Lunark sends players into the retro-future we all thought the '80s would be. It brings a world of flying cars and corrupt mega-corporations to life with vibrant pixel graphics and rotoscope animation. At its best moments, Lunark is an effective love letter to the cinematic platformer, a genre of gaming that doesn’t get much attention these days. Occasionally, though, it serves to remind us how far game design has come.
Loading up Lunark is just like entering a time machine. Everything in the game, from the music to the plot to the overall aesthetic, is inspired by the cinematic platformer genre. Unlike Mario, who can turn in mid-air to make physically impossible jumps look easy, our hero Leo’s movements are grounded in some aspect of reality. He’s got momentum and weight to him as he traverses the caverns, factories, and prisons he finds himself exploring.
This design philosophy will feel familiar to fans of the original Prince of Persia game or even the Oddworld series, but they certainly take some getting used to. There is a sluggishness to Leo’s movements that will surprise modern gamers, particularly in the way he turns around or in his inability to tackle multiple jumps in rapid succession. The only time it becomes frustrating is the slight delay between pushing the jump button and when Leo actually leaves the ground, resulting in jumps that feel sticky. There will be plenty of deaths that are the result of Leo simply running off a cliff rather than jumping at the last moment as you intended.
In most games, we’d chalk this up to poor design but with Lunark this is all part of the cinematic platformer experience. Everything is meant to remind you of the 80s, which is when games like this were more common. The imprecise controls are, in this case, a feature rather than a bug and you shouldn’t let them put you off. It takes some getting used to but once you do the game is a fair but challenging platformer.
It isn’t just the gameplay or even the graphics that sent us back to our gaming roots. The plot takes heavy inspiration from classic sci-fi films like Total Recall or Blade Runner. Humanity has relocated to a distant planet by retrofitting the entire moon into a deep space colony ship. Leo works with a man named Gideon, travelling to locations to pick up artifacts and bringing them in for research purposes. Of course, things aren’t exactly as they seem and soon Leo is on the run and has to uncover the mystery behind why he is being hunted in the first place.
There are roving gangs of sword-wielding robots terrorising neighbourhoods, a totalitarian regime to overthrow, and a conspiracy on the moon to uncover. If it wasn’t executed so well, it would be oppressively over-the-top and too '80s. Developer Canari Games has managed to make Lunark a loving homage to the era without feeling like they’re trying too hard.
For example, some of the storytelling here is surprisingly subtle. Engaging in some optional conversations in the early stages of the game will reveal that there is something unusual about Leo. Not only does he have enhanced physical abilities and a connection with the planet that other people don’t, but he also suffers from rapid ageing. Everyone seems to recognise that he is not long for this world long before the player finds out why.
Lunark's pixel graphics do a good job of bringing the different characters to life. Even with the stripped-back aesthetic, you’ll instantly recognise different enemies and NPCs that populate this world. Everything looks better in handheld mode, however, as blowing them up onto our TV stretched the pixels beyond what they were meant to be. Fortunately, the music and graphics are perfectly effective at setting the scene that the developers are hoping to create.
If we have one complaint, it's how inconsistent the respawn points are. Early levels seem to have them more frequently, while later levels will have you repeat long platforming sections over and over while you try to figure out the pattern to one of the boss fights. The train level, for example, was particularly bad about this. When one poorly timed jump can lead to your death, having to repeat the entire long section felt brutal.
The environments that Leo explores all play by the same rules but there is a clear progression in difficulty. He’ll jump up and down ledges and over gaps whether he’s on an out-of-control train or an ancient cave system. Lunark does a good job of slowly drip-feeding you different mechanics as you go along, with each level building on the previous ones to increase the difficulty. Some rely on timing or speed while others focus on stealth aspects. This results in gameplay that never feels stale from start to finish.
Cinematic platformers aren’t going to be for everyone, and that’s okay. Those who want an unashamedly retro challenge will find a lot to love in Lunark. The story pays homage to some of the best sci-fi films of all time while the gameplay adds a fresh twist with every level you complete. The retro graphics look great on the Switch, particularly in handheld mode. Once you wrap your head around the sticky jumps and the weight that Leo carries with him when he moves, you’ll be in for a solid adventure to the moon and back.
Even our minor frustrations with Lunark can’t overshadow the joy we felt as we played this unashamedly retro platformer. It is a competently put-together and lovingly crafted homage to an often-overlooked genre of gaming. Even the imprecise controls and Leo’s sluggish movements feel like a feature and not a bug in the game’s design. If you can wrap your head around them, there is a solid platformer to enjoy.
Cool, I love Another World, and am sad that this style of game play is mostly used for boring things like climbing up trains in uncharted.
I can still remember being quite stunned by Flashback at the time, and it still plays very well even now. This game looks heavily inspired by that one in particular. I can't decide whether to buy this, or just play Flashback again!
Looking at the screenshots, Managing to do a whole review of this game without mentioning Flashback once seems quite an achievement!
Copy / paste Flashback with downgraded graphics ? Thats not the way to do it ...
Weren't cinematic platformers more of a 90s thing?
The Delphine Software vibe is stong with this one. Picking this up today!
Edit: Played it for a couple hours yesterday and it's brilliant! Hope it lasts me a while.
