Originally published at: Review | LUNARK - XboxEra
Last last night, about 15 hours before this embargo, a friend showed me a video for a game called LUNARK. It looks gorgeous, utilizing a low pixel art style, blended with rotoscoped animations. I was immediately pulled back to the original Prince of Persia games, and Out of This World. For the rest of my night and into the next morning I was transported to an alien world full of misery, intrigue, color, and fun.
You are Leo, protégé of the boss at a local factory. Suffering from premature aging you are tasked with returning an artifact to your boss. Things go sideways, as they always do, and you’ll weave your way through a society oppressed by robots, and harboring dangerous secrets. The LUNARK is a moon converted into a machine in orbit over your home planet. There is a lot more to the story here, told mostly through short conversations in-game, but it’s best not to spoil it. Just know that the writing is solid and the plot kept me intrigued the entire way through.
The first thing you’ll notice about the game is its visual style. Utilizing a very low pixel count look, at first glance I thought it perhaps a tad too low, LUNARK is a 2D cinematic platformer. For old gamers like myself if you remember the old Prince of Persia titles the animations feature a gorgeous rotoscoped look. In-game action takes place on a 2D plane with occasional cutscenes that jump to a set 3rd person camera angle. In action, I think it looks stunning, and screenshots do not do it justice. None of this would matter if the gameplay and sound were not on the same level, thankfully, they are.
Shooting the Bird
Where LUNARK differs is that its lovingly crafted animations do not keep the game from feeling good to play. It controls damn well, with X being your shoot button, A used for interactions, and Y for jumping. Holding the right bumper is your run and climb button, while left bumper is used to activate your shield. Those shields only work when standing still, and all of it works well once you get to how deliberate it all is. It is not a twitch game, and things can feel unresponsive if you try to play it as one. The moment I got the rhythm of the control scheme it felt far better than most games in this “cinematic platformer” genre normally do.
There is a lot of platforming, and I rarely felt cheated by it. You will use the right bumper a lot, both for running and for climbing. I used the D-Pad for movement and it felt far more precise than the analog stick did. Holding right bumper and pressing down lets you climb at ledges, and if you hold right bumper you can hang on as long as you are not hit by an enemy. The same works for going up, and if you are running and holding up at the same time you can reach otherwise unreachable ledges. There were a few sections that put the controls to the test, one being a “run to the right” boss encounter and the other being a stealth section. I beat both without too many issues, though the stealth section’s infrequent checkpoints were a sore spot.
Leo starts with only three health hearts, and every hit removes one. By eating “healing fruit” in the environment you can restore one heart meter at a time. Leo also has up to three shield charges available, and they are found within crates you can punch or shoot. It’s a simple game overall, and not overly long, which is a bonus. If it had been much longer it would have been a detriment to what otherwise is a great experience.
The last thing I need to talk about is the music. It is fantastic and my wife kept commenting on how much she loved it as she watched me play. It harkens back to the 16-bit era and is full of catchy tunes that match each of the levels well. There is no voice acting in the game, instead, dialogue is just a series of muffled tones. My playtime was one long session and I had zero bugs or crashes. It is not online in any way I can see so Quick Resume should work well on Series consoles.
Wrapping Things Up
LUNARK was a game I had never heard of a day before this review, and I loved my time with it. A beautifully realized throwback look is mixed with fun gameplay and an incredible soundtrack. For $20 if the premise sounds interesting to you then you should do yourself a favor and give this one a go.