In 1965 a dazed and confused cosmonaut stumbles into town after a three-year absence. Little Orpheus is all about Comrade Ivan Ivanovich's last three years, the journies that he has been on, and the fate of the titular atomic weapon, which he was responsible for.
Little Orpheus, as with many of the creations of developer The Chinese Room, features subversive design elements. Rather than attempting to subvert the corridor shooter (as per Dear Esther) or subvert the structure of a story (Everybody has Gone To The Rapture) Little Orpheus instead moves to subvert the idea of stories within games. In short, it is a wonderful story based around ridiculous adventures, and, in that way, it fits perfectly with many other ridiculous platforming games, with their mushroom worlds and casino cities.
But, Little Orpheus is something else. It's instantly got far more setting and story development than it feels like it might actually need and, well, it's about the journies that have already happened - or at least that Ivanovich already says have happened. It these ways it feels incredibly similar to pulp adventure movies - films like Indiana Jones, Doc Savage and Baron Munchausen - larger than life action movies where a hero keeps pushing past the, frankly ridiculous, odds in order to save the day.
For Ivanovich this journey to the centre of the planet tugs on every element of his memory and imagination; giant dinosaurs, a journey through the belly of a whale, adventures through ancient ruins and more. He has an answer for almost everything, forging rationales like a fabulist or Keyser Soze of sorts.
There's a reason why I've made no less than four cinema references in the space of the last three-hundred words, and that's because Little Orpheus is nothing if not a cinematic platformer; in both definitions of that combination. It has the combination of slower, realistic movement with high-intensity, reflex driven moments that made the genre famous, but it also literally has heavy cinematic elements beyond visuals.
As a matter of fact, the audio work - both narrative and soundtrack-wise - is the most stand-out feature of the game. It's what makes it better than sub-genre contemporaries like Stela and Little Nightmares. The ridiculous narrator is inherently human, and he's a character that you want to believe. That's due both to the fantastic writing and the excellent voice work. Ivanovich's journey might be ridiculous, and his developing rapport with his interviewer might become increasingly more like a comedy sketch, but they are filled with hope. The soundtrack is, perhaps obviously, absolutely fantastic; Jessica Curry has never failed to impress me with her scores, and the quirky Pulp meets Cold-War setting of Little Orpheus was perfectly realised with her compositions.
The writing, and the audio work, of Little Orpheus is flawless, however, the same faults which we regularly see crop-up within the cinematic platformer space continue to rear their head here. Checkpointing at some of the more reflex-dependent sections is unforgiving, especially when the timing for jumps are not completely apparent. On these parts, frustratingly, the audio triggers still fire as well, meaning that if you're not paying full attention, or miss a jump more than a few times, then you have to hear the same line multiple times. QA testing can normally flag the tougher parts of a game, and either recording new lines, or stopping the lines from firing after a checkpoint restart, could have alleviated the repetition.
And repetition is really the main negative in the game. In the first episode we not only have the fantastic buzz that comes with a new experience, but there's also definitely a little extra excitement around the compelling story. The first episode starts very strong, and the next that follow also do a good job of making the world feel like it is expanding. But, aside from the box/object manipulation puzzles which are introduced early on in the game, there's no new puzzle mechanics introduced as we progress. There are small moments where it experiments with altered jumps, but it never matures into a challenge, just something to make the episode feel different than others. How you control, and what you do, in each level never truly evolves.
All of that said, if you are looking for a compelling story with a slightly goofy narrator, an experience with exceptional otherworldly environments, or an amazing soundtrack, then you don't need to look any further than Little Orpheus.
Little Orpheus is currently exclusive to Apple Arcade.Searching for some high-quality platformers? Here are 25 of the very best for iPhone & iPad