It’s a tale as old as time: one moment you’re flying your spaceship through a dangerous asteroid field, the next you’re crash-landing on an alien planet with little more than your wits to stave off the elements and potentially hostile fauna. Residual mixes up the formula a little, though, with a pixel-art side-scrolling style and procedurally-generated worlds to explore with your wayward astronaut. But are those little twists in the design enough to make OrangePixel’s latest title stand out in a hotly-contested field?
Residual is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.
Story – A Secret Lurks Beneath
Residual is not a game that’s too worried about bogging you down with story. The opening scene plays out briefly and efficiently: your chosen male, female, or non-binary pilot crashes on a strange alien world, and must survive for long enough to fix up their spaceship and head on home. Along the way, you find a way to venture beneath the surface, finding evidence of previous explorers and an enigmatic ooze that threatens your way home.
As you might expect after crashing your ship on an alien planet, there aren’t a whole lot of other characters with whom to interact. The one NPC who does get an awful lot of screentime is your faithful Personal Disaster Bot, or PDB. Unfortunately for some, PDB runs the risk of getting rather grating pretty quickly. The influence of Borderlands’ Claptrap is palpable, with your robot buddy offering sarcastic quips one moment and actual advice the next, but it’s not always for the best, especially with text boxes that cover half the screen. PDB’s interruptions are slightly too frequent and slightly too obnoxious to forgive, and as the primary example of voice acting in the game you may find yourself turning the volume all the way down before long.
Gameplay – Down, Down, Down
As a side-scrolling, survival-focused platformer, Residual clearly draws inspiration from various other games. The subterranean platforming is reminiscent of Spelunky, while the crafting and needs systems bring to mind plenty of survival games like Subnautica or Valheim. The main gameplay loop is fairly standard: collect resources, craft things to survive and explore more of the planet, and find a way to fix up your ship and head home. You’ll roam the surface (and later on the caverns beneath it), periodically returning to your ship to rest up and craft new things.
There are two particularly interesting ideas at play in the game, though, that do serve to set it apart from its competitors somewhat. Firstly, the developer’s proprietary ‘Nature Engine’ serves to procedurally generate an entirely new planet each time you play. These worlds will have different day/night cycles, varied hazards and wildlife, and will sometimes have different effects on your character’s stats. It’s a nice touch, and OrangePixel has clearly put a lot of work into the world-creation engine.
A few more variables thrown into the mix could have been fun – some high- or low-gravity worlds could have inspired some creative solutions to obstacles, for example – but considering the potential for snowballing complexity it’s understandable that they kept it to the scale they did.
The other main point of originality is a focus on non-violent gameplay. In stark contrast to survival games like Rust or ARK: Survival Evolved, crafting and using weaponry is not a focus of Residual. The game straight up doesn’t let you harm the local wildlife, so definitely be prepared to keep your distance, especially underground. Instead, you can use your DNA Scanner to learn a little more about them and add their details to your internal encyclopedia. It’s honestly quite a nice change of pace for a game like this, and allows players to focus more on the other systems and mechanics at play.
Unfortunately, those other systems aren’t always quite as fleshed-out as players might like or expect. The survival staples like crafting recipes are a little finicky to unlock, with the player seemingly have to stand in just the right spot or wait for just the right amount of time for PDB to pipe up with a suggestion of something to craft. On one occasion my robot companion wouldn’t bestow upon me the recipe for an energy core to open a door, even though I was standing right by the door in question with all the ingredients I needed burning a hole in my pockets. It’s not clear whether this was a small bug or just an attempt to artificially slow down the pace at which I could progress, but it was mildly frustrating.
Some issues with the procedural generation meant that I also had a couple of instances where I just got stuck in a hole that was slightly too deep to jump out of. Lacking the resources necessary to craft a ladder and with my teleporter deployed elsewhere, I had no choice but to either wait for my stamina or health to tick down until I passed out and woke up back in my ship, or just restart the game from scratch. It’s certainly understandable to run into some issues like this when randomising level layout in the way that Residual sells itself on, but it’s still difficult not to feel hard done by after spending a few hours exploring.
Speaking of stamina, one real bugbear for me was the rapid rate at which it depleted (though admittedly not rapid enough to get me out of that hole particularly quickly). Your stamina starts ticking down the moment you start, even when you’re just standing still. Before long, if you’re taking your time exploring and reading PDB’s incessant messages, you’ll be down to a sliver.
Eating food restores it, but if you have the misfortune to, say, eat all the food available to you and harvest the plants it was growing on (which the game all but encourages you to do, since wooden sticks are used not just in recipes but to open the door leading the labyrinthine underground), then you may find yourself stuck in a loop of running out of energy, slowing to a crawl and then passing out and respawning back at your ship. PDB makes mention of the captain’s chair or a campfire at which you can sit to restore your stamina, but it takes so long that it’s barely worth it.
All in all, the gameplay feels like a bit of missed opportunity, a mishmash of the trappings of a handful of different genres that don’t quite hit the mark. The rather shallow crafting, frustration-inducing needs system, and the lack of any meaningful base-building makes Residual pale in comparison to other survival games like Subnautica or, perhaps its most obvious competitor in some ways, Terraria.
Similarly, some odd control choices such as assigning jumping to the X button but having to grab vines in mid-air with A (and with no option to remap controls either) makes the platforming far less intuitive than, say, Spelunky. The procedural generation and relatively short game length with an emphasis on replayability seem to be tipping a hat to the roguelike genre, but even then the inspiration seems superficial when compared to the likes of Hades or Rogue Legacy.
It’s a shame, because it feels like there’s a cool game hiding, pun unintended, underneath the surface. Once you get down into the underground it’s often quite exciting, if you don’t get stuck in a hole or run out of energy. The procgen world creation has a lot of potential and the focus on non-violent gameplay is a refreshing and endearing twist. Perhaps with a few more patches OrangePixel can fix up Residual into the game it’s trying to be.
Graphics and Audio – See No Evil, Hear Some Evil
Whatever its faults, it’s impossible to deny that Residual, with its impressively-detailed pixel art, is a very pretty game. There’s a good deal of character to a lot of the animation, and an impressive amount of variety to the backdrops and environments of the each procedurally-generated world.
The sound design, by contrast, is fairly vanilla. The main thing you’ll be hearing throughout the game is PDB’s frequent interjections, which may be an acquired taste for some players. Musically there’s not much to get stuck into short of a generically ethereal and ominous-sounding synth that can be heard in the background. The animals you encounter often make noises, but it doesn’t add a whole lot and in some cases can be downright annoying if an off-screen beastie is constantly howling while you’re trying to explore.
Residual was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by Stride PR.