Developer: Canari Games
Release Date: March 30, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: 2D Cinematic Platformer
Classic 2D cinematic platforms include the likes of titles such as Prince of Persia, Flashback, and Another World. However, the game mechanics found in these titles have disappeared through modern game design. Developer Canari Games draws upon this retro genre in their new adventure, Lunark. After playing, I believe this is one of the best presentations of not only pixel art design but also this classic genre.
Lunark introduces Leo, a courier with some skills that have yet to be fully realized in the game’s opening moments. After being sent on a mission for an artifact, he realizes that someone is out to frame him or, worse, just kill him. Now, everyone seems to have a general idea of the skills that Leo possesses, but the narrative roles out his backstory across the entire adventure.
It’s essentially an ode to classic sci-fi movies such as Blade Runner but also finds inspiration from Back to the Future or Indiana Jones. However, its several callbacks to these films don’t overshadow the staying power the narrative of Lunark has. Every moment truly feels like you are being chased, which is a complete contrast to the almost dungeon exploration setting the opening highlights.
As Leo uncovers new truths about why he’s being framed, puzzles hinder progression. These puzzles are environmental and adventure based. The environmental puzzles include using switches and pieces together items to unlock new areas, but the adventure puzzles usually have you searching for a requested item, taking down an enemy, or figuring out how to progress through a specific section.
The puzzle designs rarely repeat, which adds to the overall adventure feeling like an Indiana Jones experience. I find myself referencing specific puzzles within the game as if they were a scene from a movie since they are usually tied to a significant story milestone. As for the adventure-based puzzles, I feel like they encourage exploration, which is needed if you’d like to find secret items used to increase your health or upgrade your weapon.
Movement in the game is of significant emphasis as it resembles the 2D cinematic genre perfectly. You can’t drop from high ledges, or you’ll die, so you have to lower yourself down. Jumping takes some getting used to since you have to line yourself up with the ledge above to pull yourself up. Still, there’s also a running jump and even a roll that can get you through some tough situations. Mastering the movement is a must in this game, but in the opening levels, there are a few advanced sections that push your skills to find some early secrets.
Getting accustomed to this movement is important, but I also feel this is where modern players will be most divided. As someone who has enjoyed many games within this genre, I’d say this is the best implementation of these mechanics that I’ve ever played. The movement is precise and responsive. Every action I took was with intent, and although you have to time the animation of, say, for example, ducking to avoid damage, it’s a part of the package and one that you factor into when getting through cycles of enemies.
You do have a gun in the game, which can be upgraded to slow down the overheating setting, and allow more shots before a cool-down. It’s a nice tool that requires some practice to understand the timing and usability. Most enemies take a few shots to take down, but the exact number isn’t really represented by any HP bar, so you’ll have to just keep shooting enemies until they fall. On the other hand, Leo’s health is represented by hearts, which can be replenished by eating heart fruit. If you die, you’ll only recover three hearts, but your health can be upgraded.
The enemy variety grows across each level. The game will introduce a new enemy and then slowly put them in new situations that will test how you adapt to surprise encounters. Not all enemies can simply be destroyed. Some enemy types require you to shoot a missile or wait until their guard is dropped to do damage. It’s a fun way to approach combat and keeps the entire experience feeling fresh.
While the pixel environments are gorgeous, I do think the experience would have benefited from a map to inform you of where you have or haven’t been. Further, checkpoints seem to be randomly placed, and I never knew when or where I would trigger a checkpoint. Maybe I missed something, but after dying, it’s anyone’s guess where you end up.
The cinematic animations shown during item interactions or between stages are brilliant. They really set the mood for this sci-fi adventure and fit in perfectly with the sound design. There are also plenty of NPCs to interact with who end up sharing much-needed information about the world and even about where to go next.
Lunark is one of the best 2D cinematic platformers I’ve ever played. Regardless of its retro inspirations, it makes its own impact on the genre with fun action, story delivery, and puzzle design. Much like a classic sci-fi film, I was immersed in this experience from beginning to end. Don’t miss out on this truly standout video game.
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