As shared last week, the first game I had on my list for completion after GameBlast20 was LUNA The Shadow Dust. I’d been looking forward to settling down with a point-and-click after streaming for 50-days straight but only managing to finish one title during that entire time.
Lantern Studio’s project had appeared at several of the events I attended last year but I hadn’t really paid it much attention. Although It looked lovely in terms of artwork, the overview provided to attendees didn’t give much away; and as I’ve discussed recently, quieter games like this tend to fall under the radar at expos. But I accepted the offer when Emily Morganti contacted me about a review key – she has given me the opportunity to play some great adventures in the past so how could I refuse?
The same as the overview mentioned above, the game itself doesn’t give much away at the beginning either. You find yourself playing as a young boy falling through darkness until he’s enveloped in a bubble and safely lowered to the ground. He then begins a mysterious journey to climb an ancient tower full of locked doors and hidden secrets, until he reaches the highest point and regains his memories. But you might not like what you find there – or even be able to make sense of it.
LUNA is a point-and-click without words. It contains no written text or dialogue between characters and the history of its world is told through wall paintings, old book illustrations and objects decorating the environment. The developer says they wanted to use this style to preserve the magical atmosphere of the tower and I understand their desire to do so; but, as with all wordless adventures, there’s always a danger that some players may not fully grasp the narrative. More about that a bit later.
The boy makes his way from room to room throughout the old building, and the lock to each new door is opened when the puzzle before it is solved. It’s almost like a series of mini escape-rooms and the fact that each challenge is contained in this way makes it a relaxing title to play: there’s no having to remember locations, inventory or characters as there is with traditional point-and-clicks. Though the difficulty level isn’t particularly high and this might not be to the taste of seasoned adventurers, it does add to the chilled vibe.
The puzzles increase in challenge the further you make your way through the tower, but some are incredibly simple and at no point did I feel the need to turn to a walkthrough. At time you’ll find yourself matching colours or symbols and making it out of a room quickly; then at others, the puzzles will involve several steps and these are the most satisfying to solve. The penultimate feels like the longest, taking place over split levels and two locations, but is still fairly easy providing you’ve been paying attention to the clues given in the environment.
Shortly after the start of LUNA, you’ll rescue a round cat-like companion who accompanies you on your journey. The puzzles involving the pair are the highlights of the game thanks to their individual skill and I wish there could have been more of these moments. The cat is able dissolve into shadow and then use areas of darkness as physical ledges so, as the boy’s silhouette casts shape on the wall, the feline can make its way up to higher locations. This is used to great effect in a challenge where it’s necessary to pull a lever.
It’s impossible to write about the title without mentioning its artwork and it truly is lovely. Thanks to traditional cel animation, it feels as though you’re watching a cartoon from your childhood. The music perfectly suits the gameplay and all elements combine wonderfully in a music room section, where you must make cat clones and get each of them to sing a different note at the right moment to recreate a tune. Watch the whole song – which is pretty easy to do because the whole thing is beautiful – and you’ll earn yourself an achievement.
The best way I can describe this game is that it’s like a cup of tea. It’s warm and inviting, and makes you think of cosy evenings curled up on the sofa; but it’s not particularly exciting and it’s over far too quickly. Perhaps my biggest grumble is how many details get lost in the wordless telling of its story. I’m not saying that a game has to spell out every single plot point to the player but, when you have to refer to a DLC artbook for a written explanation of the narrative to understand most of what’s happening, it feels like something is missing.
But also like a cup of tea, LUNA The Shadow Dust is a nice way to spend a couple of hours on a lazy afternoon. Stick the kettle on and give it a go.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.