I just finished playing Lumo, so I supposed I might as well review it.
When I was a kid, these were always the kinds of games I was curious about but never had (aside from Mario RPG), so I can only critique from a modern perspective… overall, it’s a charming little isometric puzzle-platformer and it worked flawlessly for me on Linux.
The game lets you choose between a modern mode with maps and infinite lives and an old school mode, but I found myself never using the maps because it leaves it up to you to figure out where you are on each one and it was easier to just remember which rooms I’d already passed through based on their appearance and what they connected to. I was, however, very thankful for the infinite lives at some points. I also appreciated the very generous choices for where I respawn on some of the longer rooms.
Playing with an X-Box 360 pad, the controls are about as good as can be expected and I like how it lets you configure how the 45° axes of the isometric perspective get mapped to the 90° inputs of a keyboard, D-Pad, or analog stick. The movement speed is OK but, given the amount of backtracking, I do wish that there was a Run button or that it was running in an emulator so I could hold down “unlimit emulation speed” (A.K.A. fast-forward) to simulate it.
As with a pixel-based isometric game, the perspective is locked, which makes gauging certain jumps difficult. It’s retro-authentic in a game that’s got various 80s references sprinkled throughout it, so I won’t hold that against it. If you’re not used to controlling isometric games, my advice is to use un-mapped “up is north” directions until you get to tricky jumps, then switch to “up is north-west” temporarily for those.
That said, there’s one block-pushing+hopping puzzle in the ice area (about 2/3rds of the way through the game) where the slipperiness when you’re trying to hop on the blocks, the ease of accidentally pushing them in a direction they’ll shatter, and the delay before you can respawn a new ice block combine to make some Angry Video Game Nerd-level bad design… and I’m not one to judge a game’s controls quickly. (I actually have a post on the way about the zen of Getting Over It with Bennet Foddy.)
Also, in the final area of the game, it starts to rely too heavily on spike-block mazes, which drive home how frustrating it can be when you can’t rotate the camera, the spike block is preventing you from seeing your feet/shadow, and simply brushing against a spike will kill you… as well as the occasional optional puzzle which drives home why you don’t mix locked cameras with 3D environments which don’t follow isometric grids.
Beyond that, I’m not a huge fan of how, if I miss a collectable in a secret area, I’ll have to start a new game to get it because I can’t backtrack past certain points. I do know THAT is retro-authentic, however, so I’ll excuse it. (Even if it didn’t give “??” as the total count for certain types of collectables, I don’t plan to start a new game to achieve 100%… I’ll just excuse it. I’ve got far too many games on my backlog to humour a cheap excuse for replayability from a more entertainment-starved era.)
It does a nice job of keeping the puzzles varied as things go on, but there are occasionally some of them which feel like they’re varying far enough to feel ill-fitted to the genre (thought nowhere near as bad as in Fez), such as suddenly having to play an easier variation on Lights Out to progress.
Overall, the main glaring flaw is the storytelling, which has a very “I get the impression there’s a story, but it’s making me guess at what it is and I’m just here for the puzzles” feel to it. First, the intro has you pick a gender and color for a generic looking kid, then spend maybe a minute walking to the Tron scanner and then the actual game starts. It’s pointless, feels very tacked on, and makes a very poor first impression. Second, once you’re in the game proper, you occasionally have some mysterious Black Mage-y characters who feel like they should have significance, but instead just serve as props to set up puzzles.
More subjectively, I’d also have preferred if it were pixel-art rather than 3D. Whatever it is that my childhood has left me wanting from these games is intimately tied to the distinctive isometric look that I would sometimes glimpse. (And, given that some of the collectables are clearly referencing 8-bit micros, but it’s not aiming for a retro-authentic color palette, why not do 320×200 at 256 colors?)
Finally, It’s not a very long game, so you’ll want to buy it at a discount. I finished it in maybe 12 hours.
All in all, I enjoyed it, but it’s nothing special so definitely wait for a discount.
Game – Lumo by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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