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‘Light Fall’ Review: A (Crystal) Gem Among 2D Platformers

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There’s something to be said about narrators in video games. From the sage-like wisdom of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time‘s (1998) Deku Tree, to the perceptive Gaia of the God of War series, or even to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt‘s (2015) older, wiser Dandelion, the use of the narrator in games is nothing new. However, this doesn’t mean it’s not a storytelling device that isn’t special. The presence of a narrator seems to sprinkle on just a little more magic; they’re an ensured figure of wonder and excitement that nestles one into the warmth of a tale, whether new and restless to be relayed, or those told again and again, but never quite losing their charms.

Light Fall, a 2D platforming title developed by indie developer Bishop Games, originally backed on Kickstarter in 2015, and released on the Switch (and other platforms) in April 2018, is such a game that does champion a narrator, and benefits all the more for it. Sticking heavily to the tried and true ‘hero’s journey’ structure, and meticulously pairing it with smooth, fluid mechanics designed to facilitate speed, this is a title that will appeal to players who like a serving of narrative with their platforming. This isn’t to say that the game is as perfectly iridescent as the crystals that line its landscapes, as some evident flaws do mar the shine. However, Light Fall is an enjoyable 2D platformer with more of a specialist appeal.

Light Fall’s narrative sees the player enter a world submerged in darkness desperately seeking to keep out a dangerous, infringing light.

The Narrative

Light Fall opens to tragedy: a seemingly peaceful realm known as Numbra, characterized by a ubiquitous darkness, has seen smatterings of light. Narrated by Stryx, a retired/grumpy night owl warrior, players assume the role of a young boy (of whom has a great destiny, and whom will be referred to as ‘The Boy’ from here on courtesy of Stryx and spoiler avoidance) over four-story acts. Together, The Boy and Stryx set out to investigate why Numbra has suddenly seen the beginnings of light and the lethal crystals that follow its wake.

Their quest sees them seeking out the celestial gods that oversee the world to aid Numbra’s plight. Although Light Fall’s narrative may come across as trope and cliché-ridden, there’s still a bounty of lush narrative detail that can be found in the form of the game’s collectibles. Thus, while the game doesn’t actively wish to push any storytelling boundaries or subvert any of the structures that have come to define the genre, its narrative is intriguing enough to warrant an advance beyond levels to see what comes next, and adds a personal touch in installing Stryx as a narrator that never quite leaves The Boy’s side.

Aesthetics

While the narrative does neatly place itself among others you’ve played before, the aesthetics of Light Fall certainly aid in cultivating a uniqueness. There is something striking about the subtle detail incorporated here. I found myself in awe of the game’s pastel landscapes, which boast monumental backdrops whilst also being dotted with crisp, minor details such as blooming flowers and scattered glitter. Despite the relative swiftness one travels throughout each Act’s levels, such details do not go unnoticed. Of course, the ambience created by these levels would not exist without the equally gorgeous score that motivates you from the easier beginnings to the tight spots that take a few repetitive — albeit sometimes irritating — tries to complete.

Mechanics

Speed is the name of the game here – daring, exciting, pure, fantastic speed. The Boy powers through levels by performing various moves to make it through the dangerous terrains of Numbra. The core mechanic of this game is the ability to conjure the Shadow Core. The Shadow Core is a metallic box that can be summoned instantly, on ground or airborne, and can be summoned again three more times until it has exhausted its quota. Its abilities are completely refreshed, regardless of what number of summons the box is at, once The Boy has touched natural ground. The basic use of the box to overcome environment is the primary means of movement within the game, and works well with the level design implemented, with various environmental dangers forcing the player to rely on the Shadow Core’s presence.

Light Fall implements a number of mechanics using the Shadow Core.

Other mechanics include the ability to move the Shadow Core to possess specific objects and devices, and the ability to hurl it at enemies and objects to progress through the levels. Though all possessing different functions, the mechanics of the Shadow Core are evidently familial in their smoothness. However, there were times when performing these mechanics almost felt laggy, with some inputs seemingly taking a moment to set in (and by the time the Shadow Core does spur, The Boy is usually body deep into a ravine of crystals). Regardless, Light Fall is a challenging title; the difficulty does ramp up considerably after the first few stretches, and as a result, complete compliance by the controls is a necessity. Still, it’s undeniable that most instances see gameplay characterized by a smooth fluidity, a testament to the effort that has been put into this title to achieve its speed-running prowess.

However, it’s this very flow — or rather, this same overriding desire to continue facilitating the flow generated by mastering the Shadow Core — that caused me to miss or simply not care about collectibles and the respective challenge in obtaining them. This is the price of speed: in being given the power to approach levels with a generous amount of freedom, it’s easy to get carried away with making it to the end of the level, some of which do implement more testing sections. After mastering these strips, there’s greater incentive to move on as opposed to sticking around and teasing Numbra’s grim reaper again. As aforementioned, however, collectibles do reward players with extra (and, I should note, extensive) narrative details. Players who identify as completionists, challenge-seekers or simply enjoy piecing together fragmented lore will find a lot of extra value in taking the time to really explore Numbra’s landscapes.

Hardware

In terms of hardware, while this reviewer hasn’t personally played this title on either PS4, Xbox One, or PC, it’s recommended that this title is approached on the Switch using an external controller, such as the standard wired or the pro. Using the joy-cons felt a little more restrictive dexterity-wise, though if you’re the kind of player who likes to be on the go with their Switch, there’s enough challenge and elective level structure that renders Light Fall an excellent game for those who want an extra bit of challenge on their morning or evening commute.

