Dying alone in the dark enormity of the cosmos is one of science fiction’s great set pieces: one of the best scenes in all of Star Trek features Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres running out of oxygen somewhere in the Delta Quadrant. All of that existential revulsion is the unfortunate legacy of real-world space travel, too, dotted with heartbreaking figures like Laika and Vladimir Komarov.
Sunburn, a new game by a trio of designers out of New York University’s Game Center program, drowns that morbidity in gleeful whimsy. As the captain of a crew of astronauts, it’s your job to gather your comrades and fling them into a nearby star after your shuttle disintegrates: it’s better to fry quickly among friends than suffocate slowly on your own.
Developers Diego Garcia, Toni Pizza, and Aaron Freedman hope that what could be a cruel, dark premise for a game becomes funny and cute. The game’s site shows off the pixelated Specialist Otis Hooks playing on his phone as he bobs uselessly in space, or Dr. Kaho Shimura sitting on top of a glass bubble with her cat, Porkbun.
Just from perusing a few .gifs, it seems like various celestial bodies will have different properties to help or hinder your quest to burn all of your friends to a crisp. Glass planets can be shattered, for example, while purple asteroids are springy and bouncy. Sunburn is really a set of gravity puzzles, tasking players with touching, swiping, and pinching their way though through planets, asteroids, and shuttle debris to unite the crew and finalize their death pact.
After each mission, floating ghosts thank you for sparing them a slow descent into oblivion. What’s worse is that, thanks to some multi-dimensional wormhole shenanigans in the game’s fiction, the crew get to do it all over again in each of Sunburn‘s 50-odd levels. Harsh!
In fact, the team is worried that Apple might reject the game for the App Store for being too ghoulish or macabre. “The juxtaposition just became funnier and funnier to us, so we kept going down that route," Garcia explained in a recent profile in Animal. “We like the existentialism of the story and wanted to sort of keep it dark. That’s when everyone smiles: the first time the astronauts jump into the sun and thank you for it. It felt silly to move away from that.”
Assuming all goes well, Garcia, Pizza, and Freedman hope to officially create their studio and release Sunburn this fall. We’ll keep you posted.