There’s a special feeling to exploring strange alien worlds, especially when you get to do so in a turtle-like space craft with multiple rockets that propel you in several divergent directions. More than that, though, it’s fun to goof around in what amounts to your very own digital sandbox.
Crashed Lander plays like a cross between arcade classic Lunar Lander, Commodore 64 favorite Space Taxi, and the bizarre Flash game QWOP. It’s challenging in just the right way, where patience can overcome any lack in finesse. And you can check it out right now, if you have Unity Webplayer installed.
Crash Course in Steering
The controls are tricky. You move your lander with the arrow keys or the WASD keys and the space bar. Up and down (or W and S) tilt forward and back, while left and right (or A and D) rotate and space fires all four main thrusters — propelling you upward.
You’ll often need to press multiple keys at once, alternating between reckless speed and delicate subtlety. It’s remarkably easy to overreach your target, or to inadvertently turn around.
Your goal is to reach the next landing pad, and to land softly at its center — too hard and fast and you’ll damage your lander (which makes it either very hard or impossible to advance further). A red light on your heads-up display tells you which direction the next pad is in, relative to your current orientation.
It’s not easy to coordinate these movements, which can send you into wild spins and rolls. But that’s actually the easy mode — where AutoPilot is turned on.
Press the P key to turn AutoPilot off and experience the real challenge of maneuvering a spacecraft with six independent thrusters. The controls change slightly here, being pared off into two groups: Q, W, S for one side, and OIJ for the other.
Crash and Burn
Be prepared to crash, constantly. Controlling individual thrusters is exceptionally difficult, but it’s also kind of fun. Similar to the comical rag-dolling of QWOP’s running, as he struggles to coordinate thighs and calves while remaining upright, your lander seems to go everywhere except the place you want.
It deals in momentum, and the effects of low gravity on a small flying vehicle that has no wings. Which is to say that it thrives in chaos. It’s quite a fascinating feeling of helplessness to sit a hundred meters above the ground twirling uncontrollably as every tap of a key just makes things worse.
You can see just how crazy your flight arc is by turning on trails (press T), which adds a path of colored light tracking your every move. I ended up with some beautiful loops and curves when I played without AutoPilot.
There are three levels to crash your way through, each offering different challenges and environments. Baby Steps is straightforward — the landing pads are clustered in an easy arc. InstaWorld dials it up a notch, with more of a zig-zag layout and a pad that is sheltered by some rock — requiring a more precise approach. La Mancha Ridge, meanwhile, is a test of your skill, with pads at drastically different heights and separated by vast distances.
Each successful pass of a level brings fireworks and the thrill of bending the laws of gravity and motion to your will. Fail and you’ll either be stuck upside down or you’ll explode in a brilliant fireball. Crashing is just as rewarding as landing, which transforms Crashed Lander from an interesting experiment to a delightful low-gravity playground.
All levels look suitably alien and invite exploration. They feature bizarre fractal shapes and pits, valleys, hills, and cut-away vistas. These worlds are beautiful, in their own way. You’ll need to download the desktop version to really see the visuals shine, though — textures on the web version are rather simpler.
The desktop version also includes an extra level to play around in. But it’s otherwise the same game.
Crashed Lander provides a fun, playful window into a lonely alien world where it’s just you against the environment and the laws of physics. Give it a try, and marvel in the chaos of flying and crashing your lander. Just make sure you swap over to flying without AutoPilot once you learn the basics.
If you can finish any or all levels with AutoPilot off, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. I never managed to last more than a few minutes controlling it that way, but I had loads more fun than with the much easier AutoPilot on setting — even as I spent most of my time going in circles and performing accidental barrel rolls.