Some games are really difficult to review. This isn't self-important whining, we promise. Okay, maybe it is. A bit. But it's true – there are so many games out there that slot into their genre or type so neatly, so functionally, that sometimes one will come along where we found ourselves wondering what on earth there is to say about it. Lost Wing's content and quality are so self-evident, its premise so simplistic that it's instantly understandable by gamers of almost any level. We could just say "if you like games like this, you'll like this." But we soldier on. No, really. You're welcome.
Lost Wing reminded us most of the Wii U's excellent Race the Sun, with a frisson of Tempest and PC obscurity Sky Roads thrown in there. Taking control of a Wipeout-esque ship, you'll rocket through procedurally-generated tracks, dodging or shooting obstacles much in the same manner as a "runner" game – though this is an order of magnitude superior to most examples of the genre.
You'll hit top speed pretty quickly, but that threshold gets pushed back the more you play and you'll move faster and faster, obstacles flying at you with less and less reaction time. Besides "strafing" left and ride to dodge oncoming clutter, you can also jump into the air to vault low walls, fire projectiles to destroy weak hazards and – in a pinch – hit ZL to slow down time.
Both shooting and time-slowing cost "Charge", a resource that's gradually gained as you zip through the tunnels, and can be accumulated faster by collecting icons as they whizz towards you. However, if you're cruising (not accelerating), you won't naturally gain Charge. Balancing your speed, making your shots count and managing your time-slowing power becomes paramount as the game gets busier and more eager to kill you; the last thing you want is to end up surrounded by obstacles with no way to clear them. Survive long enough and you'll face off against creative and fairly spectacular boss battles, which are uniformly fun to fight.
So it's a game about pressure and adrenaline, and in that respect, it's a triumph. Every single round you play is exciting, with the randomly-generated stage sections keeping things unpredictable. We found it a little strange, then, that Lost Wing has a "lives" system; in Race the Sun, losing was devastating because you only had the one life. Here, running headlong into an obstacle elicits a similarly lingering shot of your destruction, only to pop you back into the fray. It's a strange decision that robs the game of some of its tension and white-knuckle excitement.
Another decision we found a little strange was the levelling system. While it's certainly nice to unlock more content as you play, we felt it took just a little too long to do anything. It was probably about twenty or so runs on the single available "Industrial" level before we levelled-up enough to get a look at the second (admirably different) "Forest" stage, and that really feels like too long to be running the same area over and over. That said, it is the nature of the genre to replay content, but the grind is so restrictive that it's a fair old while before you're even allowed to progress from Easy Mode, let alone see the rest of the levels and gameplay styles. It's a good thing Lost Wing is generally lots of fun, then.
Everything looks absolutely lovely, with a gorgeous neon aesthetic and a smooth 60fps throughout, even when things get crazy. The music is also excellent; it suits the action well and strongly benefits from headphones. You'll never find the controls get in your way, as the action is mostly very pure. Unfortunately, there is a feature which crops up early that we found utterly baffling – sometimes, an "anomaly" will occur, and the screen will undergo a full rotation until you're racing upside down. There's a "power-down" to avoid in-game that has the same effect, but it's very brief and avoidable. The "anomaly" – as far as we could tell – isn't, and it's a critically unfair and un-fun addition. Having a great run scuppered by the screen deciding it's time to do a flip is a sickener, and we can't for the life of us understand why the developers ever thought it was a good idea. Crashing and losing a run because your controls are effectively reversed just sucks. You can adapt, sure, but it's a totally arbitrary way to add challenge.
It's all the more jarring when the rest of the game is so considered – tough, but resolutely fair. You'll die a lot early on, until it becomes clear how the game works. There's a tutorial, but it's nothing compared to the real thing. Even on the initial Easy Mode, it can get very rough and you'll burn through your three lives quickly. Strangely enough, we found that once we'd unlocked Normal Mode, the game actually became easier – maybe this is because when the game is more demanding from the start, it trains you to play better and not get complacent. The increased XP gain of higher difficulties also means it's inherently more rewarding to play them, but we think the experience gain should be rebalanced to allow for faster access to new content.
As we said, it's hard to review Lost Wing, because it's exactly what it looks like – a score attack-style game with ever-increasing difficulty and numerous extra tracks and game variations to unlock. Given how well it does almost every aspect of its core gameplay, it's unfortunate that this review reads like a litany of criticisms. Lost Wing is very good, but the presence of a number of issues – a couple being fairly major – mean that it could have been even better.