Creating a 2D experience to mimic 3D environments on hardware that were technically only meant for one viewing angle, whether as top-down or horizontal/vertical-scrolling, was something many developers explored with in classic-to-retro gaming. One unique take on perspective which becomes its own genre is the isometric style of gameplay. Players are meant to navigate along the X/Y/Z axis in order to complete a certain goal all with a fixed camera angle or a camera with limited range. This idea puts the focus on the actual game space for the player to observe and solve. These generally include room-based puzzles in a series of rooms for the player to go through. Now with technology advanced, video game industry veteran, Gareth Noyce — who previously worked on Crackdown, Fable 2, and other known titles — brings a game that returns gameplay down to its classic roots with nostalgic 3D graphics comfortable enough for the game’s atmosphere thanks to his new co-founded indie studio, Triple Eh?, who brings us a fitting title that isn’t demanding to be AAA . In Lumo, players once again become the light in a genre that gets left in the dark.
First things first: I couldn’t start a new game right away. This wasn’t because the game didn’t let me. The music track on the title screen was damn sexy for me to not let it finish before starting. The booting up logo was also a nice throwback. Anyway, moving on. Before beginning your adventure, you have the option to choose a minor detail to the game of either a male or female character along with the color of their matching hat & shirt. Following your decision, you are presented with 3 different control schemes you are able to test out with the main character before proceeding with the game. It should be noted that in these menus and as early as the title screen, selections aren’t immediately highlighted. Any button input is required before anything appears on screen. Even when making selections, such as choosing a control scheme, the selections may jump from top to bottom so be careful when navigating menus and to not activate something by accident. I find this a trend lately with games on the Nintendo Switch. Different controller options meant to be symmetrical with the Switch’s design probably require extra configuration during development. Luckily, the only times you really are in menus is before starting a new game; between two modes.
The standard selection, especially for new players, would be Adventure which is recommended, but who am I to say? The other option is Old School where the game even gives you notice that you have a finite number of lives, no map, no saves and you have a constant timer (perfect for speedrunners). For those who haven’t spent much time with isometric platformers, choosing Adventure would be the best bet. Even for highly skilled players in this specific genre, dying from a miscalculated jump will be a likely occurrence so Old School is a better choice the 2nd time around. You begin the game as your character in what I believe to be a 1980’s setting, though very much could be set in the modern age with 80’s tech lying around. In this brief opening, your character will come across an odd device called the SpecEye, which for reasons unknown, creates a flash which sends you to a dark fantasy dimension full of traps, puzzles, and occasional enemies to stop you. Come to find out, you make through in this new world a cute little mage-like character destined to make their way back to the real world.
Immediately dropped into this new world, you are but lone and on your own. With no instructions given or grasp on what to expect, the game does nudge you early on to go in directions which at the time may not have a way to advance. You’re on a mission to find technological relics which you will see glorified. Your only set of actions is to move and perform a very short hop, though within the first few minutes you will gain a proper jump. In most rooms, you are allowed to tilt the camera only slightly either left or right by pressing and holding the shoulder buttons L & R respectively. Though it doesn’t change the angle dramatically, it may be subtle enough to favor you in certain scenarios. Lumo absolutely requires your physical precision as to not even touch a hazard, be it a trap or enemy. Doing so will result in instant death and immediately bring you back to the entrance of that room from which you came. This would be extremely frustrating if all of the obstacles were long enough to make you pull your hair out, but thankfully they’re not. There are only a few moments I can recall that took a little bit longer to get down.
Eventually you will come across your first enemy hazard. Attacking an enemy head on is actually not possible since there are no actions to do so. Instead, you will need to do your best to avoid enemy attacks and refrain from coming even close to certain ones such as devices which expel fire. Early encounters demonstrate that moving into a spider’s area of space will have them immediately lunge at you, once again resulting in death. Soon after your early enemy encounters you will have obtained your one and only item being a wand. This trusty wand only has one function and it is to illuminate the area around you. The game’s title “Lumo” may be a twist of naming to that aspect. Lighting up an area will reveal hidden platforms you couldn’t see before and the color of the platforms match accordingly. Areas with spiders you couldn’t get passed will now have them scatter with a shine of your light. You’ll find yourself doing more with your wand in puzzle-related scenarios, but that is the basic gist of it. Use of your wand does reduce the new magic meter that comes with it and rather quickly if you’re not careful. The game does a good job of always providing these firefly pickups which replenish your magic completely.
