Orion Haste (NS)

Evan Norris
, posted 3 hours ago / 326 Views

You can never have too many run-and-gun games. With their kinetic action, demanding gameplay, hulking bosses, and powerful weapons, they leave a strong impression. Even the mediocre ones are engaging in their own way. Luckily for fans of the genre, this past week has delivered. A few days ago Konami and WayForward released Operation Galuga, the best Contra title in a long time, and just today publisher Ratalaika Games debuted the budget run-and-gun game Orion Haste, developed by Forsteri Studios and Viridino Studios.

Orion Haste is set in the far future in the Orion constellation, where humans are at odds with an aggressive alien race called the Ximpeti. When the Ximpeti invade an essential oxygen facility run by the Aethra, a race friendly with humanity, a lone human from the Beta-Orionis Military Base (B.O.M.B.) responds. The unnamed soldier must defend the facility, protect the Aethra and, ultimately, take the fight to the Ximpeti on their home world of Xim.

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Apart from an opening text summary, some chatty Aethra in the first level, and a brief epilogue, Orion Haste doesn’t bother with storytelling or world-building. An old-school, NES-inspired run-and-gun game doesn’t necessarily need a deep or involving story to succeed, but it would have been nice to have learned more about the Orion system, the motives of the Ximpeti, or the fallout of the invasion, even if only through environmental storytelling. As it stands, the game’s story lacks imagination and excitement.

Fortunately, the game’s levels and boss battles partially make up for any narrative gaps. Although Orion Haste is a very brief title with only seven short levels, it packs in a lot of ideas. There are several standard action-platforming stages, yes, but also a couple of hoverbike set-pieces, a stretch where the solider must power up lifts and platforms with electricity, a partially-illuminated section with enemies obscured in the dark, and even a shoot-’em-up sequence. Not all these conceits are fully fleshed-out — the shmup sequence in particular is held back by the fact that the ship fires automatically — but they provide some nice diversity.

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Boss battles, conversely, are fully developed. Orion Haste features seven bosses along with several mini-bosses, and together they’re the game’s best feature. There are mechanical enemies, biological foes, and some creatures that straddle the line. They arrive in different shapes and sizes, and attack in entirely different ways. Some of the highlights include an armored tank that fires laser beams horizontally before retreating to the stage background to launch missiles; a giant sand worm that charges across three platforms, and deploys worm spawn and falling rocks; and the final boss, who attacks across three different evolved forms.

While Orion Haste benefits from some entertaining boss fights, it doesn’t overly impress with its platforming and gunplay. It includes the mechanics you’d expect from the genre — run, jump, eight-way directional aim, weapon swap — but doesn’t do anything special with them. The B.O.M.B soldier has a jump that’s a touch too light, and must make several of those pesky NES-era one-foot-off-the-platform leaps that lead to untimely death.

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Its strangest flaw, though, is related to weaponry. Typically in a run-and-gun title, each weapon serves a unique purpose and situation. The spread gun from Contra III, for example, is great for making contact with many enemies at once, while the flamethrower is good for short-range damage-per-second (DPS). In Orion Haste, however, you really only need one gun: the electricity shot. Since it has infinite range, does high DPS, and makes continuous contact with the enemy, it checks off all boxes. There’s rarely a reason to experiment with the other guns, which are simply inferior in comparison. You’d think the homing missile would be a great choice, but it has limited range and takes forever to lock on.

It won’t take forever for you to beat the game, though. As previously mentioned, this is a short adventure, with seven stages that will take anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes a piece. As a result, you can expect to repel the Ximpeti invasion in roughly 70 minutes. Additional modes or unlockable characters would have been nice here, to extend the game’s longevity. You can replay individual stages to beat your best times, but that’s about it. Orion Haste would also benefit from some form of multiplayer. Currently, this is a single-player-only affair.

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Despite its brevity and single-player focus, the campaign is not half-bad. In part that’s due to its pixel art, which is rather attractive — especially considering the game’s modest budget and small development team. There are some generic assets and simple textures, sure, but in general this is a good-looking game with some nice 2D special effects and models. 

The music is similarly decent. Composed by Felipe Calderan, it’s an eclectic mix of synth beats and otherworldly percussion. You won’t find yourself humming the songs in the shower, but they’re good enough. The only issue: a sound mixing error or audio bug in the final two stages, where the music volume rises to a harsh degree.

When it comes to run-and-gun games, the more the merrier — even when they fall in the middle of the pack, like Orion Haste does. Although it benefits from some impressive boss battles, several diverse levels, and nice-looking pixel graphics, it can’t overcome unimaginative storytelling, ordinary mechanics, and the lack of extra modes & features (including multiplayer options). Still, this is a modest, humble game that’s hard to dislike, despite its flaws. If you’re a run-and-gun fan on a budget, you could do far worse.

This review is based on a digital copy of Orion Haste for the NS, provided by the publisher.

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