A lone worker has been assigned by a shady corporation to salvage resources and various materials from the surface of the moon. Things go well without much suspicion until strange occurrences begin to stack upon one another, which puts doubt into the work the player is doing. Orange Moon was developed by a small team based in Ontario, under the name Betelgeuse Zero. Originally released as an early access game back in mid-2016, it has since been fully completed and updated on top of it. However, these updates may not save what remains of the core details of Orange Moon’s circuitry.
Orange Moon is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
Personally, I would hesitate to classify this game as a Metroidvania, as while it has various aspects of it, it doesn’t entirely develop the more established concepts placed within the genre. Alas, since the game applies the general setting more than anything else, its story also aligns with the, at times, limited structure of Metroidvania narratives. Orange Moon isn’t brim with dialogue and cutscenes, though it does have its fair share of plot progression. Early on in the game, there’s really no story to behold, with only subtle clues as to the degree of danger the player is facing by continuing their trek into the darker parts of the moon’s body. As the days continue, the story becomes more and more of a presence behind the actions of the player, while uncovering the secrets that inevitably come to light when more human contact is made. Ultimately, the story to uncover is certainly one overused for a hostile, unsettling world of isolation, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by it nonetheless. Unfortunately, I can’t say it’s very developed, either.
While one can easily understand the progression of steps necessary to see the main character’s suspicious point of view, they somewhat flash out of nowhere. Said main character doesn’t actually have a name, only being the person the player controls, whom outside of various sayings, doesn’t really speak or show any personality whatsoever. Right in the middle of the game, he (I assume) randomly starts going against the orders of his superiors, and though the unseen faces in the transmissions certainly make them seem slimy, there’s not really any defining moment where serious doubt can be cast upon their orders. The game seems to go from “The boss is the boss” to “The boss is manipulating me!” like the flip of a switch.
Orange Moon isn’t a very long game, with one being capable of beating it within five hours if they’re able to figure out all that it wishes for one to do. With this short timeframe combined with the overall lack of dialogue in the first half of the game that has any meaning to it, there isn’t much the developers could do to turn this space opera into anything more than derivative mush. Intriguing on its own, there’s no finer details or memorable moments of pure narrative that stand out. Another case of a game wanting to show off their gameplay over its story; in some ways it succeeds. Some.
In my life, there are games that have left me both impressed and frustrated from gameplay alone. In most cases, it’s either one or the other, with very little crossover. Orange Moon not only breaks this trend, but in some beautiful way makes it its own: a game whose gameplay mechanics are just within gauge of fine-tuned to also be considered frustrating. A multitude of weapons are offered, each with their individual strengths and weaknesses. Most often, the better weapons just have a staggeringly low amount of ammo, while the weaker weapons have a harvest in every level. These weapons are generally useful and easy to use, with one exception: the machine gun. The first weapon the player starts out with, aside from the flamethrower, is absolutely ludicrous in its area of impact. Enemies in Orange Moon are typically slow, but these glowing balls of energy, which swim across the screen like Olympians, are an absolutely chore to aim at. Anything is a chore to aim at, especially with the machine gun, though that becomes more of an issue with control along with really small bullets.
Movement by a general definition is good in Orange Moon. Side-to-side movement, jumping, and overall maneuverability is more than satisfying, especially later on in the game. It is the aiming, which serves such an integral point in the game, that remains so irrevocably cumbersome. When one has the chance to use any other weapon than the machine gun, do so. The game becomes a lot more tolerable, but that’s not to say other weapons don’t suffer from the same control frustrations. Not as responsive as it could be, and not as accurate, either—throwing grenades has a specific arc that one must adjust to on top of this. It feels as though the game traps the player into playing the game too constricted by the rules of the game as opposed to of their own accord. Its aiming system is similar to that of Samus Returns‘s free-aim system, only cut by 60%. The area of freedom isn’t satisfying enough to not tip the player’s fun with a swig of unnecessary difficulty.
