Chasing high scores and facing off against waves of enemies is usually the kind of instant, twitchy action reserved for the neon of arcades and a classic gaming mentality. We're so used to engaging stories and cinematic experiences that sometimes we just need a moment to sit back, relax, and hurl some bright pink spears of pure light at bad guys. Welcome to the inter-dimensional Germanic future, where all of your spear - or speer - hurling dreams can come true!
Lichtspeer: Double Speer Edition is a simple and straightforward game, even though its premise is anything but. A bored Elder God is looking for entertainment in a bizarre, '80s twist on the future where hipster cyclopes and rocket-launching penguins roam the land. After a little character customisation, choosing both a gender and name for your hero - the chosen champion is granted Licht power by the frustrated god, and sent forth to murder hundreds in the name of sheer spectacle. After that, it's just the player, an infinite number of spears, and hundreds of enemies to mow down.
Polish developer Lichthund has put together a world that feels both strangely cohesive and completely insane, with sharp, angular visuals that range from cold, Nordic ice floes to ancient temples within vast deserts. The music and sound effects are all synth-laden, pulsating beats, and the visual style is appealing, even if it pretty much just serves as a background to the action. The enemies you'll be turning into pincushions are varied at first, though fall victim to a little reskinned repetition towards the end; their basic, clunky animation doesn't quite match up with the far more interesting environments, either. That being said, there are still more than a few surprises in store, and it isn't often that you need to fend off an attack from a bellyflopping walrus.
There are 13 levels in total, each divided up into five smaller, single-screen sections that unleash a wave of enemies to defeat before moving on. Attacking is as simple as holding down on the 'A' button to ready your Lichtspeer, and then using the analogue stick to aim the visible arc of your throw. It's fast, intuitive, and immensely satisfying to pull off, as enemies are struck with palpable effect. The core gameplay cycle is familiar - down enemies to score points, and rack up combos by striking headshots and staying as accurate as possible. Points are transferred into Licht Standard Denomination (no prizes for pointing out the acronym there), which you can then use to purchase new abilities.
You can carry three of these abilities into battle with you, providing an arsenal of offensive and defensive abilities. Some are undoubtedly more useful than others, but you can swap them around and upgrade your favourites to suit your preference. Each one is mapped to a different face button and operates on a cooldown timer, so you'll need to make sure you use them at the right moment. Or you can do what we did, and scramble to hit all three at once just as soon as you're in trouble, which works surprisingly well. If you're smarter than our frantic button mashing, however, the right ability at the right time can offer a bit of breathing room during tough levels, and a welcome sprinkling of strategy.
These abilities are deactivated during boss fights however, which are longer, almost puzzle-like battles against giant robots, Viking kings, and flying sea monsters. It's a welcome change of pace against the repetitious cycle of one level after another, with a few clever innovations when it comes to discovering weaknesses and avoiding attacks - such as hurling a spear into a serpent's mouth just before it pounces. It's nothing too groundbreaking of course, and the repetitious gameplay is something that you'll either love or tolerate on your quest to the final Licht temple. Rather than change things up too much in later levels, Lichtspeer is pretty determined to give you the most bang for your buck through one fiendish method alone. Sheer difficulty.
We're all for a good challenge, and even simple game mechanics can be elevated to adrenaline-pumping heights by pushing them to their limits. It's why classic arcade titles work so well, but also why they had a habit of stealing more coins or tokens than you could keep up with. Lichtspeer promises the player right from the beginning that they're going to die, a lot, and let there be no doubt - this is entirely true. While there's a slow, steady start, after a few levels the difficulty is ramped up with the inclusion of unique hazards, a shift in perspective, and enemies with specific weaknesses to target. You'll need total focus to manage your attacks in order to deal with an ever-increasing number of monsters, and Lichtspeer relies heavily on overwhelming the player in order to hinder progress.
Promising death from the get-go gave us some pause for concern, making it seem as though the game is difficult by design in order to pad out the length somewhat. If you're particularly skilled, it's possible to blast through the main story in only a couple of hours, but repeated deaths will add on considerably more time. There's a fine line between challenge and frustration, and while Lichtspeer generally avoids falling into the latter category, it's difficult to shake the sense that you're just expected to die. With the odds stacked against you, deaths begin to feel more than a little unfair, so it's a good thing that the player respawns immediately at the beginning of the section without any real progress lost. Memorising enemy patterns and repeated attempt after repeated attempt will eventually result in victory, as you brute force your way through the more frustrating sections.
On Switch, it's possible to even the odds somewhat with the addition of co-op, an exclusive mode available only in the Double Speer edition. This drop-in / drop-out multplayer allows one another player to take on the role of a flying Dachshund to assist at any time, and it's remarkably easy to just pause, hand a joy-con to a friend, and have them join in without any real break in gameplay. The adorable sausage dog has all the same abilities of the main character - though you share the same cooldown timer - as well as a destructive laser blast which must be charged up by scoring headshots. You'll be extremely grateful for the help, trust us. While it's a fairly basic addition to the game, it's implemented so well that multiplayer feels effortless and instantly accessible at any time, making it extremely worthwhile.
In terms of additional modes, there are two extra difficulties to play around with. One, the appropriately titled 'Rage Quit' mode, plays into that "you will die" mentality by punishing the player far more with each death, pushing them back to the start of the entire level, not just the individual section. The other is a New Game+ unlocked upon completion of the story, which changes up enemy placements, alters the bonus missions, and strengthens bosses, making a second playthrough a bit more interesting. There's also the chance to earn achievement-esque artifacts in each level, depending on specific gameplay quirks.
We didn't find New Game+ to be quite rewarding enough to warrant a full second playthrough, but did enjoy going back on previous levels to complete bonus missions (score 140 headshots, or beat the boss on your first try, for example) and earn a place on the scoreboards. Having this title on a portable console makes a lot of sense, given the ability to dip in and out without the risk of forgetting controls or what the overall goal is. Playing in short bursts lessens the repetition as well.
Lichtspeer is mechanically simple but stylistically demented. Set in a world that throws more neon at you than a dodgy warehouse rave, its arcade style gameplay is certainly repetitive, but satisfying enough to keep your interest for a while with the solid spear-hurling gameplay at its core. The addition of co-op multiplayer is well implemented, both enjoyable in its own right and extremely easy to jump in or out of. It's a short, repetitious experience, well-suited to the Switch's portable nature, but its occasionally unfair difficulty is used to pad the game out. Additional content and a bit more variety would make this über compelling, but it's still a good time so long as you keep an eye on your blood pressure.