Here’s something I didn’t expect to review in 2016. Isometric puzzle adventures are very much consigned to history as the thing Rare did before they partnered with Nintendo. Turns out ex-Ruffian Games employee Gareth Noyce is quite fond of them and he’s created Lumo as a lovingly crafted homage. I never quite got onboard with these as a child but can a game like this really sit well in the 21st century? Perhaps. Perhaps.
There’s not a lot of narrative to this as you begin in a modern day setting at a retro fare before you’re transported into Lumo’s game world. Your quest, so to speak, is to navigate the hundreds of trap-filled rooms in search of four cartridges. Once acquired, you’re home free. Along the way you’re encouraged to explore via secrets and some referential nods that aren’t laid on too thick.
As you’d anticipate, this is an isometric puzzle game warts and all. It begins swiftly with some basic mechanics being introduced to you. There’s no tutorials but you’re given a safe environment to test new objects out. Once the jump is unlocked early on, traversal becomes your main objective as you look for doors, raise platforms and move boxes. It’s simple to comprehend with most of the challenge coming from other obstacles like locked doors or pathways. Navigating through the larger world is made easier with map pages which you can find. Without it, the world’s sign-posted well enough for you to backtrack.
The game wears a bright aesthetic with plenty of colours at play. Environments are mostly stone dungeons but they offer some variation as they introduce new toxic hazards and some fun interludes. It doesn’t tire over the course of play which is good to see. The perspective is fairly rigid, although there is a mild ability to tilt the screen to give you just a little peek of what’s behind objects and such. It’s not Echochrome in terms of fully shifting your view. Sometimes that will be to the game’s detriment and, coupled with Lumo not casting a shadow against certain platforms, it can be difficult to judge depth. When that happens, it can be quite frustrating. I’ve seen some reviewers pin blame on the jumping itself but I find that to be responsive enough. Not being able to judge spacial awareness seems like more of a crucial issue. Some objects will have clear visual cues to show you spots you need to hit. Chains for example have a broken ring at ground level so there are situations where you’re given all the information you need to judge a jump. Just a shame its not consistent through all rooms. There are other niggles like how some rooms will reset if you re-enter them so having to resolve the puzzles becomes a minor nuisance.
Even with this occasional frustration, Lumo has a pleasant sense of flow. Rooms can come and go in seconds and, aside from some time constraints, you rarely feel like you’re under pressure. Puzzles are well considered with new elements being focused on rather than stacked. It’s not complex and the jumping seems dependable enough. Failure is a minor setback as you’re restarted almost instantly. It also seems like you’re rarely coming up against a brick wall for long. There are supposedly over 400 rooms to traverse and a first run will probably take five hours or so. The way it moves just about staves off my issues with it. The way it sounds is sufficiently chill. Music changes tend to indicate moving to a different area and signals progress. Chimes will chirp up when you’ve unlocked a way forward.
For as much as the genre trappings impede Lumo, I can’t quite bring myself to stay mad at it. Gareth Noyce has given us a nostalgia rich throwback with plenty of charm and character. The platforming is forgiving and enjoyable. When the flow is there, you have something pleasurable to play through that I think those without a point of reference will still gain something from. When it really gets going, it feels like a showcase as mechanics are introduced, used and then quietly pushed aside. There are plenty of surprises and nostalgic nods to uncover. Just remember that this draws on a lot of that. It might not resonate with you but I’d not advise you to stay away. Its good fun and worth a look.