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Lumi (Xbox Indie, 2010 DreamBuildPlay contest winner)


#1 Survivor Charlie   Paragon of Virtue CAGiversary!   859 Posts   Joined 17.1 Years Ago  

Survivor Charlie

Posted 04 September 2010 - 10:34 PM

The Way Too Indie Review of Lumi
by Charlie Reneke

Lumi
400 Microsoft Points ($5.00 US)
7/12/2010 by Kydos

Lumi was the winner of Microsoft's 2010 DreamBuildPlay contest. At five bucks, it's one of the most expensive games on the Indie marketplace, so expectations were high. Also, the screenshots blew me away. They looked like they came from a game that I would expect to see on a Nintendo machine, which coming from me is a huge complement. The 400 Microsoft points it costs was out of my normal price range for the games that I target for these reviews, but as a game that won top honors from a Microsoft sanctioned game creation event, I figured there had to be something there of merit. And I was mostly right.

Lumi is a 2D platformer that borrows elements from some obscure games and then uses them in a way I've personally never seen before. Storyline is minimal: you're a member of a race of light-emitting creatures who's world is swallowed by a black hole, leaving everything in darkness. You must go around, collect fireflies and use them to relight magical trees and bring color and beauty back to your world. Cue the Rainbow Brite theme here.

The gimmick in Lumi is that you can make your character pulsate in either red or blue tones. Scattered across the levels are various red and blue circles that you can stick to magnetically when you match their color. Once attached to a circle, you spin around in similar fashion to Donkey Kong: King of Swing on the GBA and Nintendo DS. When you let go of the button, your character gets flung in whatever direction you're pointing. But the game doesn't stop there, because if you let go of the button and switch to the other color pulse, you get repelled by the circle and launched even further. Similar mechanics were used in the overlooked Super Magnetic Neo but they work much better on the 2D plane presented here. There are also light beams scattered about that you can ride if you pulse in the correct color. When you release the button on these you're fired out of the beam like a cannon. This feature was lifted from the underappreciated Sega Genesis gem Pulseman and it's a welcome addition here.

To pulse in blue, you hold the left trigger. To pulse in red, you hold the right trigger. It sounds simple but it's one of those scenarios akin to rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time. It requires a lot of practice to get used to, and I never fully did even after I finished the game. Don't get me wrong, it did become easier, but it was never second nature, which is the ultimate way to gauge how tight a game controls. You should never have to think about what button you need to push next. It's nice to know that any mistakes I made in jumping were on me and not on the physics, which are absolutely spot on. I did have an issue with my hands cramping up due to excessive use of the trigger buttons, and in fact I had to break for a few hours after finishing Lumi before my hands felt comfortable enough to write this review.

Lumi looks fantastic. It's clear from the amount of originality on display that the team behind it has incredible artistic vision and talent. It might be one of the prettiest 2-D platformers to come around in the last ten years, and it blows top sellers like New Super Mario Bros. out of the water. As I joyfully made my way past the first couple levels, I was stumped as to why Lumi only carries a current rating of ***3/4 after 415 votes were counted. I figure at 400 points most people wouldn't bother buying it and the majority of the people who lowballed the score did so out of spite because the game costs so much and the demo wasn't satisfying enough. Clearly jealousy was in play, and after absolutely adoring the opening levels, I knew for sure I was going to five-star this game and hopefully help the guys behind it make a few more bucks.

And then... it happened.

I had an encounter with what could be described as a boss. Even though you don't actually fight the thing, forced-scrolling comes into play as you have to race through a level, not collecting anything, and simply going from circle to stream to circle again. If you slip up even once, you're going to be flattened and have to start the whole level over again. It feels like it takes forever to reach the checkpoint, and the aggravation factor is high. There's no life system in place for Lumi, so you're free to die as often as you need to, but starting over every time you go tits up is annoying as hell. And in this sequence you're not actually fighting the boss but running from it. Lumi turns into a reflex tester at this point.

All the charm and innocence of the early levels is replaced with the unfair trial and error of a twitch platformer where the only way you can possibly win is to memorize what is in front of you, since you sure as hell don't have the time to see it coming. Combine that with the color controls which, again, never feel natural, and you're bound to have a bitch of a time completing this section. After what felt like a solid hour of dying over and over again, I made it to the goal - only to overshoot the door and get trampled. By time I actually finished I was shocked to learn that I only died 25 times over the course of fifteen minutes. It felt much longer. And then I had to take a small break because my hands were cramping badly..

