The first thing that struck when I approached Lumino City’s booth at EGX were the models on display. Usually a booth is cleared of anything beyond demo machines and maybe some flyers for the game on show. Lumino City was different though, with two incredibly detailed models taking up a space normally reserved for another demo unit.
The models, it turns out, are key to the whole game. While most developers are happy to build their environments in 3D modelling tools, State of Play Games, Lumino City’s developers, set about building their game’s world from paper, card, miniature lights and electric motors, a process that took months and involved them bringing in architects and prop-makers to create incredibly detailed models. With their world built, they set about shooting stills and video of the fruits of their labour with a high tech camera rig, allowing them to convert the physical world into a virtual one.
The result of all this toil is a game with a unique and wonderful look to it. It’s not just the fact that they’ve used physical models to construct the world you’re now interacting with, it’s also the use of colour and the way that it’s been shot that really sets the game apart visually.
Of course, once the game’s presentation has drawn you in it’s time to get on with actually playing it. The game, like its predecessor Lume, is a point and click puzzle game, where the puzzles start out simply enough (in fact you start by dragging a tea bag into a cup of tea to give those who’ve never played a similar game an idea of how the mechanics work), but quickly evolve to complex, nested affairs, where you’ll need to solve increasingly long chains of puzzles to set things up for you to solve another puzzle.
For example, one puzzle featured in the demo sees your path blocked by a gate which uses a facial recognition camera to open it. Sadly your face isn’t recognised, so you’ll need to find someone whose face is.
The key element here is that it just has to be their face, and it just so happens that there’s the house of a photographer nearby. Head over there, solve a few photography related puzzles (like setting up a dark room) and eventually you’ll get a photo that will pop open the gate. As with many puzzle games, no single puzzle is incredibly complex in itself, but by stringing them together into a larger puzzle, both the difficulty and the enjoyment factor go up.
The thing is though, while the puzzles did become slowly more tricky over the course of the demo, they’re put together in such a way that you almost don’t notice the increase in complexity. Each puzzle is just a notch tougher than the previous one, and your character gives you just enough hints to push you forwards without ever feeling like the game is holding your hand.
If you’ve played Lume, as I did when I returned from the show, then you may be slightly cautious of how the game’s puzzles will play out. Personally I didn’t really enjoy the puzzles in Lume, mostly because they didn’t feel at all intuitive at times. Credit has to go to State of Play though, as they’ve really upped their game in this department, and while I wouldn’t say that the puzzles in Lumino City are ever easy, solutions quickly become clear once you’ve worked out what the trick to the puzzle is, leaving you feeling satisfied that you’ve cracked the code.
Speaking of Lume, Lumino City picks up its predecessor’s story where it left off. In both Lume and Lumino City you play as Lumi, a young girl trying to help her grandad. In Lume you were tasked with fixing up alternative energy sources for your grandad’s house, such as building him a wind turbine. At the end of the game he returns, and asks for a cup of tea.
Lumino City starts with you making that cup of tea before he’s kidnapped, sending Lumi off to try and find him in Lumino City, a setting easily dozens of times larger than the single house that was the focus of the original game.
Lumino City shares the original’s electrical theme, with several puzzles revolving around getting a dodgy connection working or finding an alternative source of power for the next step of your journey. However, while Lume was centred more around serious technologies like solar and wind power, Lumino City seems to be taking a somewhat sillier approach, having you, for example, use lemons as batteries at one point.
This kind of humour is present throughout the game, and is particularly evident in the cast of characters that the game features. Although many are caricatures, such as a dotty old lady with an abundance of cats, this isn’t actually a negative here, with amusing dialogue (all on screen rather than voiced over) hitting just the right notes. It’s always well worth listening to everything someone has to say just for the humour, even if they’ve already told you what you need to know for your next bit of puzzle solving.
Overall Lumino City was one of the surprises of the show, and one of my personal highlights. From the hand-crafted world, to the well judged difficulty on the puzzles, to the intriguing story that the demo hints at, Lumino City looks like it will be well worth playing when it arrives on Steam, with a November release currently scheduled.