If you’ve been following any of our PAX articles or end of the year wrap-ups, you’ll already know that LUNA The Shadow Dust has been on our radar for awhile as one of the most anticipated games this year. This little gem is the first title from Lantern Studio, featuring point and click puzzle gameplay, hand-drawn art, and an in-house composed soundtrack.
And let me tell you – it’s every bit as lovely as I’ve been hoping.
If you’ve had the chance to play the demo, you already know a little bit of LUNA’s story. For those who haven’t, LUNA puts you in place of a young boy at the base of magical tower which overlooks the world. Something clearly happened here – it’s empty, difficult to traverse, and things are overgrown and broken. Fortunately, you’re not alone – a small creature companion joins in your adventures, and the two of you will have to try to reach the top together to uncover the mystery of what’s gone wrong.
LUNA tells a story through a universal form of communication – art
One of my favourite details in LUNA is the pure lack of any text. It feels so natural as you progress the game that you may not think too much of it. The menus are clean and easily understood. Each level includes fairly clear indications of what you can walk on, touch, or move. The story is so lovingly and artfully drawn that it doesn’t need further explanation. The lack of words – at least ones that we can recognize among the runes of the tower – blends in so easily with the game that it’s an easy detail to just accept and move on.
For me, it was significant in two ways. The first is that it adds so perfectly to the magic of the story. LUNA takes place in a gorgeous, mysterious tower. Even before we make it past the first stage, it’s clear that we’re in a world of magic and wonder. The lack of dialogue and text adds to this fantastical, otherworldly feel and draws attention to the artistic details of the game. The second reason I really love LUNA’s lack of reading is accessibility. LUNA can quite easily be picked up by anyone who speaks any language, and still be understood as long as they’re familiar with basic mouse mechanics and common symbols. This magical little tale is universal.
The game’s mechanics make use of everything, including a magical focus on light and shadow
The lack of wordy instructions definitely doesn’t make LUNA an easy game, however. Some of the puzzles were quite straightforward, but I struggled with a couple to the extent that I actually did need to peek at the guide that the publisher was kind enough to provide. Players will need to be ready to fully explore and engage with the tower’s rooms. Everything is fair game for puzzles – don’t only look for buttons or levers. Pay attention to open drawers, notes on the wall, and stories told on the stones around you.
I especially loved the use of shadows as a gameplay mechanic throughout numerous stages – it added a little touch of wonder to the gameplay. While LUNA makes use of plenty of details for each puzzle, I really appreciated that visual clues let the player know what can be interacted with. Little feet appear where you can walk, and a hand will show where things can be pulled, grabbed, or pushed. This cuts down on some of the wildly random clicking that I’ve found myself caught in in some games, and helps make tricky puzzles a little easier to work out.
For the majority of the game, you won’t have to worry about backtracking – each level is self-contained. I think the only time that I became a little tired of walking back and forth was during the time puzzle, where I felt like I had to do an incredible amount of going from room to room. Overall, this usually isn’t a problem, but a slightly faster walk speed might have made a difference.
The game does come in a little short at about 4 hours of gameplay (at least for me – I’m sure mileage will vary, especially as I had a walkthrough available for particularly tricky moments if need-be), but it consists completely of standalone puzzles which require no backtracking or item-finding, so I felt like I got plenty of content during that time.
LUNA’s art and music are a magic all their own
Often, I think of music and art as the cherries on top of incredible gameplay, but for LUNA the aesthetics and sound design are so outstanding that I can’t not give them the same weight as the rest of the game. Puzzle games are my genre darling when it comes to gaming, and I can pretty easily say that few have ever endeared me the way LUNA did. The studio-composed music is lovely and a perfect fit for all the wonder, magic, and sometimes even sorrow you’ll find in the tower.
LUNA’s art is a wonder all its own. The traditional animation and Ghibli-inspired style are gorgeous to start with, but I was really amazed by the small details that appeared throughout the game. LUNA shows a lot of magic in small things – kitchen creations, shadows across a bedroom wall, the reaction of a poor mouse just wanting to enjoy his cheese… I really loved these moments – a couple of them even made me immediately smile and laugh. It’s a world full of wonder, and one I completely enjoyed immersing myself in.
All of these details help make LUNA’s atmosphere into a fantastic experience. If you’ve already fallen in love with the music and art like I did long before the game’s release, you’re in luck – LUNA will have a Deluxe Edition for $26 that includes a digital art book and soundtrack. Both of these are so worth the extra cost!
You can find LUNA today for $19.99, or grab the Deluxe Edition including digital art book and soundtrack for only $26. If you like point and click puzzle games, I think this is a stunning one to add to your collection. Each new stage brought in new wonders, and by the end I found myself wanting to discover more and more in this incredible world.