If you’re old enough to have been enchanted by the likes of Flashback and Prince of Persia some 30-odd years ago, there’s a chance you might get on with Lunark.
A Kickstarter success, Lunark is an old-fashioned cinematic platforming adventure set in a totalitarian sci-fi world. Developed by Canari Games, it casts you as Leo, a half-human, half-cat-like creature who’s been looked after since birth by Gideon, an established scientist who you consider to be your father. Your relationship soon comes into question, though, when he demands you retrieve an object for him with your rather unique powers.
The story of Lunark is quite predictable, but it still entertains. With Leo’s past shrouded in mystery, there are revelations to be uncovered, and numerous other twists and turns. None of them are likely to truly shock or excite you, but they’ll keep you on your toes as you make your way through this relatively brief adventure. What’s most notable about Lunark, in fact, is its visual style.
You only need to look at screenshots or bits of gameplay to see that Lunark is unashamedly lo-fi. Still, despite the visuals looking numerous generations old, there’s a fair amount of detail packed in. More impressive is the game’s animation; Leo may be short on pixels, but he’s a fluid little chap, and so are the rest of the game’s cast. Throw in some rotoscoped video scenes at key points, and you have a game that looks like a blast from the past but still manages to charm you.
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It’s just a shame that the gameplay also feels old-fashioned. Movement here is laborious, making you carefully consider every action you make. Want to climb up a ledge? You need to make sure you’re stood in just the right spot then hold the right shoulder button while also holding up. You’ll want to make sure you descend in a similar manner, as if you drop more than a floor or so you’re going to end up injured, or perhaps even dead.
Of course, you have a lot more actions in your repertoire, such as running, jumping and even rolling. To navigate the perilous locations ahead of you, you need to make use of them effectively, sometimes combining them into a continuous string. That can be a problem, especially if you need to perform a high jump while running. Of all your moves, that’s the one that’s most inconsistent. In any case, movement always feels somewhat unwieldy.
Lunark has worse issues on the whole, though. Combat, for instance, is a nightmare, thanks to the clunky movement and your gun requiring energy rather than ammo. Come up against more than one enemy and you’ll rue the fact that you have to wait for your gun to recharge before you can defend yourself. Your shield device doesn’t help much either, given that it only works when you stand still. It’s even stressful trying to give yourself room before turning around to unleash some shots.
Changing screen can be a pain as well. How does it feel to move onto a new screen and find yourself face-to-face with an enemy that you can only defeat by shooting its missiles back at it, or in the path of a posing-spewing orifice with no time to escape? Maddening, that’s how. Especially it if results in your death and takes you back to an arbitrary checkpoint. It’s also hard to know when Lunark has saved your progress. So, if you leave the game for a rest, or rage quit, there’s always the chance you might lose a bit of progress.
While Lunark does have its merits, the further we progressed in it, the further it tested our patience. Its clunky controls are a hurdle, but one you might be able to get over. Problems with unfair combat, poor checkpointing, and questionable environmental design, however, are much harder to forgive. Ultimately, if you’re fan of the genre, Lunark is worth a try, but don’t expect it to stand up to even its decades old peers.