Lumo’s platforming and puzzles are simply fantastic. The diverse challenges have a few you’ll breeze through, and then suddenly you’ll be hit by one that takes a few minutes to figure it out. There’s plenty of hidden items and difficult collectables to pick up, and doing so even unlocks a mystery in the end. The graphics are a brilliant exercise in simplicity, while the music may be the best soundtrack I’ve heard this year. The game, however, lacks any emotional weight, personality or narrative; making the whole experience feel less impactful than it could’ve been with a basic story. Instead, it hides behind an eye wink and references. If you’re looking only for puzzles, this is your game. However, if you need a story to feel connected, this one won’t change your mind.
WHAT WE LIKED
º Some of the best and diverse platforming puzzles I’ve played in a while.
º The style is charming and elegant while showcasing some real diversity.
º Collecting every secret item and floating rubber ducky is addictive.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º There is no story at all, making a characterless and dull experience.
º References in the game feels like an attempt to make up for the lack of personality.
º Could’ve used some additional spells or moves to add some agency.
When it comes to the giants of the 2D puzzle adventure genre, like Fez and Braid, developers will always try to climb to those towering shoulders. Desperate to make a name for themselves, they might attempt to pull themselves up with a gimmick; weirdness, retro appeal or good ole’ fashion gaming allusions. Lumo attempts a “see what sticks” approach, and sadly, it ends up with a frustrating fall from right between the shoulder-blades of the juggernauts mentioned above. It does everything it sets out to do decently enough, but nothing to add any flavor to what is an otherwise exceptional puzzler.
The story goes for simplicity but forgets to throw in any conflict or risk. You start the game by selecting a young generic kid and the color of their clothing, before walking into a recreational building that has a video game demonstration going on. You go to a Tron-like machine, and suddenly you’re teleported into the world of Lumo. You teleport to your first dungeon, where you’re a wizard who can’t jump or cast any spells. That’s the setup and payoff; you’re playing a game, within a game. Sorry, but for me, this just seems like a last minute addition to the experience that was lacking anything, and so they opted to go ‘Meta.’
Of course, throughout the experience there’s video game and movie references; Indiana Jones, Legend of Zelda, Ghostbusters and Pacman to name a few. Sure there are delightfully weird moments, like finding a metal elevator that plays a weird out-of-place tune as you travel to an electronic disco tech with a boxy robot patrolling the dancefloor. It all adds charm, but it doesn’t add meaning- there’s nothing to think about, and no risk involved. Best case scenario, I honestly believe I’m a young kid playing a video game. Because of this, and the lack of even and in-game storyline, I had no reason to invest my energy into trying to immerse myself in the experience.
When it comes to the gameplay, I was quite surprised. The game is set from an isometric perspective, with obvious reasons why this genre was left in the past along with Mystic Towers; it’s not user-friendly. Platforming in an environment where it’s hard to tell where the floor ends or how close something is to the camera is incredibly frustrating. With that said, I had far fewer problems with it than I thought I would- but when they reared their ugly head- I couldn’t do anything other than throw my hands up in frustration. Thankfully, that happens very rarely, and most of the puzzles and gameplay hit some high marks regarding thoughtful design and challenging execution.
There are two game modes as well; one where you have infinite lives, and you’re not timed, and the other is a three lives attempt at besting the castle in as short a time as you can. I must’ve died 300 times, easily- so doing this challenge seems almost impossible. If that’ peaked your competitive ears, then I assure you this will be a challenge only a few will conquer.
One thing I enjoyed was that you can change the way your character moves. In isometric games like this, the default is a bizarre scheme, where pressing up sends you up/left or up/right given the developer’s preference. In this game, you can choose to press up and move up. This was an immediate brow wipe for me, as I could never get my mind around that control scheme. This small change made a world of difference and opened my mind to the possibilities of how this could reinvent a dormant genre.
The game’s puzzles ramp up nicely, breaking away from the dungeon crawling with excellent mini-games to break up the monotony. Exploring these dark corridors will also yield you collectables, such as rubber duckies floating on hazardous water that can only be collected by bouncing off of them, as well as collectable Commodore 64 cassettes that are hidden strategically throughout the maps (including out of reach places that require a keen eye). Every time you feel like the challenges are getting a little stale;
the game introduces a new set of obstacles. These stunts include platforming on top of huge metal balls, using air streams to navigate a floating bubble, or using magic to expose hidden platforms. If I reviewed games based solely around gameplay, and if I were willing to forgive this old approach to game design, this could have been a contender for best puzzle game of the year.
Sadly, there’s just too little invested in the other aspects of the game. Why is there no storyline at all when there’s this much charm and creativity? A simple fantasy tale would’ve sufficed, but instead, we’ve got this homage to gaming premise that simply baffles me. If you’re someone who values style over substance, you might think this is a moot point; me, on the other hand, feels a game without a narrative structure might as well be an endurance test.
The graphics are an ingenious approach to not biting off more than you can chew while putting the effort where it belongs. The lighting in the game is fantastic and adds some real depth to a game that can sometimes feel two dimensional. Just when the locations are starting to become predictable, suddenly they change it up with new styles and decorations. Nothing stands out, but everything feels like it fits. As a whole, it’s a perfect example of going for visual consistency without going too bland or missing the mark.
The audio department is another shining point. While the in-game sound is pretty standard, with blinks, tinks and dinks, the music is nearly on par with Fez’s soundtrack. It’s a bizarre blend of tranquillity, mysticism and technological noises. If I wanted a fantasy/sci-fi blend of music, this would be exactly what I was looking for. The OST should be picked up if you’re into that kind of thing. It simply adds even more style to the distinct visuals.
I know my reviews can sometimes sound a little more critical than celebratory- there’s a reason for that. You deserve the best games out there, and Lumo comes very close to hitting that mark. It simply disappoints me because this could’ve been up there, had the developer put purpose and reason behind all of the creativity that’s been poured into this game. The puzzles are engaging, the environments are adventurous, and the references even got an occasional chuckle. Maybe I’m just not getting it. Maybe it’s too smart for me. Maybe it’s an argument against storylines in gaming. Maybe I’m just too much on the other side of that fence. Maybe Lumo is the next fantastic puzzle/adventure game out there.