Review: Lunar Lander Beyond Continues the Atari Trend of Updating Old Games

Screenshot: Lunar Lander Beyond

The early Atari consoles–especially the 2600–were home to a lot of games that are undeniable classics. They’re just not really played anymore because they’re so “simple.” A lot of these games were boiled down to the most basic gameplay elements, with few bells and whistles–which was mostly due to technological limitations at the time.

Lunar Lander was such a classic, and it gets an update with the new Lunar Lander Beyond update. The original Lunar Lander was simple: you had to land your craft within a certain time limit and without running out of fuel. Hitting the ground too fast would result in failure, and with gravity constantly fighting against you, it was a test of patience and skill. Lunar Lander Beyond is surprisingly faithful to its roots, but it makes a few baffling decisions which take away from the fun.

Screenshot: Lunar Lander Beyond

In Lunar Lander Beyond your goal is much the same as in Lunar Lander–you have to navigate your ship while working under simulated Newtonian gravity. That means when you let off of the thruster you’ll still be traveling in the direction you were thrusting unless you change the direction of the thrust or hit something. Hitting a wall in Lunar Lander Beyond doesn’t cause instant death–instead it gives your ship a bit of damage (based on how hard you hit the object) and your pilot suffers a bit of a mental toll that is measured in sanity–and I think this is where Beyond loses itself.

The sanity meter in Lunar Lander Beyond ruins the entire game for me. If you take too much damage your pilot will eventually go insane with “space madness” and eyeballs and mouths start to appear as pink elephants replace other objects. It’s all very cute, and would have been fun for a level or two. But to have it as a main mechanic breaks the game for me. Not only that, but the sanity level carries over for your pilot. So if you make a lot of mistakes in one level, you’ll have to send that pilot off to get mentally reevaluated, which puts them out of capacity for four missions.

Screenshot: Lunar Lander Beyond

It's too bad, because there was a lot of potential here. Crew management can be fun if handled well, and the idea between gathering a fleet of different ships, each with their own handling characteristics attracted me.  You can also gather new pilots with their own experience bar and sanity meter. They also get new traits as they complete more missions and gain experience.

It doesn’t help that Lunar Lander Beyond can be a bit frustrating to play. There are some power-ups you can equip your ship with that can help out a bunch–like the one that allows you to come to a complete stop, or another that shields your ship and gives you invulnerability as long as you hold down the button. The only problem is each of these abilities use up precious fuel. You can grab new fuel during missions, but it’s still a vital commodity. Once you’re out of fuel you’ll drift until you eventually explode. No fun.

Actually “no fun” is the biggest problem I had with Lunar Lander Beyond. Which is too bad, because it's more than just a neonified reskin of an older game. The art and story were done with care. And while some of the art tends to look a little flat, I enjoyed the overall aesthetic. That said, I did not enjoy the imagery that comes up with a maxed out sanity meter–not because it was disturbing, but because it’s just so damn corny.

Lunar Lander Beyond had some real potential, especially with its varied objectives. It changed up gameplay enough from level to level to make it interesting: sometimes you’re tasked with just landing, other times your goal is to intercept asteroids to protect a colony, or to pick up survivors and successfully drop them off later. It’s just not enough to combat the real issues I have with Lunar Lander Beyond.

I wish I could be recommending Lunar Lander Beyond, but it just has had too many baffling decisions made during its development to ever come out as a good game. I wouldn’t think it would be hard to mess up such a tried and true concept, but here we are. You’re better off just finding a Lunar Lander clone online and playing it out of your web browser.

Lunar Lander Beyond comes out tomorrow for PC via Steam, Xbox Series S|X, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch.

A Steam key was provided to us for this review

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Marielle Bokor