REVIEW: LUNA The Shadow Dust

Feb
13

REVIEW: LUNA The Shadow Dust

Two souls team up to take on the challenges of a mysterious tower. What is at the top of it?

Released: Steam
Type: Single-player
Genre: Adventure, Casual
Puzzle
Developer: Lantern Studio
Publisher: Coconut Island Games,
Application Systems Heidelberg
Release Date: 13 Feb, 2020

The Premise

LUNA The Shadow Dust is a point-and-click puzzle game presented in a completely hand-animated visual style. We take on the role of a boy, and after a few minutes into the game, we also have a small and funny-looking pet companion join us. We need to use them both to solve puzzles ahead. Each puzzle we solve, we ascend higher along the large tower. So, why are we going up this tower and what’s at the top of it?

Story and Characters

There isn’t any backstory given to us at the start, which creates a sense of mystery. We just enter the tower and begin solving puzzles in order to ascend it. Little by little various hints of the world and the backstory are presented to us, usually in a form of well-animated cinematics and memories. In that regard, the story does take a backseat and allows the gameplay to lead, but it frequently shows itself to remind us that it’s never really left and is always there. You’d constantly be wondering who the boy is and why is he going up the tower and where did his pet companion come from.

It’s a small story revolving only around a handful of characters. There is no dialogue spoken throughout the whole game. Everything is shown with actions and character emotions. Thus, a few things are left to interpretation, but there’s just enough shown to us to give us a good idea of what’s going on. It’s a very interesting style of storytelling and can be hard to pull off well. And although the game doesn’t tell us much about the setting and how its universe operates, it does well enough to deliver a nice, heart-warming story.

There is a great deal of mystery surrounding the tower itself. Some things are left to our interpretation, while others are only hinted at. I bet you’d still be asking questions about some aspects of this tower and some rooms in it even after finishing the game.

Gameplay

The meat of the game are the puzzles. We go through the tower stage by stage, with each one being a unique puzzle that we must solve. There are no items to collect in order to use later, and there are no special abilities for us to remember to use. Every puzzle can be solved right there and then by studying the environment, doing some experimentation to see how everything works, and then to formulate and execute a solution.

So, in that regard, I found most of the puzzles were pretty fun, fresh, and unique. Some of them were multi-stepped and had different stages, where solving one part of it then led to another. The four seasons puzzle was perhaps my favourite of the lot (you can see a bit of it in the gameplay video above). Without giving any solution spoilers away, in that puzzle we have to manipulate the environment at each season while keeping in mind that it affects the other seasons, which eventually would lead us to solve the entire puzzle one step at a time. These kinds of multi-layered puzzles can be really engaging and keep us constantly thinking about what to do next in the area.

Perhaps the thing that really stands out when it comes to puzzle-solving in this game is that we have to make use of both characters in order to solve the puzzles. The boy and the pet companion interact with the environments differently. There are some types of interaction that only one of them does and not the other. Generally, the boy is able to press buttons and pull levers, as well as push some objects around the room, while the pet companion is able to do platforming on various objects, including the shadows. There’s a lot of alternating between them required by the player while solving each puzzle.

I only wasn’t too fond of one puzzle close to the end of the game as its solution felt like it was hidden away a bit, but this is to be expected. Most players will find at least one puzzle they dislike in almost every puzzle game. So, having said that, I found most of the puzzles were satisfying to solve and kept me thinking and trying out various solutions just long enough so not to stall the progress.

Presentation

In case you haven’t noticed yet, this game has an outstanding visual style. Its environments are beautifully crafted, the colours are amazing and work well together in harmony, and the lighting is superb. All this creates an atmosphere that manages to successfully feel real and majestic at the same time.

There are also well-designed cutscenes, usually during the story segments. These have been beautifully animated and manage to tell so much without a single spoken word.

I think the music manages to play a big role in that too. It conveys the emotion of the scene in place of any dialogue and it does it very clearly. So, during cutscenes, the music can sound pretty grand and heroic, while during the puzzles it’s mainly quite chill and relaxed.

The game is incredibly well-polished and I’ve not come across any bugs. In fact, it seems this small team of devs has put a lot of passion into the game. They even took extra care to change the colours of one of the puzzles so that colour-blind people are able to distinguish between those colours and can enjoy the game like the rest of us. When devs go the extra mile, it shows in their game.

Verdict

It’s an easy ‘Save’. The game offers what it promises while wrapping it up in a beautiful presentation and polish. Perhaps its only drawback is that it’s a pretty short game – it took me just over 4 hours to complete it, but it might vary from player to player depending on how fast they solve each puzzle. It doesn’t overstay its welcome as far as the number of puzzles is concerned, and none of the puzzles felt like repeats of one another, but I feel that the game could’ve probably shown us a bit more of the backstory and maybe even involved a few more minor characters in it. Maybe even having some extra replay value would’ve been good too so to make new playthroughs have something different to the first playthrough. But that aside, the game is fun and engaging for its entire duration and is worth checking out.

About White Shadow

A maths and science tutor, indie games developer, and graphics artist (mainly in pixel art). A huge fan of psychology, learning new things, creativity, animals, and all things science fiction. Video games have always been one of my favourite creative mediums, particularly in story-telling aspect. Favourite genres and themes: story-driven, choices matter, RPGs, sci-fi, dark fantasy, thrillers, anti-heroes, tactical combat.

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