The 3D platforming genre has experienced a resurgence since the mid 2010s, thanks in no small part to the efforts of many indie developers. Some of these harken back to the style of older platformers while building something new from their foundations. Lunistice, the debut title of German developer Dennis “A Grumpy Fox” Kröner, is one such game in how it evokes the feel of PlayStation/Saturn-era games to create a very solid, simple platformer
You play as Hana, a tanuki whose goal is to reach the end of each stage. You can jump, do a double jump and do a tail swipe that knocks away nearby enemies and acts as a triple jump when used in mid-air. The name of the game is running and jumping, as you make your way through linear obstacle courses which test your timing and reflexes. Each world introduces new gimmicks that build upon and interact with each other nicely, such as bubbles that transport you, grind rails, and tracks which massively increase your speed and jumping distance.
Along your travels, you’ll find paper cranes that act as breadcrumbs to lead you through stages, though they only act to boost your end level rank in addition to dying a as few times as possible. While getting ranks isn’t terribly important (though you do unlock a bonus reward for it), their existence means that stages can be replayed repeatedly in order to obtain the perfect run. If you’re into S-Ranking stages, there’s plenty to enjoy from mastering the tricky level designs. Thankfully, the timer doesn’t factor into this, so more cautious players will be rewarded as well, though there’s a thrill in quickly weaving your way through obstacles.
However, players who prefer exploration can also find enjoyment from discovering optional areas off the beaten path that offer tougher sections, which reward you with H-A-N-A letters. When they’re all collected, you’ll unlock a secret route past the end of the level that leads you to documents and keys. Finding these gives you the truth behind Hana’s adventures and unlock the game’s final stage, so there’s good reason to take your time.
On that note, the narrative is presented to the player unobtrusively, with one cryptic cutscene at the very beginning being the only thing you’ll be explicitly given. Otherwise, the rest of the story will have to be figured out by piecing together the connections between the handful of documents you discover. It adds to the game’s generally dreamlike feeling and it’s nice that you can choose to ignore the plot without losing anything, but it’s abstractly presented enough that it can be hard to grasp what’s happening if you’re trying to get invested.
Lunistice is generally quite challenging in how tight its level design can get, especially from the third world onwards as it doles out increasingly complex obstacles. The fourth world can be particularly difficult, utilizing the “vanishing platforms in time to music” concept from later 3D Marios to create some devious stages (though it does offer an onscreen indicator of the beat, which is a great touch for players who are hard of hearing or playing the game silently).
But it’s also a fairly forgiving game; checkpoints are regular, you have three hit points which refill at checkpoints, and you keep whatever items you’ve found even if you die. In addition, there’s plenty of ways to customize the camera, the visuals and even how tightly you turn so you can approach the game how you like. While you can’t rebind your controls, you can use the shoulder buttons to jump and attack, which is a nice addition.
Thankfully, all of these options and all the challenges presented are made worthwhile by how good the gameplay is. The smooth responsive controls allow you to run, jump and attack with ease, while letting you swiftly recover from ill-timed moves. The simple mechanics ensure that anyone can get into the game, with tricky shortcuts only open to those who’ve mastered them. Every level offers a unique design concept, such as ascending a tall structure or choosing from a handful of routes to unlock the way forward, so there’s always something new around the corner.
Although the game can be beaten in a couple of hours, it’s concisely designed to ensure every idea is taken as far as it can go without overstaying its welcome. In fact, there’s even a pair of unlockable crossover characters you’ll earn when you beat the game. Toree, the cute duck from Macrus “Siactro” Horn’s Toree games, moves very quickly but can’t attack and can only take one hit, while Toukie from Sean Weech’s Holomento is a ninja bird who can perform three ascending mid-air jumps and can only take two hits. You have to unlock all the levels again as these characters, which encourages replaying the game with the alternative playstyles they encourage.
Adding to this is some nice presentation that compliments the whole package nicely. The graphics evoke the fifth-gen era of platformers with its use of pastel colors and low-poly graphics and environments, resulting in a charming looking adventure full of unique locales. At the same time, it offers easy readability and a smooth 60fps framerate, which allows players to see where they’re going and to play comfortably. (There’s even options to go for a hi-resolution option and even dropping the framerate to 20fps, if you want to go all in on making the game feel “retro” or “modern”.)
The music by Knasibas keeps up the mood with various upbeat piano/rock-led tunes, featuring recurring motifs in the melodies to keep things tied together. That said, the tracks can blend together due to the energy and musical style remaining largely the same, despite sometimes playing around in other genres such as in the fourth world. The sound design does a lot to enhance each action with pleasing and punchy sound effects, some of which even utilize neat tricks such as the pitch rising when you collect paper cranes.
Lunistice’s Steam page (with an option to download a demo, and purchase the game’s soundtrack) – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1701800/Lunistice/
Lunistice’s GOG page (which also lets you download the demo) – https://www.gog.com/game/lunistice