The loneliness of space is something that very few videogames have managed to really portray, either in the past or with the current generation of games, so it’s pleasing that A Long Way Home manages to get the feeling of being totally alone in the far reaches of space across.
You play an astronaut, stranded far from home, with only his talking wrist computer for company. To get home, you must collect enough dark matter to be able to open a wormhole to get to the next part of space.
Each level is viewed from aside on perspective, and you must make the astronaut jump between spinning asteroids, collecting dark matter on the way. You can run left and right around each rock, and can jump in the direction the rotation of the asteroid is making you face. Once you have jumped, you have no control over anything, and must watch the astronaut float towards his destination. If you miss, and he gets too close to the edge of the screen, he will drift away and you will have to restart the level. It actually plays a lot like a slower version of Jump O’ Clock.
It takes real nerve to do some of the jumps, and you need to have a real knack for the timing, and watching him float near an asteroid can be very stressful; will he make it? Luckily, gravity takes effect when you get close to a rock and he will be dragged aboard if you only miss by a whisker.
You can actually use this gravity effect to your advantage, bending him to places he would otherwise have missed, but this kind of play is only for the brave of heart, particularly when you are near the end of a tricky stage.
There are also other obstacles, such as alien spacecraft and smaller asteroid fields to avoid. These fields make up a lot of the puzzles, and I have a small complaint with them. The collision detection in the rest of the game is generous, but these smaller asteroid fields have collision detection that seems to extent beyond where they actually are, which proves troublesome, as one touch from them and it’s back to the start.
While we are on the subject on negatives, I found a small bug where messages from your computer companion, which usually appear when there is a new thing to do or avoid, don’t display at all. It was only when I revisited the levels that I found the messages appearing. I also have a problem with where the edge of each level is, which determines where, if you get too close, the game has decided you have drifted away and it’s game over. It’s not quite on the edge of the screen, and I had several occasions where I was drifting along the bottom of the screen and my character must have touched some invisible barrier, causing the ‘drifting away’ message to pop up, even as my astronaut touched down on an asteroid.
These are all small issues, easily fixed with an update, and really shouldn’t deter you from buying what is a magnificent game.
The indie style astronaut and asteroid graphics, sitting on top of some awe inspiring galactic backdrops that really add to the feeling of vertigo. The hauntingly beautiful piano score adds to the feeling of loneliness. Not many mobile or tablet games actually evoke an emotional response, but this game does.
While playing, this game brought to mind many memories of movies and games, such as the lonely 2001: A Space Odyssey, the subtle sense of humor of old Spectrum titles, as well as the addictive nature of classic platform games.
The game keeps throwing new challenges at you, changing the way you approach each level. This is what I believe mobile games should be doing, and that is providing simple gameplay and then changing the rules and direction, while always keeping the same basic gameplay intact.
The gameplay manages to strike just the right balance between addictiveness and frustration. Usually, apart from the bugs I mentioned, if you die it’s because of your own impatience and recklessness. You have to make each jump just right, and be ready to hold your breath on some of those screen crossing mega jumps, as the margin for error greatly reduces the farther away you are from your target.
The game has three different control methods, the best of which is the default one, but it’s nice to have a choice. There is also Game Center integration, with a leaderboard for each of the games 100 levels.
Overall, I can’t recommend this enough for fans of slower, more thoughtful games and anyone who wants to play something that will livelong in the memory. A lonely, haunting yet uplifting experience that will hook you in until you have lost hours to the epic journey of a little spaceman.
This review originally appeared on The Smartphone App Review (June 17, 2011). And the app had has a number of updates since then.