Monday 8 May 2023

Lunark Review (Switch)


Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

As cinematic platformers are on the re-ascendant it is heartening to me to see a developer making the case for the vital fibres of the genre. Flashback, Prince of Persia, and Abe’s Oddysee are all sort of the organs of Lunark, and it works out like a great slice of uncompromising pie.

The scene of this CINEMATIC platformer is sadly the weakest part of Lunark. The story is Deus Ex: Human Revolution adapted for a 90’s Saturday morning children’s cartoon. You play Leo, who is a peppy courier with a slight otherness to him, marking him against the human characters (like Jensen’s nano-guts), who has his very own guiding tech-mentor Gideon (like the fella with the office and the goatee). Things go chaotic at Gideon’s robot factory, however, and Leo is going to have to find out who’s behind it all. There are many locations to visit from futuristic city skylines to dank caverns, with a fun conspiracy narrative that won’t stretch your brain too much.

Rather than a beige-yellow-black cyberpunk murk, however, there are colours and adventure and boldness to Lunarks design. Having said that, there is a bit of a spattering of design styles on show here, which is jarring. There is beautiful, serious rotoscope cinematics (a la Flashback), with bold and blocky character portraits that take many styles. The occasional 3D model, lovingly frosted into abrasively large pixel form, work well, while some characters seem too small to make sense of. It is an odd presentation that I never quite got on with, but I do like the boldness of this game’s look.

To keep track; bold presentation, meek writing. So, the gameplay has to make up the mark and then some. And it does, for me. Lacking the fluidity of Conrad’s movements in Flashback, Leo is more noticeably taking a slot at a time on the ground. There is a plodding, but via this, thoughtful pace. Each little section can be tackled like a sequence of movements and actions that, if you get wrong, you soon learn costs you quite dearly. I bucked my ideas up and paid attention to jumps, ledges, enemy patterns, and obstacles, after Leo kept meeting his demise. At times this can feel quite punishing due to the distance of respawn points varying from quite close to too-far-to-be-enjoyable. You’ll get into the groove, or you’ll bounce off, probably, as the story isn’t quite compelling enough to drive it alone. Combat is inevitably pulled into this steadier flow too, where you have to fall into view of a drone or wee monster at the right time to get to cover, or get your shots off. There is a lot of timing and a lot of learning which movement keys to get in the right time, and during which cycle of movement. The difficulty curve isn’t that steep, but make sure you take your time.

I ended up enjoying the considered pace. There are very mild collectible-side-quest-NPC gewgaws to indulge in. The fact there was such a small amount of these felt like a song from a simpler time (I am currently playing through all the Assassin’s Creed games, so I’m generating a deep hatred for any collectible clutter like some gaming Marie Kondo). In fact, all of Lunark speaks from a different place. There is a lack of cynicism, a straight-forwardness, and a clarity of purpose that works. This is a tight and specific game, that speaks to an older time.

Much like point and click adventure games spawned new game types, the cinematic platformer was eaten by its own offspring (see Fade to Black) that pushed for greater excitement, embraced new visual angles, and sped up and up. These two genres are seeing a resurgence at the moment, and Lunark holds a particular spot with an entertaining game, that serves both something old and something new confidently and with a keen sense of joy.

Overall 8/10

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