Played on: Mac, via itch.io
An unnerving experience makes this atmospheric ‘short’ fresh & fun
The first thing that struck me about Lunar Station is the graphical style: the crisp, pixelly, black & white aesthetic took me straight back to Gato Roboto, and it’s a style that’s been used successfully in a range of indie titles from Minit to Downwell.
The gameplay reminds me more of a couple of titles. Some screens (about half) pit the player against a timer, in the form of an encroaching darkness that moves left to right. In all screens, the player is tasked with finding a path from left to right, usually by pushing & pulling boxes around, and activating switches to open doors. This ‘pathfinding under pressure’ triggers memories of Slime-san, and the box-moving mechanic is certainly nothing new (I’m playing Super Box Land Demake right now, which is an altogether more relaxed example!)
This is all set to a soundtrack that is … unsettling, to say the least. Lots of ethereal whispering, reverb and echo add to the tension, giving an air of ‘horror in space’ that invokes 2001: A Space Odyssey or Alien at their creepiest. It’s very effective.
The puzzles themselves are simple, and each room is on the small size. But it’s unforgiving — one small mistake, and you’ll need a do-over. Some screens caught me out, usually by taking me down the wrong path. The box-moving mechanic, by which you can move them left/right but not up/down, adds to the challenge, and I can see the overall concept making for some pretty tough levels in a full game.
Having said that, I’m unsure quite how effectively this would translate to a full game. With a small number of lives, it would be very difficult. With infinite restarts, it might just be too easy. And the linear nature would, hopefully, be more exploratory in a version with a bigger map. The game is tense and, thanks to that soundtrack, quite harrowing to play — this 15-minute prototype might turn out to be as much as most of us can stand!