Upon launching a Switch game you don’t expect to see a ZX Spectrum loading screen, but that’s precisely what happens with Triple Eh? Ltd’s Lumo. It’s entirely appropriate for this isometric platformer, however, as the 8-bit computer featured a number of classic examples of the genre. As well as being fun to play, the likes of Alien 8, Head Over Heels and Knight Lore were visually impressive for the time, allowing movement in a 3D space in an age of left-to-right or top-down four-way games.
Fast-forward a few decades and movement in a 3D space is nothing remarkable, and indeed with its fixed camera angle Lumo feels quite limited at times, giving good reasons for the isometric view falling out of favour over the years. Gameplay-wise it entertains, however, with ledges and platforms to jump between, hazards to avoid and puzzles to solve.
Largely the work of Gareth Noyce (music: Dopedemand, art: Paul Large) Lumo is a love letter to games of the past (including some from other genres) and is a fun adventure across over 400 rooms. As well as homages to past games, there are a number of other (mostly British) references, with the achievements including nods to magazines (Zzap!64, Mean Machines) and TV shows (Bullseye, The Crystal Maze).
The game begins with you being sucked into the computer world (a la Tron) due to a malfunctioning “SpecEye” and you must then seek out four items to allow you to return home. Of course these are not just lying around in a convenient spot, and collecting each will require the discoveries of keys, pushing of buttons and flicking of switches as well as overcoming various challenges. Things start off simply enough, however, with your initial task being to seek out a powerup to provide a superior jumping ability to the small hop you begin with.
In these opening moments you walk through rooms, getting used to your movement and the camera perspective and negotiating a couple of hazards. The firebars are simply walked around and although there are some moving platforms, these get close enough to allow you to walk from one to another. Once your jumping has improved the challenge increases, though generally at a steady pace.
There are three control methods in the game that affect how your character moves (is down for downwards movement or diagonal?) and these can be tried out before you begin the game to make sure you’ve picked one you’re comfortable with. Can you get an achievement to pop up whilst in this training dojo? Sure you can! As well as a button to jump there’s also one to use your wand, although this is not collected until you are quite a way into the game.
Though sticking to the isometric view of its forebears, Lumo’s visuals have a modern sheen to them. There’s nothing spectacular, but it moves smoothly and there’s detail in the environments and good lighting effects as well as for things such as fire and laser beams. There’s simple but effective snow in some rooms and reflections in ice also work well.
The perspective can cause issues, however, with missed jumps and hazards walked into due to either partially obscured action or you simply misjudging where something is; leaps from ropes are particularly tricky to judge. It should be stressed that this is not a frequent occurrence and often noting your shadow helps with tricky manoeuvres. Some rooms allow you to press the shoulder buttons to rotate the room slightly to get a different view on things, but rarely in the rooms where this ability would be useful.
Chilled breezy music plays throughout the game, as well as some mysterious tracks too. One amusing moment early in the game has you step into a lift, the game’s usual soundtrack making way for some elevator music (“hold my hand very tightly, very tightly…) as you travel to the next floor. Regular music returns whilst you go about your business, with the cheesy track resuming as you climb back in to make your return trip (“sugar honey I love you…)”. Sound effects also work well with echoing footsteps, crumbling bricks, running water and flickering flames adding to the atmosphere.
There’s good variety in the platforming with jumps not just across gaps, but onto moving platforms, crumbling blocks and platforms that switch around as you land on them, requiring some quick footwork. Later on there are platforms that are only visible when using your wand. Aside from jumping there are spikes, flames and a few enemies to avoid and occasionally the game will offer something a bit different such as a skiing or minecart section.
One thing the game does well is introduce these new challenges steadily. For example there are metal balls you ride atop in some moments where your controls are inverted. On your first encounter with these you must simply get from one side of the room to the other, next time you must stick to a pathway and after that there’s a small moving platform where you fight against the ball’s momentum to stay on.
These small challenges in the rooms can get tough, but luckily you have unlimited lives in which to attempt them; failure simply warping you back to where you entered. The game gets quite addictive when you narrowly miss out on making it through a room, as you go again to try and fix that small mistake you made. The exception to this is a large chunk of the icey rooms, which get quite infuriating. The slippy surface is something to keep an eye on as you slide towards the edges of walkways, but then you have moving walkways and platforms. Then smaller platforms and things trying to knock you off those platforms. Generally there’s a sense of accomplishment from clearing a tricky room, but in the winter death land there’s just relief.
Aside from negotiating hazards, Lumo will on occasion throw a puzzle at you, including ones where you push blocks onto switches or find a way to flick a switch that is high up on the wall. This may be to get you out of the current room or to unblock the path in another. Keys also feature in some rooms, then requiring you to backtrack to where you saw that locked door.
There’s plenty of puzzle and platform action to keep you entertained as you work through the game, but there’s also some optional extras to seek out such as rubber ducks and coins. A number of cassette tapes (like games came on back in the day) are hidden throughout, usually found by noticing a ledge you can climb up and then hopping over the room’s wall.
Finding all of these will keep completionists busy, but more enjoyable are the minigames that are hidden in Lumo. Offering a change of pace, these are based on games of yesteryear and include mini-challenges inspired by the likes of Zaxxon, Marble Madness and Nebulus. There’s six in total and although they cannot be replayed, the variety of styles offered makes for fun diversions from the main (also fun) game.
Lumo is hard to put down and you may find yourself playing for long stretches due to the fun provided by the various puzzles and platforming challenges. However, as you can save and quit at anytime it is also suitable for quick bursts of play, making it a good title when out and about in handheld mode as you tackle as many (or few) rooms as you have time for.
Once cleared there’s replay value in the game not only from it being an enjoyable adventure, but also from trying to get the various achievements and collecting all of the ducks, coins and cassette tapes. If 100%ing a game is not your bag and you’d just prefer a tougher challenge, then the game also features an “Old School” mode that has a finite number of lives (more can be collected) and does not allow saving. There’s also a timer to keep track of how long your exploration is taking you. Upon death you are treated to a screen informing you of how many rooms you explored, distance travelled, ducks/cassettes collected and how many horrible deaths you suffered. There’s an online leaderboard for this mode but at the time of writing this just shows an “Unable to find a Leaderboard!” message. There’s still fun to be had from trying to improve on your own performance however, whether that's looking to collect more items or just visit more rooms.
Lumo provides a modern isometric platformer, offering (as you'd expect) improved audio-visual presentation over the classics of the genre, whilst still providing the same kind of entertainment. There's fun from spotting the references to old and obscure games (like Jack the Nipper) and other things ("Take your brain to another dimension. Pay close attention"), but it's the gameplay that's the biggest source of entertainment here. Many rooms serve as mini challenges as you attempt to clear obstacles and avoid dangers, flick a switch to activate something somewhere else or perhaps stop for something that requires a bit more thought, such as pushing mirrors about to redirect some laser beams. Occasionally the fixed camera makes progress through a room more difficult than it should be, and there are moments in the ice zone where the game moves from "tough-but-fair" to "ruddy annoying". There's also the old school mode for those seeking a stern challenge, or there's fun to be had replaying the regular mode as you go seeking out more hidden items and bonus games.
For retro kicks with a modern feel, or for those curious about this genre and the experience it offers, this is certainly an enjoyable adventure.