Lunistice – Review
Follow Genre: 3D paltformer
Developer: A Grumpy Fox
Publisher: Deck13
Platform: PC, Switch
Tested on: Switch

Lunistice – Review

Site Score
7.8
Good: A surprisingly enjoyable platformer at a bargain price
Bad: Story could have been fleshed out a lot more
User Score
9.0
(1 votes)
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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

While the general public still associates “retro-style” games with the 8 and 16-bit offerings of the NES, SNES, and Mega Drive, many developers have started to embrace the 32-bit era of the Sega Saturn and the first PlayStation as a source of inspiration. If you’ve been around long enough to have fond memories of the PS1, it might feel weird to refer to the platform as “retro” but at this point, Sony’s breakthrough console is almost thirty years old. Many gamers look back fondly at this era, and indie developer A Grumpy Fox is ready to capitalize on those feelings of nostalgia. Their latest game, Lunistice, is a love letter to the 3D platformers of the mid-to-late 90s and it’s cheap as chips to boot. Is Lunistice the time capsule to a simpler, less cynical time that we didn’t know we needed?

Story

Upon starting Lunistice, we were greeted with a short cutscene that gave us the impression that the game was a narrative-driven platformer, but we were wrong. The opening scene is narrated by a mysterious voice that seemingly indicates that Lunistice takes place in a simulation of sorts. As the camera zooms in on our unconscious protagonist, a tanuki named Hana, the narrator starts to count down ominously. The screen turns black for a second and Lunistice’s first level starts immediately afterwards. The story setup is pretty much abandoned for the remainder of the game. It makes one wonder why developer A Grumpy Fox bothered to open Lunistice in this way if there is no narrative payoff. Cryptic story hints are given on documents that Hana can unlock on her journey, but these don’t fully explain everything and are easily missed.

Graphics

Harkening back to the late ‘90s, Lunistice presents itself through low-poly 32-bit visuals. It’s a bold choice by A Grumpy Fox, but it pays off. Anyone that grew up with the PS1 will instantly be catapulted back to that era when they start to explore the various environments that make up Lunistice’s sprawling levels. The Switch may not be the most powerful platform on the market, but it’s still got more power under the hood than the PS1, of course, and this doesn’t just let Lunistice run without any sort of hiccups but even improves on things like draw distance and frame rate. The visuals themselves are appropriately simplistic and won’t blow anyone’s mind but they definitely have a nostalgic charm to them. The cherry on top is the in-game camera, which often was a source of frustration in the 3D platformers of yesteryear, but here it allows players to focus on tackling the levels without having to worry about viewing angles. The option to apply a faux CRT filter is also available but we preferred the crispness of the visuals over an additional layer of nostalgia.

Sound

As a whole, Lunistice’s soundscape isn’t special. The music is decent and fits the atmosphere but isn’t particularly memorable, and the sound effects are standard as well. In two specific instances, however, A Grumpy Fox has cleverly implemented sound in such a way that it becomes a gameplay element, and when this happens, the sound design really takes center stage. There is a level that starts out in complete silence and more sounds are “unlocked” as you progress through the level, and the other notable instance is a level where platforms move to the rhythm of the beat and you have to time Hana’s jumps accordingly. It’s a brilliant idea that elevates what would otherwise be forgettable sound design to the next level.

Gameplay

While Lunistice accurately showcases the video game aesthetics of the late 90s and early 2000s, the gameplay is definitely more up-to-date and in line with what a modern-day audience would expect. What you’re getting here is a 3D platformer that captures the general atmosphere of PS1-era 3D platformers like Spyro the Dragon or Crash Bandicoot, albeit at a much smaller scale. Despite the retro design approach, however, Lunistice‘s gameplay feels a lot more responsive and streamlined than the classic games it takes inspiration from. It’s a very straightforward and accessible title that is easy enough to understand without the need for tutorials or explanations of its mechanics. Anyone that has ever played a 3D platformer will feel right at home here. Your goal is to simply move from point A to point B, dodging enemies and obstacles and collecting paper cranes along the way. The levels are varied and offer environment-specific mechanics, such as bubbles that Hana can ride on in the underwater level or climbable vines that let her reach elevated platforms in a jungle-themed level. There are no boss battles to be wary of, but the levels themselves are well-designed and challenging enough to prevent Lunistice from feeling like a cakewalk. In fact, later levels really ramp up the difficulty, although the game never becomes frustrating or unfair.

The tight level designs are Lunistice’s standout feature, but in all honesty, this is mostly because the game has been stripped of a lot of gameplay features that are typically associated with the genre. We already mentioned the absence of boss battles, but there are also no lives to worry about. Although a timer is present to keep track of how long it takes you to clear a level, the time has no effect on your final score. Instead, your performance is rated by whether or not you were able to collect all the cranes in a level, and how many times you died. Lunistice is very generous with checkpoints and enemies rarely pose a real threat, so most of your deaths will be the result of simply missing a jump and falling to your death. Those deaths never feel unfair either, because the controls are nigh-on perfect. Controlling Hana is a breeze. Lunistice’s controls are responsive, precise, and dynamic. The control scheme almost seems wasted on the game’s own limitations: it never really reaches its full potential because of how quickly it’s all over.

With only seven distinct worlds, each consisting of two levels, Lunistice isn’t a very long game. In fact, it can be tackled in under three hours, but the lifespan is expanded through a handful of unlockable guest characters from other indie games, including Toree from Toree 3D and Toukie from Holomento. The gimmick here is that each of these characters plays slightly differently from Hana. This means that you’ll tackle the same levels but they’ll feel different. For example, a character may not have access to a double jump but runs a lot faster instead. Tackling these levels with different characters provides a neat extension of Lunistice‘s longevity without taking up too many resources. If you’re a completionist, there are also letters that spell out protagonist Hana’s name hidden throughout the levels. And that’s without even mentioning that this is a perfect game for anyone that enjoys speedrunning, although an online leaderboard would have been a welcome addition. All things considered, Lunistice offers a surprisingly generous amount of content for the €4.99/$4.99 price point. In fact, that price point would have been enough to make Lunistice a no-brainer, but even if you’re still on the fence, A Grumpy Fox has you covered. A free demo of the game is available on the Switch eShop as well as on Steam, so you can even give Hana’s adventures a spin for free before you decide to commit your hard-earned cash.

Conclusion

With A Grumpy Fox approaching their game as a genuine love letter to old-school 3D platformers, there is plenty to like about Lunistice. The game doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of gameplay, but it takes plenty of what made yesteryear’s platformers so beloved in the first place and then applies a coat of modern polish. The result is a fantastic little platformer that will delight younger genre enthusiasts and those waxing nostalgic for the late ‘90s. The only downsides are the absence of a fleshed-out narrative and just how short the game is in general, although one of those downsides is offset thanks to the low price point.

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Lunistice - Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
SebastiaanRaats


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