The early levels of Lumi put you in the wrong mindset for the type of game it becomes. This huge spike in difficulty feels unnatural and undisciplined on the part of the developers. Yet once you encounter that first boss, Lumi really never lets up. The levels become bigger and the jumps become more hair raising, but it never did regain the blissful joy of the earlier levels, likely because my mood had changed for the worst during that boss battle. At one point I openly yelled out "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!!"

A second boss battle later on starts off feeling like it will be more of a jumping puzzle. You have to pulse blue on the creature's tail to stun it, then fling yourself up in to the middle of its back and pulse red to inflict damage. The problem is that landing anywhere on the back BUT the exposed spot kills you and forces you to start the fight over again. As if that's not bad enough, when you hit the creature with the red pulse it immediately springs to life and it's time to start running for your life. Misfire on any of the circles or the beams of light you need to hit and you're dead and have start the fight again all over from the beginning. Like the opening levels, this fight lulls you into a sense of comfort and then completely shifts directions on you. This is poor game design, and it's disheartening to watch play out.

Lumi is a hardcore title through and through, so novices need not apply. There are ten levels (boss fights count as levels), which sounds short but by time you finish you'll want it to be over. It just gets to the point where the game feels like it's punishing you, especially the ninth level which had me flashing back to the annoying scale the castle level in Wizards & Warriors on the NES. The castle level in Lumi feels much the same way. It's too long and lacks checkpoints, at which point the game felt like it was testing my patience more than my gamer skills.

I have to admit that I was never really bored with Lumi. I was aggravated for sure, especially during the out-of-place boss fights, but the variety in level design and the new twists and turns kept me in the game long enough to see it through to the end after roughly four hours of gameplay. And yet for every step forward there was a step backwards. Remember those annoying barrel sections in Donkey Kong Country? They're here, and the mechanics of their use are a direct lift from those games. These don't even require you to pulse a specific color to use. You just hop in them and wait for them to point in the direction you want, fire, and then grab the next thing to swing on. It feels out of place here, especially given that the game is built around it's magnetic light beams and circles. The barrels feel more like band-aids: when the intent had been to put one of the normal obstacles in its place and it looked fine on paper but didn't work in execution, they used these things as a quick fix rather than change the level design. That's the impression I got, at least.

This is a tough one to rate. The guys at Kydos obviously put a lot of love into Lumi. It looks and sounds fantastic. In fact, its graphics could be considered to be in the top tier of any downloadable game ever made. It sure doesn't feel like it belongs in the same league as almost any other Indie title and it makes me wonder why Microsoft didn't poach this for a normal download and a crowing point of what could be accomplished using their XNA system. But as flawless as the art direction is, some really questionable choices in game design make Lumi's amateur roots shine through.

Rating: ***1/4 Buried somewhere in Lumi is a masterpiece of a game. It takes lots of familiar elements from other games and combines them in a way that is so unique that everyone should at least give it a try. I'm giving it a mild recommendation because I've never played anything quite like it. For all the problems Lumi had, establishing a decent learning curve and messing up the feel of the game with horribly misguided boss fights, there's a lot to like here. The controls are difficult to master but not in any way busted, and the art direction is breathtaking. What Kydos really needed was someone jabbing them in the back with a pointy object every time they lost focus on what made the opening levels so fun. The game goes from a nurturing, family friendly collect-a-thon to hardcore, balls-to-the-wall twitchy platformer with no warning at all. So don't go in expecting a Kirby-like cuddly Nintendo breeze game. Lumi is for the dedicated platform enthusiast only.

Thanks to Chris for editing.

#2 utopianmachine   Deal Ninja CAGiversary!   10520 Posts   Joined 15.0 Years Ago  

utopianmachine

Posted 05 September 2010 - 02:17 AM

This review is pretty spot-on of my experience with the trial. I downloaded it the other day after hearing some good things, but I was annoyed pretty soon into the trial. I did not like that the main mechanic of the game appeared to be moving via the colored circles. I could never get the timing just right, and even though I wasn't in the frantic boss battle like you described, I still found it annoying.

Sounds like the game would have only gotten worse. Glad I passed.

#3 Ch33pSh33p   Cheap is <3 CAGiversary!   397 Posts   Joined 13.4 Years Ago  

Ch33pSh33p

Posted 07 September 2010 - 12:13 AM

It's definitely not easy but it's not impossible either. After getting the hang of it, I enjoyed it a lot actually and managed to complete all the levels with the exception of the final one which is "hidden" as that was too hard but I'll probably give it another go one of these days when I'm up for the challenge.