Puzzles range from moving around boxes to reach higher ground to hitting switches from different rooms in correct order. Many of the challenges in rooms are designed for for player interaction. Since the control setup is rather simple, there are no buttons to grab things. Most things you can interact with just require you to either push them or to jump on. A spark effect will indicate such interactivity. One example of puzzle-platforming is to navigate a metal ball via walking on it causing it to roll. The movement configuration at this point is completely inverted temporarily testing your agility even more. The puzzles themselves are actually rather simple making the process somewhat bland. I was hoping for more brain twisters. Instead, the challenge comes from its controls. Lumo expects a certain level of precision from the player and that is both rewarding to play and frustrating at the same time. Some segments of the game made me felt more annoyed rather than have me blame myself for my mistakes. This happened twice in the icy portions of the game. One puzzle requires you to move 3 ice blocks, all having different height, in order to jump onto as steps to get through a door. Every time I jumped for the second ice block, I would land on the very edge and slip off. At first I kept telling myself that I’m jumping too early (and maybe I was, but I confidently doubt it). I was required to jump once more from the 2nd block’s edge to land directly onto the 2nd block instead of slipping off. It was a premise where it seemed like all I needed to was do basic platforming, but it ended up feeling very finicky since the game’s mechanics feel like a blast from the past. What’s worse is the ice blocks can break. Often I would nudge an ice block that was already up against another ice block, but it would end up sliding into it anyway and causing them both to shatter making me repeat the process of moving around the blocks again just to attempt the jumping portion again. Of course, movement is also very slippery thanks to the ice. The physics and collision detection in Lumo won’t be for everyone. People familiar with this type of gameplay will be more forgiving, however.
What may be less forgiving is the camera perspective in each room where platforming is required (which is most of them). It’s very easy to miscalculate a jump. And that’s okay. You’re still there to try again. However, some platforms in the environment within certain rooms just don’t mesh well visually. One example goes back to the icy portion of the game where there are translucent ice platforms that shatter once jumped on. Those mechanics are designed well enough, but aesthetically it wasn’t jiving with me. Without the ability to alter the camera, I couldn’t tell if some platforms were above me, below me, closer to me or farther away. This caused me to jump in opposite directions! This mainly happened in one big room and one smaller room, though I feel my eyes shouldn’t play tricks on me like that and a better artistic decision should have been applied. You also collect map pages for when you bring up the map by pressing Minus, although I never found it useful and actually quite confusing. There’s no real indicators of your objective or where you are. Quite frankly, I felt like it was a puzzle in of itself and one that I did not care to attempt. You can do just fine without it. I think you’ll do even better without it to be frank.
Occasionally, mini-game portions will get thrown into the mix during your gameplay to change the pace as you make your way through to the next section of the game. In these moments you can find one of the collectibles being coins. They aren’t used as currency to spend on anything, but are there for completionists. They also aren’t the only collectibles, however. There are rubber duckies all throughout the game which float on hazardous waters in which you need to collect. There are cassette tapes which are usually on the other side of the room which can be accessed by knowing which part of the wall to jump over. To further gain opportunities at more difficult challenges, portals can take you to Warp Zone where inside you have the choice to take any one of the six paths to complete a particular set of challenges, some you may not get to do on your initial playthrough. Completing a path will award you one letter. The idea is to complete them all and spell the word “EXTEND”. These challenges are satisfying upon completion, but repeated attempts may also cause frustration if you happen to die so close to the goal. Again, not everyone’s cup of tea, but you should be in it to win it.
Lumo is a very chill game even with its panicky platforming. Its soundtrack further cements that. With downbeat drum & bass and soothing electronica vibes performed by Dopedemand, it certainly made the experience quite relaxing. Makes sense. You don’t want to be tense in this game. Lumo is a game that can be finished in one sitting. For first time players, it may take about 4-5 hours to get through. For completionists, there are extra hours in there and that’s where the replayability comes in. You’ll want to try your hand at playing in Old School mode and land on the leaderboards to brag. Going back and collecting everything will be a nice challenge and being able to play the parts from Warp Zone you missed will get you extra mileage. To the average player who won’t bother with it, that’s about all there is. Still, Lumo is a a redesigned throwback that certainly ignites lost love.