Release Date: August 20, 2020
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Genre: Action Platformer
I don’t need context in a game that gives hints and clues as to why the adventure or narrative is taking place, but I do appreciate something that indicates why exactly I’m actually playing. When it comes to the Dico-developed action-adventure Gleamlight, I feel like something is missing that holds it back from achieving whatever it is it’s trying to do.
Gleamlight begins without context as you take on the role of a character named Gleam, which I only found out was its name after reading more about the game. There’s no arrow pointing the player in any direction or any exposition that gives the player a hint as to what you’re supposed to do or who the enemy is.
Games such as Journey pull this off early on by rewarding the players who explore with clues to piece together the world. In Gleamlight, you’re left with nothing but the knowledge of past gaming experiences where you are slashing mindlessly at enemies.
Sadly, whatever story Gleamlight is trying to tell is lost in its annoy level design and lack of adequately motivating the player even to want to continue. The developers seemed to have thought that randomly placing spikes on the ground and creating many moments of leaps-of-faith would be a good idea. Furthermore, to up the difficulty, instead of taking time to create enemies that require any amount of strategy, they simply just filled platforms with copy and pasted grunts, making it come off as a lazy way to create roadblocks.
If this wasn’t bad enough, the developer repeats area designs multiple times, making you think that you’re going around in circles. Exploration isn’t fun because it’s not needed outside of finding these red gems that open doors. In fact, the only reason you should go out of your way to fight an enemy is if you need health because landing an attack gives you more HP.
There are several different themed areas, but the layout pretty much stays the same. The more interesting moments of gameplay are the random platforming puzzles that caught me off-guard because they just randomly happen after rooms and rooms and battles. Still, they are fun and become more complex after you defeat bosses who give you upgrades.
You may not know the upgrades were acquired, though, because the game doesn’t tell you that you have a new move. I love the idea of no UI, but I think they took it a tad bit too far here. Even an animation of Gleam picking up a new move after the boss battle would have worked, but instead, you kind of just move on in an anticlimactic way.
One of the most jarring discoveries is the ending of the game, which happens after only an hour of gameplay. Yes, the credits role following a boss encounter, and you’re taken back to the main menu. However, starting from the same save file will begin the adventure in reverse with a few new weapons. I’ll just say, this false ending doesn’t work for this type of game because, at the time the credits roll, you still have no idea why you’re even on this adventure in the first place. There’s nothing that indicates what this world is or who you or the enemies are.
I’ll give the game credit for its music and art direction. The atmosphere this combination creates is actually really nice, and the same goes for the boss battle themes. It makes you want more from the game, but instead, you just get a confusing mess of ideas that don’t work out.
Gleamlight may have been great in concept, but it does not work in execution. There’s nothing here that players can attach themselves to as a reason to continue playing outside of some great visual and sound design. The battle system is basic, the upgrades are the bare minimum, and the level design is a copy and pasted maze. The UI-less experience has worked in other games, but it comes off as lazy game development here when the team didn’t try to provide a reasonable explanation of its systems or narrative.
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