surface angles and the use of colour just show how much thought and passion has been put in to the visual design of Lonely Sun. When I asked one of the developers, Nik, about the design he said:
“The concept/idea behind Lonely Sun is quite deep and complicated in my opinion. So, I wanted the visual style to be the opposite – easily digestible/easy to absorb. Also, I’ve always been interested in creating low poly art and Lonely Sun seems like the perfect project to experiment with low poly.”
Although it’s not a multiplayer, you get the smart arse who thinks that they can do better and actually then won’t give you back your phone (I’m looking at you Retro Husband). It does, in this respect, take you back to the days of arcades or single player retro games where each of you think you can outdo the other. At least these days, once you’ve paid for the game, you don’t have to keep putting coins in at the arcade for credit to scream profanities! A great effort by the team and I very much look forward to their future physics-bending scream-fests currently in development.