Content

Many of this title’s initial reviews made a note that the difficulty of the final boss of the game bordered on ridiculousness, with the absence of save points present along lengthy level stretches spurring irritation. Bishop Games ameliorated this issue following these critiques. This review was completed after the patch was released and installed. Despite changes, however, those last stretches still feel significantly more challenging than those present in previous Acts, and the final boss remains disappointing, with this hero’s journey ending on a tepid note. This is exacerbated by length of the title itself, which is arguably its greatest flaw. The game’s main campaign is only four to six hours long, and while the story is engaging, it was disappointing to see it end on a sudden note. Moreover, there is little post-game content present to soothe this wound — though Speedrun and Hard modes are technically extras, they are available for players to access immediately.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, Light Fall is a gem among the slew of 2D platformers that have become ubiquitous with indie and mobile gaming over the decade or so. In implementing adored storytelling structures and devices (it’s difficult not to warm to Stryx, The Boy, and their adventure) and pairing them with fluid motion to create an ample sense of flow, Light Fall is a worthwhile play. While it does have flaws, these inconveniences do not muddy most of the gameplay experience — however, it cannot go without saying that those looking for a more substantial gaming experience time and cost-wise should look elsewhere.

J. Elliott is a PhD student in Media and Communication. When she’s not fueling her caffeine addiction, you’ll usually find her reading, writing, or resisting (but ultimately succumbing to) the urge to re-play Bloodborne, Dead by Daylight, The Witcher 3, or Nier: Automata again.

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Game Reviews

‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still as Difficult, Demanding and Amazing to This Day

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Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country: 25 Years Later

Back in 1994, Nintendo was struggling with their 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which wasn’t selling as well as they’d hoped it would. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation on the horizon, the Super Nintendo needed a visually impressive and original title to reinforce its market dominance. After three years of intense competition and heated rivalries, Nintendo desperately needed a hit that could prove the Super NES could output graphics on the same level as the forthcoming 32-bit consoles. They teamed up with Rare to produce Donkey Kong Country, a Mario-style platformer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Donkey Kong Country is a game held in high regard and with reason. Monumental! Monstrous! Magnificent! Use any term you want, there’s no denying how important this game was for Nintendo and Rare. The graphics for the time were above and beyond anything anyone would imagine possible for the 16-bit system. For a two-dimensional side-scroller, Donkey Kong Country conveys a three-dimensional sense of dept. The characters are fluidly animated and the rich tropical environments make use of every visual effect in the Super NES’s armory. Each stage has its own theme, forcing players to swim underwater, navigate through a misty swamp, swing from vines, or transport DK using a set of barrels (cannons) to advance. And let’s not forget the mine cart stages where you ride on rails and use your quick reflexes to successfully reach the end. Every level has little nooks and crannies too, hiding secret areas and passageways that lead to bonus games where you can earn bananas and balloons, which you can trade in for additional lives. And in Donkey Kong Country, you’re not alone; your simian sidekick Diddy tags along for the adventure. You control one character at a time, and each has his own unique strengths. Donkey Kong can dispatch larger enemies with his giant fists, while Diddy can jump a little higher than his bulky cousin. It isn’t the most original platforming feature, but it works. The two heroes can also rely on various animal friends to help guide them through their adventure. Predating Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island, Diddy and DK can also ride on the backs of Rambi the Rhino, Winky the Frog, Enguarde the Swordfish and more!

What’s really impressive about Donkey Kong Country is how it has withstood the passage of time. In 1994, Donkey Kong Country’s visuals were spectacular with its rendered 3D models, lively character animations, detailed backgrounds, and a lush jungle setting, and while some would argue the game is dated, in my eyes it still looks great to this day. Kong has heart, and he’s willing to show it in a game made with wit, excitement and moments of visionary beauty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by David Wise is guaranteed to win listener’s over. Practically every piece on the soundtrack exudes a certain lyricism that has become a staple of Rare’s games – from its upbeat tropical introduction to the unforgettable climax which secures its place as one of the Super Nintendo’s most memorable boss fights. The result is an apt accompaniment to the colorful characters, tropical landscape, and tomfoolery that proceeds.

What really stands out the most about Donkey Kong Country after all of these years is just how challenging this game is.

But what really stands out the most after all of these years is just how challenging this game is. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you can only finish through persistence and with a lot of patience. Right from the start, you’re in for one hell of a ride. In fact, some of the hardest levels come early on. There are constant pitfalls and Donkey Kong can only take a single hit before he loses a life. If your companion Diddy is following you he will take over but then if he takes a single hit you lose a life and it’s back to the start of a level. Needless to say, the game is unforgiving and requires quick reflexes and precise pattern memorization to continue. This game requires so much fine precision that it will definitely appeal to hardcore platforming veterans looking for a challenge and those that do are in for one hundred eighty minutes of mesmerization, astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills. The only real downfall of Donkey Kong Country is the boss battles. Yes, Donkey Kong Country gave us some memorable villains such as Dumb Drum (a giant Oil Drum that spawns enemies after it hits the floor), and The Kremling King (who is responsible for stealing Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard), but these enemies have very basic attack patterns and far too easy to defeat.

It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

Donkey Kong Country

Along with its two SNES sequels, Donkey Kong Country is one of the defining platformers for the SNES. The game looks great and sounds great and the platforming, while incredibly difficult, is still very fun. Rare did the unexpected by recasting a classic Nintendo villain as the titular hero and it paid off in spades. It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

The beauty of the original is that there’s more to it than the oversized gorilla. Donkey Kong Country is truly amazing!

– Ricky D

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Game Reviews

‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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Game Reviews

‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy

Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.

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With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego GamesWoven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.

Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.

Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.

However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.

But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.

Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.

But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.

And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.

Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.

Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.

‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).

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