One wing isn’t even enough to leave
I’m something of a cheerleader for rail shooters. I feel the sub-genre has still gone largely untapped, and that it’s a formula the indie market could really make work. Lost Wing is something like that. However, I’m also a huge snob, so it’s going to take more than a bossy cameraman to impress me.
It attempts to bring a sense of speed and unpredictability to the mix while also focusing on its neon visuals and a synthetic soundtrack. It’s like if you married Star Fox and Tron and they had a child named Audiosurf, but then they had another child and that’s what Lost Wing is metaphorically; it’s Audiosurf’s little brother. It’s similar but they probably wouldn’t agree on anything.
Lost Wing (PC, Switch [reviewed], Xbox One, PS4)
Developer: Boxfrog Games
Publisher: 2Awesome Studio
Released: July 31, 2020
Lost Wing tells the narrative of the world’s last space car driver as they attempt to bring racing back to the hearts of the denizens of a dystopian future while simultaneously trying to somehow remove the demon currently possessing their left leg. I made that all up. I don’t think there is a story.
Instead, Lost Wing seems to focus more on presenting environments to chase high scores in. There’s a couple flavors to this; you can play the “campaign” missions where you race through procedurally generated garbage-strewn streets in an effort to meet and beat the boss, or you can do special challenge missions where you weave through bespoke tracks to reach the end with the most allotted points.
Visually, Lost Wing is simultaneously nice to look at while also being rather generic. The ships that you fly are pretty interchangeable with what you might find in any futuristic racer. The HUD is projected on the wall, integrated into the environment nicely, but the neon is a little distracting. It’s sometimes hard to discern certain obstacles that are coming at you, leaving you to memorize their slight differences in size and color to tell how many shots you should lob at them.
Likewise, the soundtrack that seems to be key to the game’s aesthetic is merely serviceable. I feel like Lost Wing would fit better with driving, percussion-heavy music, but it seems to settle for quirky or atmospheric. You’re able to pick what song you listen to while speeding through the tracks, but I never really found one that I preferred. I never found an equivalent to Fever from Dr. Mario or Splash Wave from Out Run.
The main gameplay loop is maybe a little oversimple. You race from one end of the track to the other through a winding corridor. You’re able to shoot obstacles in front of you, but you’re given a limited amount of ammunition that is only refilled by boosting or picking up orbs off the track. That adds a bit of strategy through managing resources, but, really, I rarely took my finger off the boost, so I almost always had stock unless I died before the boss.
It’s a game that you’re going to die in, probably a lot. You’re given three lives to reach the boss, and until you’re able to moderate your speed and control your shots, you’ll likely struggle to even make it that far. A head-on collision will kill you immediately, but if you clip your wing, your ship will merely be hobbled until a repair pickup is found.
You can also slow down time, but I only found this useful when I hit a screen flip pickup and needed a moment to get my bearings. It uses the same ammunition as your weapon. You can also use bombs to clear an area around your ship for a short time, but I often forgot these existed.
I suppose if you’re going to go after the top spot on the leaderboard, there’s a reasonably high skill ceiling.
This leads to the game’s larger problem, which is that, at launch, the leaderboards are pretty dead, at least on Switch. It may take some effort to gain the lead on the first level on easy, but after that, the competition is less than fierce. On two of the challenges I tested out, I received first place simply by completing them. I didn’t have any tricks, nor did I go out of my way to collect more points, but I still landed comfortably in the top spot. I’m writing this a few days after its release, so this could change after some time.
That’s not necessarily Lost Wing’s fault — it wasn’t designed to have a barren leaderboard — but that’s kind of the problem: it wasn’t designed with the idea that this could happen. It offers very little outside score chasing, so when that falls flat, there’s nothing to fall back on.
I did enjoy what time I spent with Lost Wing, though that didn’t exactly last long. With three tracks, a handful of challenges, and a boss rush, the content is a little thin. It’s definitely priced with that in mind, however, so if you’re looking for something to fill an afternoon, you could certainly do worse. I just don’t think it’s something I’m going to keep coming back to.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]