Of the many game genres that took off at the rise of gaming, the cinematic platformer is one that has had many standout titles back in the early ’90s with the likes of Flashback and Out of this World but nowadays the genre has mostly fallen to the wayside outside of a few exceptions. Now one such title is looking to bring back the feel of the classic cinematic platformer with its own sci-fi tale in the form of Canari Games’ Lunark. With a retro feel, aesthetic, and design is this title that harkens back to the classics of the genre worth your time?
Sometime in the far off future humanity has ventured out into space to find itself a new world capable of thriving as a species and in Lunark they have managed to do so with the world of Albaryne serving as their new home and the former moon being their means of transport as it is not only a moon but a space station now as well. The only problem is, humanity is hardly thriving here as a dystopian ruling class of the rich and AI holds the people down with an iron grip. Players take on the role of Leo, a unique member of society who has extraordinary abilities but appears to be rapidly aging as a result.
Leo is tasked with retrieving an artifact from some local ruins on the planet by his mentor and owner of the local robot factory. Once his task is completed Leo quickly finds himself mixed into a rebellion and finding himself on the run all while slowly uncovering the dark and dangerous secrets of the planet as well as what humanity has done since they arrived there. To go into too much detail would spoil the surprisingly well-written storyline but it must be said that Lunark’s storyline is an enjoyable sci-fi tale that has its fair share of twists and revelations despite the plot only unfolding through short interactions, some of which are entirely optional extra dialogue from NPCs, and a number of collectable logs in the latter portion of this roughly five hour long game.
Every element of Lunark has been designed as something of a love letter to the cinematic platformers of yesteryear, including the way Leo controls, moves around the various cityscapes, sewers, jungles, and more that players will travel through, and fights against the robots and various creatures he encounters. Players are quickly given a rundown of the, frankly imprecise, control scheme that they will be working with to showcase how Leo will have momentum as he runs and jumps as well as climbing up and down ledges to navigate the world and avoid drops that would otherwise be deadly.
This means that players will need to get the hang of these retro controls because otherwise they may be in for a bad time when they come face to face with the platforming and combat. Leo moves with a purpose but also often feels like he is just a step behind players pushing the jump button at times. This can lead to some missed jumps and deaths that would otherwise seem easy and unfortunately the game also has a stubborn tendency to move Leo’s hurtbox slightly slower than his actual character animations meaning players may be ducking a projectile last second only to still get hit by it or find themselves struck with a laser beam trap even though they’ve already moved out of the way.
Lunark does an excellent job at keeping players on their toes by varying up the locations players explore as well as the enemies they need to face off against in these locations. There is a certain level of difficulty that increases from location to location but players will find their skills rewarded as they use what they have learned to surmount the obstacles in their path, even if one happens to be a rather dreadful stealth section.
While a bit frustrating at times, players will get the hang of things and once they do Lunark feels like a great platformer that has quite a lot of stylistic choices working in its favor. Leo will initially start with only three pips of health but can gather shield charges that allow him to stand still and tank a hit as well as collect shells, most of which are located in hidden locations, that can be traded in for a permanent increase to his health and feel like a solid reward for player exploration. Along these same lines Leo will find fruits through his travels that can heal him but even if he should fall in combat or down a pit the game does make use of some, generally, solid checkpoints.
That being said, the checkpoints that players will often need to rely on are incredibly inconsistent and at worst don’t save should players need to walk away from the game. While some of the simplest sections of the game will have almost immediate checkpoints there are also far more difficult sections with multiple enemy encounters, traps, and jumps that will see players needing to restart an incredibly long section to the point of frustration. It also is worth noting that, should players close the game in any form or have it crash on them which it did a few times during our playthrough, it will restart the stage entirely rather than reload from a checkpoint.
Visuals & Audio
With a rotoscope-style approach to its pixel graphics Lunark does an excellent job looking both retro and nicely detailed at the same time. Some early locations may appear a bit too chunky for their own good but many locales that players travel through have quite a lot of detail to their backdrops and character details are represented well in portrait form as well as during the few cut-scenes that happen throughout the game. It is worth noting that since this was a Kickstarter game nearly every examinable object is simply a list of names and even some NPCs will have a complete style change and full name to represent the backer which is a bit distracting
Lunark does not feature any voice work nor does it feature grunts of any kind to represent characters talking with one another but it does have some great sound effects and stellar retro style background music that would match any of the classic cinematic platformers of the ‘90s.
Lunark may not be a game for everyone as it does its best to stay true to the cinematic platformer genre which in and of itself may put off some players but those looking to see what the game has to offer will find themselves in for something of a treat. This retro styled platformer emulates the feeling of the early ’90s exceptionally well with its visual style and controls and tells a satisfying tale at the same time, even if it takes some getting used to along the way.
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