Every now and then there comes along a puzzle game that’s as charming as it is intelligent. A title that feels adventurous in its qualities without being too alienating towards a general audience. I liked this when I played Thomas Was Alone almost eight years ago, it was an indie darling which felt uncommon to come across back in those days. But ever since then I’ve tried to look for other puzzlers that possess a fascinating aesthetic while also staying true to the genre. While there are many visually disparate indies releasing each year that fit that description, one that recently stood out to me was Lantern Studios’ LUNA The Shadow Dust.
You control a young boy named Üri, a traveller from a fantasy land overcome by shadows. Journeying out into the desert to try to undo the curse, he comes across a giant monolithic structure with a peculiar allure about it. Moving into the tower, he befriends Layh, a small creature who helps him to finish his adventure.
Escalation is a key theme in LUNA, as you ascend the tower after solving every stage. The puzzles are self-contained, with each one utilising an escape room-type approach to its design. They also use abstract concepts as part of their creative outline. One puzzle requires you to time between different seasons while another has you bringing a giant book to life in order to advance through a door.
You’re able to use Üri and Layh during most of the puzzles and they both have different actions. Since Üri is a human, he can operate machinery and push heavy objects where his companion cannot. Instead, Layh can fit into tiny passages to bypass seemingly impassable obstacles. They also have a special ability that allows them to shift into a silhouette form, letting them interact with other shadows and reach impossible areas.
Accessibility is also a key feature of the game and is handled well. Coloured icons are always accompanied with a symbol for people with colour blindness and one puzzle involving sound also has an on-screen aid for deaf players. There is no dialogue either, with everything communicated to you via visual cues and abstract symbols, making it an excellent translation to non-English languages. It reminds me of why television productions such as Mr. Bean and Pingu are so popular across the globe due to their discouragement of using monolingual material.
It plays extremely well as a puzzler, but the real highlight of LUNA is its gorgeous hand-crafted art style. All backgrounds, characters and items were drawn from scratch, while the cinematics were animated at 12 frames-per-second and 3 layers per frame. It brings back nostalgia from classic point-and-click adventures in addition to animation flicks of the 1970s and ‘80s. Overall, it quickly became the standout feature of the entire game for me.
A lovely short title that doesn’t overstay its welcome, LUNA The Shadow Dust succeeds in everything it needs to be. It can be hard to create a good puzzle game that also looks incredible and leaves you thinking about it long after the credits have finished rolling, but this is how I felt when getting ready for bed after finishing it. If you’re a fan of abstract puzzlers, be sure to check it out.
Tested on PC
Developer Lantern Studio
Publisher Coconut Island Games
Disclosure a copy of LUNA The Shadow Dust was supplied by Application Systems Heidelberg