The most important thing to say about Lumino City is that it’s beautiful. It’s not often I pay that much attention to this element of a game, usually favouring addictive gameplay or a compelling narrative, but it’s really hard to look past just how wonderful Lumino City is visually.
It’s not beautiful in the standard “Look how much more realistic our facial textures are” kind of way though, if it were then it wouldn’t be the headline element of this indie title. No, Lumino City isn’t about the standard beautification of modern gaming, instead it’s about environments that are, quite literally, hand-crafted.
I don’t mean level designers and artists spent months poring over the game’s textures, models and lighting to get them just right, I mean that the developers, State of Play, have literally built a word out of card, glue and miniature electric motors, shot them with a specialised camera rig and built their game from there.
This is the element of the title that grabbed my attention when I saw it at EGX, and it’s safe to say that the effect is no less impressive in the full game. The more complex moving environments that come later in the game are fairly spectacular, including a giant water wheel and a house that literally flips upside down as part of a complex puzzle.
Ah yes, the puzzles. Puzzles are at the core of the gameplay in the same way a sausage is at the core of a hot dog – there’s some others bits there but they’re not what you’re here for. This is rather fortunate as there’s not really much else to the game beyond its puzzles. There isn’t, for example, any real exploration mechanic, which could be rather nice given the effort that’s gone into crafting this world. Instead the path through the game is very linear, and only once do you sort of return to an earlier area, and even then it’s only for about thirty seconds.
The upside of this is that you’re never forced to revisit an NPC for the tenth time now that you have whatever random item they desire, or to collect objects to mash together into some obscure solution to a puzzle. While some puzzles do require you to find an object, they’re always nearby, and they’re only a part of the larger puzzle.
No, like the best puzzle titles Lumino City requires you to use your brain to progress, with well thought out puzzles that range in difficulty, and technological level, from cracking a padlock to programming a computer with punch cards. While the difficulty curve does seem to take a random dip towards simplicity at points, this is generally when you’ve got a simple puzzle that’s part of a larger chain of puzzles, justifying the ease with which its completed.
If there ever is a puzzle that stumps you then don’t worry, the game features a rather neat contextual help system. Lumi, the main character, carries a manual with her that gives clues to how to solve your current predicament, although there is a catch: the book is getting on for a thousand pages, so to find the relevant entry you’ll need to use the contents page, which is encoded with numerical puzzles. These are all pretty simple, requiring you to count the number of some object from your surroundings and do some simple arithmetic, but they stop you peeking ahead, and provide just enough of a barrier to entry that you won’t rely on the clues.
This extremely helpful manual was handed down to Lumi by her grandfather, and it’s the relationship between these two that drives the game’s narrative, even if you barely get to meet her grandfather. He is, unfortunately, kidnapped at the start of the game, and Lumi sets off to rescue him. Initially this seems like all there really is to the plot, but little hints are dropped throughout about something slightly more complex going on, which is tied up neatly by an ending manages to seem both incredibly surprising and incredibly obvious with hindsight.
However, it’s the residents of Lumino City that Lumi meets while patching up the city and searching for her missing patriarch that really show just how good the writing is. Their dialogue is engaging, witty and downright funny throughout, with every character you meet feeling fully realised.
There’s a married couple who aren’t talking as the husband’s forgotten their anniversary (and lost his trousers), a ship’s captain who’s been driven crazy by the absence of the high seas and a postman depressed by the state of his cold liquorice tea, to name but a few. While you very rarely encounter a character more than once, they never feel like they’re throw away characters in place simply to give you some task or guide you in a puzzle, and it’s almost disappointing every time you leave them behind.
There is, unfortunately one element that lets Lumino City down: its soundtrack. Even here its well crafted, shifting subtly as you shift through a puzzle, and pretty much always feeling appropriate. Even when you play a virtual guitar as part of a puzzle it still fits into the game’s overall sound design pretty much perfectly.
The problem comes when you get stuck on a particular puzzle for a while. You suddenly realise that while the soundtrack works wonderfully in short bursts, when it’s looped for ten or twenty minutes it starts to grate, slowly tipping you towards insanity. There were points where I had to remove my headphones because the previously beautiful music had become so distracting that I couldn’t focus on the puzzle at hand.
Issues with the sound design aside, Lumino City is truly wonderful. The writing sparkles, puzzles are well put together and fun while requiring you to work for the solution just the right amount, and the visuals really do feel special. With a length that comes in somewhere in the eight to ten hour range, depending largely on how good you are at solving puzzles, it’s of a length that will leave you wanting more, although I fear it may take State of Play quite a while to craft something like this again.
Version tested: PC