In an era full of platformers so teeth-clenchingly hard that massive death counts are the norm, encountering one that actively aids you is bound to catch an eye or two. The naive might celebrate and the self-assured might view it as a crutch, but Light Fall’s assistance is really more of a limb extension. With its accurate location tracking and the ability to slide a few pixels to catch your momentum, the block on-demand “Shadow Core” enables everyone to flit around with ease. The game might not appear as brutal as Super Meat Boy or Celeste, but it definitely has tricks up its sleeve.
Set in the world of Numbra where the Sun really doesn’t shine, you play as a nameless, voiceless kid who lost all of his memories. Following you around is a grumpy old owl named Stryx, and through his narrations you learn about yourself and Numbra’s history. You travel around with him from area to area, giving you tough love while you slowly learn what the heck really is going on.
Light Fall’s levels might seem a bit too wide and open at first glance, but what’s really happening is that you’re given a chance to get acclimated with your Shadow Core. There are four charges to it, and by the fourth block your feet must touch neutral ground in order to generate more. Visual and audio cues make sure that you’re aware at all times of how many you have left. Later on, you learn of other ways to use your block: as a shield, as a key to activate mechanisms, as an attack, and as a wall for portable wall-jumping. Typical obstacles such as pointy spikes and disintegrating platforms still exist, but they’re placed in a way that encourages creative Shadow Core use.
One thing to keep in mind is that Light Fall heavily relies on your speed and the ideal sequence to get past obstacles. You’ll frequently find yourself waiting for things to line up properly so that you can cross everything in one fell swoop. There’s little to no room for slowdowns and error – if you miss a beat you will die and go back to the nearest checkpoint. Shadow Core’s use also gradually evolves from a nifty tool to a survival necessity. But when you do get the timing, you’ll feel like the world’s best speedrunner.
Unless, of course, you encounter one of the countless literal walls in the game. Your character automatically grabs on to any wall as you approach it, which is helpful when you’ve run out of charges and need to reach the top. The grab is nothing short of sticky, almost like a magnet pull with how well the boy flings himself on the wall. The problem, however, is that the wall grab is way too sticky. In tighter vertical segments, the wall can sometimes break a well-timed run due to how hard the boy clings on it.
Some multi-segment gauntlets also show a strange imbalance on how the levels are designed, especially when you consider that your gauntlet progress disappears if you exit the game before completing it. Most of these segments show consistency with how normal areas are designed, but there’s always at least one section that asks for pixel perfect accuracy and timing. The sudden difficulty spike feels strange, almost as if someone else designed the challenge.
Believe it or not, there are actually collectibles in Light Fall that will encourage you to seek out alternate paths. These collectibles, while not numerous or required for your progress, provide additional story context. These come in the form of dated journal entries that supplement Stryx’s narration. There are obvious indicators as to where a collectible might be hiding, but you won’t be missing anything important if you don’t get all of them.
And as I mentioned previously in my PAX East 2018 preview, Light Fall’s presentation really looks gorgeous. Though varying in colors, each area relies on darkness and shadows to make the lack of light apparent. It manages to never be a distraction as you zip your way across the land. Definitely a relaxing sight especially when you’re repeating a particularly thorny area.
Light Fall might not be reinventing anything but it definitely succeeds in what it aims to be. Exhilarating speed combined with a very reliable personal block can make even the most casual player feel like a champion. Its gorgeous aesthetic ensures that you never tire of it, and instead keeps you mystified enough to keep playing. And its most important mechanic, the Shadow Core, perfectly balances its role as a lifesaver and a stepping stone. Even if you don’t think that you’re good with platforming games, try this one out. You’ll be surprised with what you can do.
Note: Bishop Games provided a copy for review purposes.