From the outside looking in, Lumo on the Switch should have been an automatic staple. It’s an isometric puzzle platformer that reaches back to the style of the old days and polished with modern graphics. The little wizard exudes cuteness, oozing just enough whimsy to carry you through the adventure. Areas have this ambient lighting that settles you in like a comfortable blanket. Sprinkle in just the right amount of nostalgia and you should have a classic on your hands.
What’s going on?
Triple Eh?’s Lumo originally released for Steam and PlayStation 4 back in May 2016. The Xbox One and PlayStation Vita versions followed in June and July of the same year, before finally making its way to the Switch in October of this year. The game is loaded with puzzles in over 400 screens, all solved by meticulously making your way through each one. Abilities are introduced gradually so that you don’t get overwhelmed with what you’re learning. There’s no clear narrative – it’s just you and your imagination.
The game starts off looking very differently than what you’d probably find if you Google’d Lumo. You take control of a teenager, making his way to a small games expo of sorts. You go to the back of the room where an old PC waits for you. But before you can do anything, it sucks you in and you’re now a cute little wizard.
Cute is good.
The first few rooms do an excellent job in introducing you to the game. You learn the various layouts of the room and the kinds of obstacles you’ll encounter. You can’t jump quite yet, but that’s alright. There’s nothing that deliberately exploits your lack of jumping. You make your way around, until eventually you learn how to jump. You unlock a room, move a few boxes, and you continue on with your way.
Puzzles and jumps also get more intricate as you continue. Most puzzles span several rooms, requiring you to travel from one room to another just to set a chain reaction of solutions that open new areas. It never feels too much, however, because you can accomplish these things at your own pace. You always have a choice in where you want to go, allowing you to postpone puzzle-solving in lieu of satisfying your curiosity.
Collectibles are hidden everywhere, with some requiring you to deliberately jump past walls. The most visible ones are the rubber ducks – these simply require you to jump on their head to collect them. Other collectibles are cleverly hidden – they serve as perfect reward for your inquisitive eyes. And items that are essential to your progress, such as maps and keys, are more accessible than the first two. They still require effort to collect but they’re never hard enough to impede your progress.
What’s the matter then?
Isometric games must be handled carefully especially if they’re a platformer, and Lumo is no exception. Even though the initial game setup aims to ensure that you play in a setting that’s comfortable for you, there’s always a risk involved. The different perspective can make jumps inaccurate, but this is when you rely on another aspect to assist you. The most common option would be to watch your character’s shadow in order to keep track of where you’ll land.
Unfortunately, the little wizard’s shadow is unreliable. Because of the dim lighting and the wizard’s size, it’s difficult to pinpoint where the shadow is exactly. If you do happen to spot it, it’s so small that it makes jumping feel scary. And when you have to cross a series of disintegrating platforms with poisonous lakes beneath them, a seemingly routine jump suddenly feels nerve-wracking.
When you’re not busy praying to the input gods asking for them to recognize your inputs, you’re fighting with the very perspective that you choose. There’s an option to tilt the camera slightly left or right, but the tilt is so minor that it may as well be absent. Be prepared to really learn the limits of your patience as you try to cross multiple rooms via narrow platforms, all while hoping that you judged your jumps properly.
And because the background music is crafted well enough to never take your attention away from the puzzle, you suddenly have no saving grace when you’re stuck with a multi-room jumping puzzle. Add in the constant sight of dungeon walls, regardless of how the lighting changes their colors, and the frustration really sets in sooner than expected.
Lumo had the makings of an instant classic. A retro tribute without the retro graphics, combined with an adorable character make for a very tempting game. It even had pop culture references to yesteryears that some people would recognize. But mechanically, Lumo had critical flaws. Isometric views should never be hindrance to gameplay, but rather a style of presentation that offers a unique experience. And that’s where the game fell short.
Note: Rising Star Games provided a copy for review purposes.