Of all the genres in the gaming landscape, few are bursting with creativity as much as puzzle games. Just in the past year there’ve been minimalist organizational puzzles in Wilmot’s Warehouse, complex logic puzzles in Baba is You, and inventive stealth puzzles in Untitled Goose Game. For all the innovation the genre has been seeing, however, there’s also something to be said for finely honing a more traditional kind of puzzle game: point-and-click.
LUNA: The Shadow Dust is a mix of classic design philosophy and exceptional presentation values. Players jump into the shoes of a young boy who’s suffering from amnesia and finds himself at the foot of a large, ominous tower. Shortly after making his way inside, he comes across a pet-like companion who seems to have been abandoned in a pile of wreckage. The two become quick friends and decide to work together to climb the tower and uncover its secrets.
The title is largely structured as a series of escape rooms with occasional outdoor sections connecting everything together. Each room features a different puzzle or series of puzzles that players must figure out to progress, making the journey inherently linear. Luckily, Lantern Studio really went above and beyond to ensure that most rooms feature unique mechanics and tricks to keep the entire playthrough varied. Few puzzles repeat ideas, and those that do build upon them in intuitive ways.
In a time of great creative prosperity for the puzzle genre, LUNA: The Shadow Dust proves that the point-and-click format still has plenty of life left in it.
For instance, one of LUNA’s most inventive mechanics is shadow manipulation. Not only can the companion creature transition into a shadow itself, but it can also traverse the shadows of other things to reach levers and windows. Figuring out how to perfectly align objects to create a path for the companion feels rewarding, especially when the timing comes down to the wire.
Most rooms manage to deliver that particular dopamine rush that comes with cracking particularly tricky puzzles. That said, there are a couple especially esoteric rooms that frustrate more than delight. What’s worse, there’s no dialogue or hint system to speak of, thus leading to random halts in progress that completely throw off the flow of progression. Thankfully, I only encountered two such instances over my five or so hours with the game.
Gameplay aside, LUNA’s greatest strength is its command of atmosphere. Lantern Studios has done a fantastic job of invoking the eerie unknown without veering towards blatantly horrific or creepy imagery. This is only aided by its painstakingly hand-drawn cinematics, otherworldly score, and overall art design, which feels at once cozy and meticulous. The traditional frame-by-frame character animation is particularly strong and does an admirable job filling the void left by the lack of dialogue.
In a time of great creative prosperity for the puzzle genre, LUNA: The Shadow Dust proves that the point-and-click format still has plenty of life left in it. This is a narrative-driven adventure through and through, and is made all the better by the boy’s genuinely fascinating backstory and some really striking art design. Though a select few rooms aren’t as mechanically polished as they could be, the overall experience was time well spent.