GDC Preview: Going Hands-On With Lunar Lander Beyond

Another Atari classic has been reimagined and we got to give it a look!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 03/28/2024 09:23 Comment on this     ShareThis

Atari has been experiencing something of a renaissance the past few years. With the launch of the Atari 2500+, a console that plays all Atari 2500 cartridges but on HD screens, and the acquisition of porting specialists Digital Eclipse, the company has made it clear that it’s back as a proper video game producer. This is true on the software side of things, as well, where Atari has been releasing a steady stream of reimagined classics, including qomp2, which we had a lot of fun with. Thus, it was with some enthusiasm that we looked forward to meeting with Atari at this year’s GDC to get a look at Lunar Lander Beyond.

Jason Polansky is the Lead Producer at Atari who guided us through our time with the game. The question of why Atari wanted to make a sequel to the original Lunar Lander has an interesting answer: developer Dreams Uncorporated loved the real-life sense of stress in the original, especially as it pertained to piloting and landing the player’s ship. There was also a sense among the development team that there was a lot of story potential to mine that the original wasn’t able to, especially given the limitations of the original Atari hardware. Thus was born Lunar Lander Beyond.

South African animation studio Bewilder handled the hand-drawn animation found throughout the game, which is very bold and striking. Every time the player gets a new vehicle or visits a planet, an animation will play, really helping to sell the game world as a proper setting and facilitate a strong sense of immersion. Dreams Uncorporated is very big on narrative and storytelling, so the cutscenes are all fully voice acted, while characters have distinct, fleshed out personalities.

The objective of each stage is largely just to land the ship, but in the middle there are other things to do, too, helping keep things interesting. Pick up fuel and health, complete objectives, and land your ship—the stages always felt packed with things to do. Piloting any of the four ships that can be unlocked is also its own challenge. The different speeds and movement paths of the ships requires careful piloting, and there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had from nailing the flow of movement and being able to navigate with ease. The stages themselves, as least the ones that I got to go hands-on with, had corridors with packed with splintering paths and pickups challenging the player to collect them. It was all solid fun that controlled quite well.

While the stages and story are all manually designed, there is one component of the game which is procedurally generated, which are the various pilots that can be recruited. These pilots bring with them different abilities and buffs, including more efficient fuel burn, better handling, and so on. When played on the highest difficulty level, Lunar Lander Beyond’s pilots won’t regenerate if a mission goes south, which is a nice nod to games like Fire Emblem. This makes it integral to approach stages with caution in order to keep around a pilot who has a really advantageous set of skills (and keeps the whole stress theme going strong).

Another layer of gameplay revolves around pilot stress levels. As missions are completed, pilots find themselves needing therapy in order to carry on. There’s one version that allows the player to get therapy without expending resources, and then there are others that ask the player to pay up, which decreases the downtime needed to get a pilot’s mind right. Again, as mentioned above, this feeling of stress is part of what drew Dreams Uncorporated to the project in the first place. Taking the real-life feeling and transforming it into a mechanic, however, was an interesting decision to make, as I felt like it was a nice way of adding in strategy to the game. There are even segments of play where the physical game world begins to change as the pilot’s mental state impacts their perception of reality.


Lunar Lander Beyond is set for an April 23, 2024 release date. Fans who want to buy physical are in luck, as there’s not one, but two editions that will be available at launch. The standard edition will come out for $29.99, while the collector’s edition, which comes with an art book and a steelbook case, will drop within a few days of that and costs $49.99. We’ll have a review of Lunar Lander Beyond HD up around launch time, but in the interim let us know what you think of this reimagined Atari classic down in the comments and online!

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