Little Orpheus review for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation, Xbox

Platform: Switch
Also on: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Publisher: Secret Mode
Developer: The Chinese Room
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

As the creators of Everybody?s Gone To The Rapture and Dear Esther, The Chinese Room are one of the few developers who could convincingly argue that they helped create an entire genre. There were certainly better walking simulators ? albeit not very many ? but it?s not an understatement to call The Chinese Room?s first two games genre-defining.

Now they?re back with Little Orpheus, and it turns out it?s a lot harder to be genre-defining when your genre ? in this case, puzzle-platformer ? is already pretty well-defined.

Obviously, expecting Little Orpheus to drastically change what you?d expect from puzzle-platformers would be a bit much. The genre is far too well-established for that. But what?s striking is how it doesn?t even make an effort to be interesting, gameplay-wise. Most levels feature little more than walking left to right across the screen, with the occasionally extremely easy puzzle, or a chase sequence where you have to stay one step ahead of your pursuer. I wouldn?t go so far as to say it?s a bad game, but I would say that if you were judging it solely on how it plays, you?d be justified in calling it painfully boring.

Of course, this being The Chinese Room, the game has a couple of saving graces. First and foremost, it?s gorgeous. The game has occasionally described itself as ?technicolour?, and its bright, somewhat gaudy colours really do echo the earliest colourized movies. Everything pops off the screen, so even when the gameplay is dull, you can still enjoy what?s going on in the background.

Similarly, as you?d expect from developers who made their name with narrative storytelling, Little Orpheus is built around a pretty fun story. Set in the mid-?60s, the game is the tale of a Soviet cosmonaut, Comrade Ivan Ivanovich, explaining to his superior how he lost an atomic bomb on his journey to the centre of the Earth. It?s an absurd tale featuring dinosaurs, monsters, and lost civilizations, and the voiceovers of the two characters are enough to make it enjoyable.

In other words, Little Orpheus? two strong points are the same as the strong points from The Chinese Room?s other two games. The thing is, here they?ve added a third element ? platforming ? that?s not nearly as compelling, and it?s enough to make the game a far cry from their previous standard.

Secret Mode provided us with a Little Orpheus Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: B-