Orphan is a side-scroller sci-fi platformer developed by Windy Hill Studio stationed out in eastern Tennessee. It began as a kickstarter back in January of 2015. After three years, this fledgling studio’s debut game is finally seeing the light of day.
The game is about a young boy who is the last survivor on earth after an alien invasion. He survives the invasion by hiding in shadows, tall grass, and even water. He stumbles across different items and weapons, making him armed to the teeth to take the fight to the aliens. With some very cool twists in the story, this game is a short 8-hours bang with interestingly simple bosses spread throughout.
The story is short and concise. It’s easy to follow, once you catch on to neat narrative techniques disguised as flashbacks issued to you by a giant face who said it rescued you. With very little voice-acting, the player can infer the complete story through environmental queues and intermittent flashbacks and exposition.
The story is decent. Though not something to write home about, once I caught on to what was going on and picked up on the story, it did make me smile and go “Awwwhhhhh yeah!” As someone who loves games for their stories and narratives, I can’t say I was disappointed in it, but I wasn’t overjoyed with the story either. While it did make me sit back in my chair, arms crossed, with a smile across my face, audibly saying, “That was nice,” I do not find myself saying “Man, I really want to see Orphan‘s story again” anytime soon. It was a good story, but for a weekend.
I know most people are more concerned with gameplay than narrative because it is arguable that if a game’s gameplay isn’t up to par, it runs the risk of having a lot of people bounce off of it. This game edges close to that. Now, I know the studio is small, and this is their first game, but honesty is what pushes people to perfection.
The games controls fine, but the robotic, mechanical and slow animations really hold up the momentum of a platformer game like this. The animation, in particular, is reminiscent of old Flash Engine games we would see on Newgrounds.com; slow and dated. Dodging, jumping, climbing, and sitting down to drink your water canteen for health restoration had me quite literally tapping my foot, as the animations floated in their very inorganic fashion.
In order to save, you set up a tent and rest at the fire. You get full health only if you have a fish on a spit, but you have to catch a fish to do so with a fishing rod you find. After moving past the area you find the rod at, there are few spots that actually have fish to use the rod in, making the fishing mechanic feel very tacked on and pointless. Now, you can always go back to the watering holes you find, but there isn’t much to the world that would compel you to want to explore and re-visit areas you’ve already been to. Even then, the world design doesn’t feel fun to traverse, and I found myself oftentimes just wanting to be done with an area.
The weapons-wielding in this game actually feels pretty good. Like many platformers with a shooting mechanic, you can move and shoot as well as point up and down while moving, but if you want the full range of aiming, you lock yourself in a spot with Left Trigger (if you’re using a controller) and aim around. Lobbing grenades and thrown items also feels good. On top of that, shooting and killing enemies feels so satisfying.
Although I gave the animation some grief, I would attribute the inorganic and rudimentary animation to how fitting the mannerisms of the enemies are; the animation felt very appropriate for the baddies because they are, after all, robotic.
What I really, really like about the gameplay is how it does not hold your hand at all, unlike many games of today. The puzzles (though few and far between) had simple answers but were just abstract enough for me to scratch my head for a minute or two. There was one puzzle, in particular, that led me to believe that the game was actually bugged. After going over and over the area and the problem, I had the moment that I seek in every game; the “EUREKA!” moment! Obviously, I’m not going to spoil anything, but the answer was very clever and made me smile like a dork.
Visuals and Sounds
The visuals in this game can be boiled down to two words: beautifully monochromatic. Simply black and white and shade between, the game is comprised of mostly silhouetted shadows, akin to Limbo, with hints of color.
Where the graphics truly shine are the weapon discharges. This particular bright spot in the visuals is accented by the ability to turn up the lens flare, one of the few options in the graphics settings. Each weapon has its own unique effects and visuals that make them stand out on their own and feel unique. One weapon, in particular, the impulse cannon, has one of the coolest effects I've seen in games with this kind of visual scheme; a glaring white light that streaks across the room.
The landscape and lighting of the world really made the game feel like the post-apocalyptic rural hills it takes place in. Furthermore, with its simple visual scheme, it certainly made it feel cold and isolated. I got lost in the visuals and artwork and, while it may seem corny, I felt cold playing it; emotionally and physically.
The sounds are pretty good, as they fit the rest of the game’s personality; simple. The weapon sounds are bright against the dark ambiance music and noises. The enemy sound effects are unique to each type, giving you warning of what lurks off-screen. The single voice in this game, the voice of the aforementioned Face, is incredibly creepy and fitting of this pessimistic world as well.
The soundtrack is dirge-like, somber, quiet, and sad. You are, after all, on a destroyed planet with billions of people dead. This music leads more to the cold atmosphere, fully immersing you into the world. The controls may not have done that for me, but the music and art made me fall into the icy pool of cold and lonely Earth.
The game is a pleasant and simple experience with an easy to follow story with less-than-pleasant running-around and controlling but is redeemed by beautifully dark art that resonates with the story, music, and world. It is a game you would thoroughly enjoy playing over the weekend; a short and sweet dessert that you can enjoy once without rotting your teeth because it does not overstay its welcome.
What I liked:
- The monochromatic visuals
- Bright whites with lens-flare of weapons against the dark background
- Ambiance brought forth by the enemy design, art, and sounds plunge me into the icy lake of a dead world
- Impactful destruction of enemies
- Simple and fun bosses that I wouldn’t mind playing just for them
- Simple and fun story with puzzles containing just the right amount of challenge for a short game
- Doesn’t overstay its welcome
- The ending did make me smile and sigh.
What I don’t like:
- The controlling of the character feels sluggish for a platformer
- The story could be a little more complex
- The animations feel outdated and rudimentary
- The animations feel too slow and have me tapping my foot while waiting for the simplest of actions
- The level design didn’t invoke the urge in me to explore the world and revisit areas
Overall, I give this game a solid:
If you want a good 8-hour fireworks show with white flashes against a black sky to enjoy over the weekend with an enjoyable and straightforward story, I urge you to check out Windy Hill Studio’s debut game. Orphan will be hitting Steam tomorrow, October 31.