Review – Little Orpheus (Switch)

Science fiction has led to some of the most popular films, television shows, and video games of all time. Come on, who hasn’t gazed at the stars and wondered what’s out there at some point in their life? Who hasn’t pondered what might be waiting to be discovered on other planets? It’s the question of the unknown that’s so intriguing for many of us, inspiring our minds to wander. Well, what if we didn’t have to look beyond the stars to find alien worlds? What if there was a whole host of unknown environments and lifeforms far beneath the Earth’s crust? That’s exactly what developer The Chinese Room had in mind when they presented us with Little Orpheus.

Little Orpheus Ivan and Laika

Meet Ivan Ivanovich. Cosmonaut, hero, bumbling idiot.

As will be obvious to many, Little Orpheus clearly takes its inspiration from Jules Verne’s classic novel Journey to the Center of the Earth. Taking place in the year 1962, during the height of the Cold War and the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States, the Soviets decide to undertake a secret mission- one that doesn’t involve sending a man to the moon. Instead, they decide to send cosmonaut Ivan Ivanovich to the center of the Earth. They lose all contact with him and believe the mission to be a failure. That is until Ivan reemerges three years later, albeit without his exploration capsule, the titular Little Orpheus, as well as the atomic bomb used to power it. It’s not all bad news though, as Ivan boasts that he has saved the world while lost those three years. Three cheers for Ivan!

Little Orpheus Exploration Capsule

Great! I’ve found the exploration capsule. Now’s where’s that pesky atomic bomb?

Unfortunately, Ivan is not met with gratitude, but rather intense suspicion and scrutiny. He is taken to a top secret bunker where he is interrogated by the intimidating General Yurkovoi. Little Orpheus is an episodic adventure, with each chapter focusing on a different part of Ivan’s journey. In between chapters, the game snaps back to the present, where the relentless General Yurkovoi voices his disbelief with Ivan’s claims. Not to be deterred, Ivan sticks to his story, continuing to recount the events of his expedition with fervor. Their constant bickering back and forth throughout the game is pretty hilarious.

Little Orpheus Dinosaur

Undeniably a better dinosaur adventure than Jurassic World: Dominion.

Little Orpheus is a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer, with some occasional stealth sections. It reminded me of Planet Alpha, only much less challenging. Honestly, that’s what’s going to turn some people off. Little Orpheus has little to no challenge throughout the game. However, that’s not to say there’s no enjoyment to be found here. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The crux of the matter is understanding exactly what type of game Little Orpheus is, rather that what one might think from the trailer. This is very much a casual game that even kids can play and enjoy. Mine certainly did. It’s all about the journey, rather than overcoming tough obstacles. It provides a similar experience as The Artful Escape, where the majority of what you’ll do is push right and jump while the story unfolds around you. If you go in knowing that’s the type of game it is, then you won’t be disappointed. The story and settings are more than enough to make up for the lack of difficulty.

Glowing Ball Puzzle

Stealth sections revolve around staying out of an enemy’s line of sight. Thankfully, it seems every enemy is deaf, seeing as how rolling a giant glowing rock down stone pathways attracts no attention.

The visuals in Little Orpheus are a bit of a mixed bag. The graphics aren’t always the most polished or well-textured, but the somewhat cartoonish art design helps to mask these issues a bit. There’s also a slightly bizarre stylistic choice, where sometimes the edges of the screen become blurry and look like the colors are separating into overlaying images, almost like what you’d see in a 3D film if you weren’t wearing the 3D glasses. However, these issues are minor and don’t really detract from the experience.

To give credit where credit is due, much of what you’ll see in Little Orpheus is beautiful. Every level is vastly different from one another, with each location changing drastically with each chapter. Ivan will travel through prehistoric jungles, ancient civilizations, frozen tundras, and even inside a monstrous whale. Each level has its own specific theme, location, and color palette, with no two being the same. There are also several impressive set pieces throughout the game, with at least one per chapter. There’s also a wide variety of enemies and some truly unique bosses.

Little Orpheus Parasitic Worm

I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten these after eating a gas station hot dog.

The sound design is wonderful in just about every aspect. The soundtrack is fantastic, thanks to composers Jessica Curry and Jim Fowler, being appropriately atmospheric and grandiose when needed. The main theme will stick with you for a while after playing. The voice acting is top-notch, with the actors delivering intentionally over-the-top performances. As I’ve already mentioned, listening to the banter back and forth between Ivan and the General is hilarious.

Even though it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I still highly recommend Little Orpheus. If you go in knowing it’s a laid-back adventure that’s more focused on its story than on providing a challenge, then you won’t be disappointed. Especially if you’re looking for a fun, silly, casual experience to enjoy over a few hours. Much how Lost in Play feels like playing a Saturday morning cartoon, Little Orpheus feels like a playable old school adventure film, like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. So buckle yourselves in and prepare to discover the secrets within the center of the Earth!

Graphics: 7.5

The graphics aren’t always the most polished, but the cartoony design helps mask it a bit. Some of the bosses and set pieces are pretty impressive though.

Gameplay: 8.0

A casual 2.5 side-scrolling platformer. There’s hardly any challenge, but the game is more about the journey than the difficulty.

Sound: 9.0

The vocal performances are hilariously over-the-top, as intended. The soundtrack is appropriately epic as well.

Fun Factor: 8.5

Despite not having much in the way of challenge, the experience is absolutely delightful. Discovering beautiful and bizarre new environments located within our Earth’s center is a joyfully engaging.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Little Orpheus is available now on Apple Arcade, iOS, PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of Little Orpheus was provided by the publisher.