Originally released as an Apple Arcade exclusive back in 2020, Little Orpheus is making its PC and console debut tomorrow. As I am not an Apple user I never gave much thought to Little Orpheus when it first came out. On the surface it seemed like the type of game that I would really enjoy though as it was a sidescrolling platformer with an interesting premise. Little Orpheus is a compelling adventure through fantastical worlds whose story surpasses the actual gameplay.
Update (3/1/2022): Little Orpheus was originally supposed to be released today. Due to recent events and elements of the story/premise, the console release has been delayed indefinitely. Check out the publisher’s full comment on the situation here.
Little Orpheus takes place in 1962. In the midst of the Space Race the Soviets launched a secret mission to reach the center of the Earth. Ivan Ivanovich is sent on the mission in his exploration capsule Little Orpheus, but he immediately vanishes. Three years later he reappears claiming to have saved the world. As Little Orpheus had an atomic bomb on board, the Soviets are naturally concerned about Ivan’s disappearance. General Yurkovoi is sent to debrief Ivan about what happened in those three years that he was missing. Little Orpheus tells the fantastical story Ivan uses to explain what happened to him over those three years.
The gameplay of Little Orpheus is best described as a sidescrolling platformer. The basic objective of the game is to move from the left to ride side of the screen. Standing in your way are various gaps that you have to jump over and objects that you have to interact with in order to open up a path forward. While I would say that a majority of the game is based around platforming, there is some light puzzle solving as well from time to time. Additionally there are some stealth situations where you have to avoid enemies vision as well as a number of chase sequences where you have to move quickly so you aren’t caught by a threat that is chasing you.
For the most part I would say that the gameplay of Little Orpheus is pretty basic. In a way this makes since as the game debuted as an Apple Arcade game and thus needed to be able to be played on a phone. The game only uses a couple buttons for movement, jumping and interacting with objects. Thus the gameplay had to be streamlined. Basically the gameplay boils down to keep moving right until you encounter an obstacle that you either have to jump over or interact with. If you have ever played a sidescrolling platformer before, you should already know what to expect from the game.
Because of this I will say that people are going to have varying opinions of the gameplay of Little Orpheus. I had fun playing the game, but I can see others having a different opinion. The gameplay is pretty basic and not particularly original. If just running right until you encounter something that you need to jump over or interact with doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t think Little Orpheus is going to be the game for you. While it is fun and I enjoyed playing it, the gameplay is probably one of the game’s biggest weaknesses. If you don’t really care for story/atmosphere as gameplay is the only thing that matters, I don’t think Little Orpheus is going to be for you.
Due to the simple gameplay, Little Orpheus is not a particularly difficult game. The puzzles are really obvious for anyone who has played any sort of puzzle game before. The platforming isn’t much more difficult. A lot of this is because the game is quite forgiving with the jumps. You usually will make a jump unless you jump too late or early. None of the jumps require precise timing. The chase sequences are pretty forgiving as well. I ended up dying a few times in the game. I would attribute a lot of them to trying to explore a path that wasn’t intended to be the path forward as well as a few times where I couldn’t tell what parts of the environment were the background/foreground and what was on the plane that Ivan was moving on. The difficulty isn’t so low that the game is boring, but if you are looking for a challenge you aren’t going to get it from Little Orpheus.
The gameplay is fun, but it might be disappointing for some. The good news is that the game’s greatest strength is its story and atmosphere.
If I were to describe the atmosphere of Little Orpheus I would say that it reminds me a lot of sci-fi stories such as the Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Land That Time Forgot, and a number of other stories involving humans exploring a world significantly different than our own. The game does a great job creating a interesting world to explore. In his journey Ivan traverses many different types of locales which are quite different and yet all still have that whimsical charm. If you are at all intrigued by the premise of exploring strange new worlds on a journey to the center of the Earth, you likely will love this aspect of the game.
Starting as a game mostly designed for phones I was a little curious how the game would hold up being ported to home consoles. I was honestly a little surprised as the visuals were better than I was expecting. The game has received some visual enhancements with the console releases. The game’s visuals aren’t the best I have ever seen, but for a game originally designed for phones it is visually impressive. I think the best part of the visuals are the various worlds that the game creates. The game does a really good job taking you on a journey through a number of different mysterious worlds.
As for the story I really enjoyed it. The game takes place in an alternative 1960s Soviet Union. How the game is structured around Ivan telling the General the story of what happened really drives the game and is kind of genius. The game really plays on the premise that you don’t know if the story that Ivan is telling is true or not. While the game gives a good indication towards the end, you can interpret the story either way. I love games that utilize a sort of narrator and this works really well for the game. The story is charming and whimsical as you explore interesting worlds.
I think what really drives the story is just the conversation between the two main characters. Ivan is a storyteller while the General is the type that just wants to get right to the facts. The two characters’ differences really drive the story. Outside of the main story that you are playing though, there are a number of little side stories that emerge due to Ivan regularly going off topic. The jokes don’t always work, but many of them do. The story is generally quite funny. A lot of this comes from just how quirky and weird the two characters and story are in general. The game’s humor likely won’t appeal to everyone, but I really enjoyed it.
With the game being more focused on the story than the gameplay, I wasn’t surprised that Little Orpheus was on the shorter side. The game is broken up into a number of chapters which play like episodes from a TV show. The original Apple Arcade version of the game had eight episodes while the console release adds an additional episode at the end of the story. The length of the episodes differ somewhat, but I would say that most of them take between 20-30 minutes. I would guess that most players will beat the game within 3.5-4.5 hours. The console release also adds the Lost Recordings mode which basically adds collectibles to each of the episodes that you can collect. These collectibles unlock artwork and other behind the scenes content from the game. These give you a reason to go back and play through the episodes, but it doesn’t really change the experience all that much. While Little Orpheus is a good game, it is on the shorter side.
While it was originally a mobile release, Little Orpheus has adapted well to its console release. The gameplay is on the basic side as you mostly just run right until you encounter a gap to jump over or an obstacle to interact with. The gameplay is straight to the point and is ultimately pretty easy. I found the gameplay to still be fun, but I wouldn’t say that it is the game’s strength. What really makes the game is its story and atmosphere. The atmosphere is really good as the game does a good job transporting you to mystical worlds. The game looks quite good as well for a game that was originally designed for phones. The game’s story is quite strong and is told in an interesting way which drives the rest of the game. It can be quite funny at times as well. Little Orpheus is an enjoyable adventure even though it is on the shorter side.
If gameplay is considerably more important to you than story or the premise doesn’t really interest you, I don’t see Little Orpheus being for you. Those interested in a compelling story set in interesting world though, should enjoy Little Orpheus and consider picking it up.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank The Chinese Room and Secret Mode for the review copy of Little Orpheus used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.