One of the most telling characteristics of a true classic is gameplay that’s still fun even decades following its release. Another is the number of clones that follow in its wake. Lunar Lander is one such game, having come about during the dawn of video games in the early 1970s. Much has changed in the way of graphics & sound with later iterations, but the core gameplay (if a game has been done right) has remained largely the same. The basic idea is to take a small lunar module hovering near the surface of the moon and task the player with landing it safely on one of several landing platforms. Your only control comes in the form of a single thruster and the ability to rotate the craft as it slowly descends. Sounds simple enough right? Until you realize the craft isn’t very robust and has the tendency to explode if it touches down too hard or at the wrong angle. Meanwhile, the tricky duo of inertia and gravity are ever at play turning the whole experience into a game that’s really about finesse. And therein lies the beauty of ‘lander’ games in general – that they take some getting used to, but in the end give the player a chance to hone and develop their skill with time and practice…yet another characteristic of classic gaming.
One remake in this long-running genre is a title coded by author ‘danjo’ for a 2008 software competition. Lunar Lander 2 sets out to pay homage to this classic genre by staying true to its roots while offering a few modern frills, such as slightly more modern graphics and a soundtrack that has to be heard to be fully appreciated. Not only has he pulled this off in spades, but what you end up getting turns out to be an entire Adventure/Strategy game that also happens to be compiled as a self-contained portable exe. This tribute to the original NASA Apollo program has you working your way through 20 progressively challenging missions. During each mission your performance (how well you conserve fuel coupled with how quickly you land) determines the final score upon completion. This ‘performance rating’ proves crucial to long term success as ‘points’ serve the secondary function of enabling you to purchase additional fuel between levels. With more points more fuel can be purchased. Not only are points necessary to maintain a critical fuel supply but they can also be used for upgrades such as more powerful thrusters and extra fuel tanks – things you’ll need for later levels. Since remaining fuel carries over from level to level you’ll want to get very good at mastering the subtle nuances of the lunar thruster in the moon’s relatively thin atmosphere. It won’t be easy but I can assure you practice will improve your performance and it’s a thoroughly fun – and satisfying – kind of trial and error.
Lunar Lander 2 isn’t totally unforgiving as once you pass a level you can pick up from that point at any time. Although, if your performance curve isn’t up to par your accumulated points still may not be enough to carry you all the way through. No doubt completing this game will take plenty of skill and practice. The classic roots shine through once again with this achievement of being difficult yet at the same time rewarding, something not often seen in modern video games. If I can offer some advice, learn not to rely on the thrusters too much…and be sure the craft is level during touchdown. Also, while your inclination at the title screen might be to hit Enter you’ll actually need to use the Shift key as everything in the game is controlled with the Shift and Arrow keys. Use Escape to return to the main menu.
As one who enjoys ‘lander’ games I can say I’ve tried quite a few. But Lunar Lander 2 stands apart with high production value and excellent gameplay all in a tiny package (no installation required). Did I mention that it’s free?
Designer: danjo (acoders)
Type: Retro Remake
Format: Compression Pack, Portable Exe
File Size: 6.6 MB
Control Scheme: Keyboard
Version Played: 1.0