Announced as it was all the way back in 2008, gamers can be forgiven for suspecting that Liight might, like so much vapourware before it, never have graced our Wii consoles. But this week, the long-awaited and oft-discussed game finally got its chance to shine.
The good news is that the extended development time actually seemed to have done the game some favours (unlike a few others we could name). The presentation is smooth, slick, and uncommonly impressive for a WiiWare title. The effort was obviously made by Studio Walljump to get everything just right, from the responsiveness of the motion controls to the way the lighting effects react when you move the lamps around to the layered music that builds (or retreats) depending upon how near you are to completing the puzzle.
As a package it's tough to fault it. A lesser developer would have settled upon the central concept of the game (which is admittedly a great one) and hoped that uniqueness would carry the title on its own. It's refreshing to find that for Studio Walljump "good enough" just wasn't good enough.
Liight is a puzzle game that, at its core, is about positioning coloured lamps so that they shine on similarly-coloured targets: light them all up at once, and the level ends. It's precisely the kind of deceptively simple concept that has defined the truly great puzzle games of the past, and Liight does its best to keep pace with them all.
Of course, shining lights on targets wouldn't make for very exciting gameplay, so it's no surprise that the game complicates itself rather quickly. Colours must be combined to shine on targets for which there is no corresponding lamp, obstacles can either help or hinder you in directing the light depending upon how you think to use them, and there are even static generators that you'll have to avoid hitting with light at all.
On top of all this, most levels contain special tiles upon which lamps cannot be placed, or which will block out any light at all. There's typically a lot to keep in mind while solving your way through the 100 puzzles included with the game, and it can give your brain a pretty rewarding workout.
The controls are simple: pointing at the screen, you use the A button to pick up a lamp and hold B while turning the Wii Remote to rotate it. Releasing A will drop the lamp. It couldn't be simpler, and, as mentioned above, the developers obviously invested a lot of time in getting the motion controls to "feel" right, which lower-budget games don't always manage. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that the game sometimes wouldn't read our twists as smoothly as we would have liked, but over the years we've learned that that's more an issue with the reliability of the Wii Remote itself than anything a developer can help, and the specific design of this game never let it become problematic.
The puzzles are untimed, meaning that you only have to concentrate on the actual task at hand. You will not fail for taking too long, and you will not receive any bonus for going quickly. The game only wants you to solve the puzzle, and it will wait patiently for you to finish, however long it takes.
In fact, this lack of a timer (or a score) conspires with the cosy visuals and hypnotically cycling pulses that constitute the music to turn Liight into a pretty relaxing experience. Working with the lamps and rearranging them just so has a pleasant, soothing effect on the player, and it just might be the perfect game for somebody who wants to play something of substance without being overwhelmed by chaos and split-second decision making.
The 100 levels are broken down into four groups of 25, each group representing a different difficulty level. The easiest levels serve mainly as tutorials and won't offer as much challenge as they will quiet instruction, but there's something inherently pacifying about just manipulating the lamps in the first place, and boredom won't have any chance to set in before the game starts throwing curve balls your way.
In addition to the 100 levels that constitute Liight's main puzzle mode, you will also be able to create your own puzzles with a user-friendly construction tool, and exchange them with friends in your address book. This feature goes a long way toward extending the life of the game, provided you have friends who purchased it as well. We thought the difficulty of the puzzles included in the game was pretty much perfect, but for anyone who desires even more of a challenge, this will be the place to find it.
There is also a Nonstop mode in which the goal is to score as many points as possible before you fail. It'll find you frantically shifting and rotating lamps to illuminate targets that appear and disappear all over the board, and it offers a significant departure in that respect from the rest of the game.
Unfortunately, Liight does have a few issues. There's nothing that should turn anyone away completely, but a few things are still worth bringing up.
The game is sometimes picky about just how much light needs to be shined on a target before it activates. At times we thought we completed a level, only to see that one target was not reacting to the light shined on it. By adjusting the lamp in question slightly, it activated. Since many puzzles require you to just barely catch targets by the outer limit of a lamp's light, it's sometimes a little frustrating for that limit to be so hazily defined.
Also, the static generators can be borderline maddening. It's one thing to include an object that can't have any light shined on it, but it's another to make it emit continuous irritating static the entire time it is lit. On some levels they are easy enough to avoid, but as the game gets more difficult, the static targets are harder to stay away from. The noise they generate interferes so greatly with the enjoyability of the game that players are likely to prioritise shutting them up, worrying about a solution to the puzzle later.
The music is pretty great, and the decision to layer it as the player gets closer to solving the puzzle is a clever one. Sadly, the "completed" songs are never heard until the puzzle is solved, at which point the prompt appears to move on to the next puzzle. While the player can elect to sit still at the prompt and listen to the finished tune for a while, the game itself will always be played to an incomplete sonic backdrop. Take that as a compliment, Studio Walljump; we wouldn't be complaining if the music wasn't so pleasant to begin with.
Finally, we felt that Nonstop mode came across as a bit of a missed opportunity. The urgently timed gameplay just didn't gel with the concept of Liight as a whole. Its inclusion isn't a problem (you're never forced to play it), but it is worth mentioning just how incongruous it can feel when gauged against the rest of the package.
Fortunately, though any issues with the game were minor, and are far outweighed by the absorbing, impressive gamplay experience offered by Liight as a whole. We don't always see such great care invested in the construction of a game, and so when we do, it stands out.
Those who enjoy meditative, slower-paced puzzles free of failures and time penalties will find their time with Liight very well spent, but those who prefer faster, more urgently challenging gameplay might be less impressed. Having said that, for the very fair price, Liight may still be worth the risk. The unique dynamism involved in solving these puzzles gives Liight a distinct identity, and the excellent aural and visual package rewards the player for simply spending time with the game. It takes a lot for a puzzler to stand out on a service packed with them, but Liight manages to shine brightly all the same.