What justifies this early-game player groaning is the RPG-styled upgrading system available as more enemies are destroyed and resources are collected. These upgrades apply to the player’s suit, which takes fuel to operate (boosting, space jumping, and the flamethrower) and the weapons, which usually cover damage, speed of fire, and ammo capacity. I’ll make this tidbit known posthaste: this game is a lot more fun in the later portions than it is in the early portions. With more firepower, weapons, and near limitless freedom with the suit, the more chaotically action sequences unsuitably missing from a number of these games comes to light with such a relieving satisfaction. Those glowing balls of energy will no longer be the bane of my existence. Back on topic, the upgrading system feels a little limited in its execution, especially since the upgradeable variety is lacking within the possibilities present, but it does enough to make sure the game gives enough attention to rewarding the player for their struggles.
The earlier hesitation to classify this game as Metroidvania speaks volumes to what it initially tries to do, but doesn’t really flesh out. The value of exploration feels more like a point hunt than anything else, with the goodies placed in the “Secret” spots typically consisting of a small boost to upgrading purposes. It would be really cool to have game-changing goodies found there, like a secret weapon not found through narrative purposes, or if upgrade canisters weren’t so prevalent through trading in points or resources. Not to mention, it doesn’t take much effort to find these areas, as one can spot them through little holes that do nothing to hide them. How neat would it be to take advantage of the player’s weapons to uncover various areas? Orange Moon doesn’t seem to factor this in. And while this isn’t a huge drawback to the game itself, Orange Moon doesn’t even have a map function. Metroidvania? I can’t be so sure.
The final straw comes in the form of enemy variety, which is almost pathetically low. One could probably count the number of species on the moon, aside from mini-bosses and the like, one both hands. Within context, this may make sense, seeing as the moon isn’t exactly inhabitable by many things, but the world would be a lot more intriguing with more creatures (and less glowing balls of energy). Seeing the same enemies level after level, knowing exactly how to deal with them (or praying they don’t destroy you trying) creates a repetitive aura that stunts the action pieces of the game. On that note, a small aside; collecting health most often consists of setting fire to these sort of “HP plants”, which takes a while to actually give the nutrients used to heal the player. This process itself often takes anywhere from ten to fifteen seconds of standing in place. This really breaks the rhythm of the game on top of the occasionally frustrating controls and lack of enemy variety. Mini-bosses somewhat make up the slack of the single-digit number of enemies, as they require more strategizing than “Shoot at them until they die.” Bosses vary on this front, though.
Graphics and Audio
If isolation is the theme, Orange Moon definitely succeeds. Little dialogue, little detail in the surroundings, little music, and little context (initially). Dark are the surroundings, and orange, lots of different shades of orange. The main character is orange, many of the enemies are orange, the moon is orange. If you don’t like orange, you better be knocking for banana. Artistic expression is certainly riveting, as the bleakness of the setting can be unnerving, especially when intruding upon old laboratories and ruins. Design-wise, however, is less impressive. Not to say it’s mediocre, but more that it’s somewhat minimalist, coming across as more amateurish than maybe it should. It almost feels like it belongs on a site for flash games. That’s surface appearance, fortunately, as weapon-fire makes up for it by being flashy and satisfyingly over-the-top. Almost like the entire game’s core mechanics, its design could leave a bittersweet impression.
Most of the auditory effects are through gameplay, whether it be enemies screeching or weapons being fired. The most one could say is that it’s not annoying or distracting, but little more than that. When the soundtrack does decide to pick up—in those very limited occasions—I quite like the tone it sets. Rather than creepy, it goes for the triumphant oblivion one would most often hear in grand-journeyed epics, and with the right context, it succeeds in being not only memorable, but thematically triumphant. Very far in-between, Orange Moon chooses its moments carefully, with satisfying payoff, though I would’ve appreciated something, anything, to play quietly in the background, isolated feeling of silence or not.