Flashblack and Another World were great games but the controls were a hardware limitation for the fluidity they were trying to accomplish. I’d love another Flashblack but no one misses those controls.
Also, pretty sure those games came out in the 90s, not the 80s.
Good review but weird to make one without mentioning Flashback and Another World, which I believe are the main inspirations. Even the main characters has similar clothing style to the protagonist of Flashback.
@antonvaltaz absolutely...it is basically the main inspiration how I see it...
@Warioware Yes. POP came out in late 1989, another world, flashback, heart of darkness and the oddworld games were all 90's, off the top of my head.
Limited Run has physical pre-orders up.
I have no idea what a cinematic platformer is, and the review doesn’t really explain it, but if the writer had referred to Flashback or Another World, I would have understood it immediately!
Artwork looks like a League of Legends knockoff character.
@premko1 Maybe it's like Flashback but doesn't feel awful to play???
@stipey the comparison to early Prince of Persia and Oddworld works just as well.That paragraph is a pretty good idea of how they work.
No mention of “Lester the Unlikely” as inspiration. Missed opportunity.
@Ooyah Do both! I love these types of games. Always been a big fan of Out of this World, Flashback, Abe's Oddyssey and Heart of Darkness!
@SuperFANicom No. Please.... Somehow that game ended up in our system one summer. Don't know how, we certainly never bought it. And yet, there we were, my brothers and I, dying repeatedly while trying to get off the beach while laughing mockingly at Lester all the while. I had pushed the horror of that game into some dark pocket of my consciousness, just to have it brutally ripped back into existence by your flagrantly irresponsible comment. How could you be so cruel!? Oh, the PTSD!
The game looks pretty solid to be honest, but I am not sure that I would place it above any of the other games that are coming out in the next year. I think I will have to pass on this one.
@Grail_Quest similar to me. My brother and I bought the game. And because we were kids, things were expensive. We played the hell out of it. Could not get off that beach until game informer or Nintendo power had a guide and I was able to finally figure it out. But yeah- definitely not one of the games to be placed alongside Out of this World and Flashback.
Nostalgiacore. When you like a thing because it reminds you of something else you liked 30 years ago. Remember how games used to have really bad controls and graphics? Well this one does too, but it's okay because we did it on purpose!
This console is still capable of running good games. It deserves better than this.
Furry characters are awful.
Never tried this type of game before but I played it. I had fun with it although I could why see this type of game fell out of favor when looking at it from a modern perspective
your opinion isnt more valid just because you didnt like the type of game in the first place. switch doesnt "deserve better," some people like this type of game, and switch is a great place, a perfect place, for them to get to play them. 👍
if you dont like this one, there are tons of other kinds of games on switch.
PS - I cant believe no one has mentioned Blackthorne yet! thats a really good one!
also i consider ico/Colossus to be in this genre. any other 3D examples? is Uncharted a cinematic platformer?
Waiting for my download key as I backed it on Kickstarter but there wasnt enough EU codes so still waiting, might cave and get the physical
@-wc- When Ico was getting ready to come out, EGM ran a preview calling it something like a 3D Prince of Persia which immediately put it on my radar. Those of us who were kids in the 8 and 16 bit eras grew up in a time when the genres were much, much more segregated, so I fully realized, for instance, why you could shoot up in Contra and not Mega Man, why Cecil and Kain needed exp and Link didn't, and why you could jump in Turok and not Goldeneye. The limited control in these cinematic platformers as they're called now is "a feature" because the games are about deliberate pacing and precise actions where the limited room for error is the challenge and the appeal. You can't expect younger people who grew up in an era when the genres have been blurred to understand that. You have to remember that there's an entire generation of gamers now who saw nothing strange about the last entries in series as different as Zelda, Metal Gear, and Final Fantasy all in the same genre.
Completed it, it is a bit short, but great throw back and hopeful for a sequel.
@antonvaltaz You read my mind. I did a page search just to see if I had overlooked it reading it! Bizarre; the character even looks nearly identical, design-wise.
No, we don't want to be reminded of bad gameplay from the '80s! That's why they stopped using such archaic gameplay after the '80s in the first place once they could do better! Bad is still bad, even when it's done on purpose.
@-wc- Your opinion isn't any more valid than ours, either. We have just as much right to express our opinion that this is a lousy game whose only "feature" is that it was done on purpose as nostalgia for '80s gamers who just didn't have any better platformers (other than "Super Mario Bros.") to play at the time due to the lack of technology.
@CountDrakeulah Such "precise actions [with] the limited room for error" is too much of a challenge and not appealing at all for most gamers, even many from the '80s who were stuck with such archaic gameplay until better platformers came around that they inevitably enjoyed a lot more and put the old lousy ones behind them.
Highly challenging platformers are one thing (although, I personally don't get the appeal behind them), but not when they're so challenging just as a result of lousy gameplay and level design.
Yes, games like "Mega Man," "Contra," and the original "Legend of Zelda" have their specific gameplay differences for creating different types of action games with their own limits, but they work because they each have a very solid foundation to their gameplay, unlike games like this.
okay you win. ✌️ you can both feel personally damaged that other people like games you don't understand 👍 what do i care?
@BulbasaurusRex Stay in school.
Tap here to load 33 comments
Leave A Comment
Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...