Adventure

Review of Petit Orphée: an adventure that dazzles the eyes

Review of Petit Orphée: an adventure that dazzles the eyes

Up there is Ivan Ivanovitch. He is somewhere between Walter Mitty and Scheherazade. A man who invents successive tales of fantasy in order to stay his probable execution by an impatient general who interrogates him in a darkened room. Ivan is the little guy in every way, small in stature, an underdog bent on forces beyond his control. As the sympathetic hero of Little Orpheus, a dynamic modernization of the cinematic platformer, he establishes a rapport with the general who carries the game as best he can through eight beautiful but ultimately formulaic levels. It’s a light game, unchallenging by design, and to me, sleepy.

The premise is sweet. Ivan is a Soviet cosmonaut who has been given the mission to bring a rocket drill equipped with a nuclear reactor underground. He was gone for three years and came back to the surface, minus one important thing: the nuclear weapon. Whoops. Forced to explain where he’s been all this time, you play through his account of events. These are immediately wacky tales in which he is chased by dinosaurs and discovers lost underground cities. You hear the continuous dialogue between the skeptical general and the colored fiber as you navigate the side-scrolling levels. Sometimes when the general yells at you, that instability seeps into the fantasy. The ice floe cracks under your feet, for example. When the General’s patience runs out, he warns you that time is running out and an entire level takes the form of a clock tower.

It’s a direct symbolism of story time, but it works quite well. And that gives environmental artists a chance to prove themselves. This is a beautiful underground dream world, almost every few steps results in a screen with perfect composition. Distant gates shine in a dark temple, auroras shine over frozen wrecks, crimson sands blow over forgotten palaces. The third level sees you in the belly of a whale (as classic as Big Fish stories get) and the animal’s innards are so meaty your footsteps sink into the floor of the organ like a cushion slimy, while horrible parasitic worms spit as you pass them. Another level begins in the desert, and as Ivan recounts the seven long weeks of crossing the sands, the whole scene is engulfed in the timelapse, with the golden sand turning purple at dusk. It’s a dazzling little thing.


And you’ll be looking at it a lot, as there isn’t much else to level navigation unfortunately. Alright, that’s not fair. There are classic platforming obstacles and a few stealth moments. But this is all very basic and non-taxing. Getting from place to place is never harder than a timed dart between patrolling monsters, or a simple “move the box here” micro-puzzle. Platforming is a mix of rope swinging, crumbling surfaces, quick dodging, and liberal chase sequences that see you leaping over rock or sliding under pipes as you’re chased by the beasts of the earth. imagination of Ivan. A few levels spruce things up with a low gravity effect, but other than that the same handful of tasks are repeated in each level with very little variation.

It’s thematically appropriate, at least. Ivan participates in the kind of narrative scam seen in books like Invisible Cities, where Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan about all the places he’s been. But just as the Khan realizes that every city Polo mentions is actually Venice, the Little Orpheus player realizes that beyond the changes in stunning architecture and stunning skylines, each new level is remarkably similar to the previous one. . The landscape you see in Little Orpheus may change wonderfully with each episode, but what you do is always the same.


I could put on my monocle and say it’s actually pretty smart. We are trained by the game the same way the general is trained by Ivan. But as soon as I take off my monocle, I have to admit it allows for shallow traversal, with most of your contributions being relegated to holding a single thumbstick to travel right. Like the Soviet General listening to Ivan’s colorful Munchausing, you’re really up for the ride. There are no side avenues with extra dialogue snippets, no secret treasures, no bonus views. A collectibles mode unlocks every few levels, which sprinkles trinkets throughout previously visited episodes. But these shiny things are just added along the usual path, because there are no secret places to hide them. It’s not enough to warrant another visit, unless you’re determined to unlock all of the game’s (admittedly cool) concept art.

In other words, the cinematic:platform ratio leans far towards popcorn. It took the seeds of classic cine-flats like Prince of Persia and blossomed them into a beautiful bouquet of rides, minus the frustratingly unreadable obstacles that turn the completion of an otherwise short adventure into a long gauntlet of trials and errors (hello, Another World). I think it’s perfectly justified to remove those harsh, opaque moments from those older games. But it also does not compensate with any other challenge or task. Other modern cinematic platformers like Inside or Little Nightmares use tricks and traps to slap players with unpredictable deaths, followed by a forgiving, smiley reboot. This is the creator saying, “Haha got you, but just kidding, please carry on.” In Little Orpheus, you rarely die at all. It’s a commitment to the cakewalk that keeps the tone cohesive and light, but also strips Ivan’s story of tension and keeps things as low as possible.


There’s still a lot to like about it. The sound design in particular is ship-shaped. The music rises and falls to match the tone of the story being told off-screen through the back-and-forth of Ivan and the General. Trumpets sound at skids and taut strings chirp during stressful chase sequences (or chases that would be stressful if they weren’t so easy). An early sequence sees you donning an eggshell to sneak past a T-Rex and every step you take is punctuated with cartoon kicks. There’s also plenty of good-natured comedy. It seems designed as a game you can play with your 6-year-old at the end of the night, episode by episode. You will laugh at the gags of the Soviet Union. Your child will laugh at the walrus launched very high by a rocking ice floe.

It’s a very short adventure, lasting three or four hours. Precisely the right call for a story like this. It’s also cleverly written (or maybe I guess it’s from the dozen or so references to Russian history and culture that have crossed my mind…) I just wish the sleepy design of the game is as enthusiastic with his verbs as Ivan is with his adjectives. For parents, or perhaps anyone exhausted at the end of the day, or anyone looking for the cinematic beauty of Another World without the accompanying gnashing of teeth, this big story about a little terranaut might work. like a relaxing game before bed (psst, it was also released on Nintendo Switch, but you didn’t hear it from me). But for someone who likes its platformers with more oomph, with trials of dexterity or torturous puzzles, then its simple story might make you feel a little sleepy for entirely different reasons.