Review – Lunark

Who doesn’t like a platforming adventure game? Lunark is a pixel graphic platforming adventure game where you battle your way through various varieties of robots that are essentially a stand in for communism. Nothing like an indie game to have some sort of political message hidden under the surface, not that there’s anything wrong with having a message to share.

The area looks okay, but it’s so hard to distinguish what’s even happening.

Lunark features pixel art that initially reminded me of Dead Cells in its simplicity. Sadly, unlike that game, it’s essentially impossible to distinguish different characters without talking to them. To make matters worse, once you talk to a character, you are presented with a portrait that feels like it was originally a real-life picture put through various effects and filters; it’s not the best look to be totally honest. I am all for retro pixel art, but it makes everything hard to distinguish, it can become really frustrating.

Lunark‘s gameplay itself is quite “simple.” It’s a pretty regular side scrolling pixel art adventure game with minimal thought-provoking gameplay. You have a blaster that you can find upgrades for (instead of having ammo it essentially has a cooldown), and if you time your shots properly you can stun lock enemies with surprisingly ease. One big issue is the game’s failure to convey directions and controls.

For instance, there is a section that tries to teach you how to make a running high jump to grab onto a ledge. To jump up to a ledge, you just press up, and grab onto the ledge above you. What the game says to do is press the direction of the ledge and up, but that doesn’t actually work. You need to press the direction, up, and the OTHER jump button that’s used to jump over gaps. Simply said, there are surely more intuitive ways to set this up, but they weren’t used and it can make things quite confusing. It feels less cohesive than even other similar cinematic platformers like Prince of Persia or Oddworld.

I found a crystal, it somehow moves all sorts of underground platforms.

The enemies in Lunark are also quite simple to avoid generally, but you can be out into some situations that feel unfair. For instance, the robots you come across through the game will shoot at you. Think of this like Zelda 2, where they always aim high or low. If they aim high, you can duck and shoot, but if they aim low, you generally don’t have any option but to take damage. This leads into the bosses as well, like a giant spider you’ll fight quite early. The boss itself is easy, but there are little spiders around the stage that spawn and can have an unfair attack time. Especially since they tend to climb on the roof and aim to drop on you, but you can’t aim your gun in any direction except in front of you.

Trigger warning: arachnophobia

I would love to say that Lunark uses its map navigation well, but that would be a lie. There’s something amazing about being led back to areas you’ve been to before, but opening even more out of it. Not what happens here. Instead, what you’re faced with is something simple like needing to activate a lift for seemingly no reason because a character told you it was broken, so you could use it as a platform in twenty minutes. Oh, you didn’t do that because the game told you it was pointless? Now you need to go all the way back, activate the lift, and then redo everything.

In terms of Lunark‘s sound effects and music, it’s incredibly lackluster. It could all do a better job to portray the atmosphere of being in a political attack, escaping through sewers, or visiting a derelict village. Instead, it’s all quite monotonous and boring. The sound effects of enemies and the blaster are quite bland and don’t really even give a good idea of what’s being shot. All around, there’s just not a huge amount to be said, because there’s nothing standing out.

Stray reference confirmed, cat says “meow”.

Lunark was a game that intrigued me at first, given the style and the teams behind its development. Unfortunately, at every turn, it did nothing but let me down with its overly forced story, and nothing to keep any interest in it in terms of presentation and gameplay. The longer I spent in this world, the less invested I was in its story. These beats were few and far between, with nothing like notes or diaries left around to fill out the story and world. There was nothing in the gameplay to keep me invested as well. All in all, it was unfortunately just a bland game that thought it was more interesting than what it actually ended up being.

Graphics: 5.0

I like pixel art, but I like pixel art done well. The visuals in the game felt half-baked, repetitive, and occasionally hard to comprehend..

Gameplay: 3.0

The gameplay started off fine. It slowly devolved into a showcase of the bogged down, slow, boring parts of every platformer that’s ever come out.

Sound: 3.0

While not glitched or broken, the sound design in Lunark is almost impressively disappointing. There’s no atmosphere to the music; it’s all incredibly basic and the sound effects are lacking any real punch. In some cases, like the laser gun, they feel as if they don’t even make sense.

Fun Factor: 2.0

Feeling the sluggish controls in the start of the game didn’t set me off on my adventure with high hopes. The underwhelming story did nothing to entice me further, either.

Final Verdict: 3.0

Lunark is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4.

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.

A copy of Lunark was provided by the publisher.