Lunark – PS5 Review

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The cautious and methodical exploration in Prince of Persia wowed players with its rotoscoped character animations back in 1989. In 1992 the award winning Flashback won critical acclaim and commercial success. Jump to 1997 and Abe’s Oddysee brought the genre to the next level with innovative gameplay and epic storytelling. Now in the age of 3D games, Lunark returns to the classic roots of the 2D cinematic platformer pioneered and perfected by the aforementioned games.

Flashback to a lost genre – Lunark

A debut title by Canadian developer Canari Games, its Kickstarter campaign success story not only funded the creation of the game but also brought the new indie studio into existence.

Played here on PS5 the game is also available on PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Steam. Standard and Deluxe physical editions are also available.

Gameplay

Playing as Leo, your world is thrown into turmoil with an act of terrorism aimed at framing you as the culprit. Run, jump, shoot and explore your way to the answers not only about the attack but about your own mysterious origins. Along the way, you will have some puzzles to solve and bosses to beat.

True to the origins of the genre is the game’s use of checkpoints and saves. Some may find this harsh and punishing but it gives an authentic feel to the game. A nice quality of life improvement over the titles that inspired it is the ability to jump up to a platform when facing the wrong direction. This makes for some nice responsive movement when the timing is critical – when an enemy attack is incoming for example.

2D pixel art character wearing a red jacket stands at an upgrade terminal on an upper left platform of a level in Lunark the sci-fi cinematic platformer. A lower platform in the middle is blocked with laser beams. An upper platform on the right has a red plant that can be picked up to recover health.
level up

Rewards for exploration are upgrades to your gun and health as you journey through this futuristic adventure.

Where this game does a really excellent job and where others often fall down is the dialogue is kept snappy and to the point. Interactions with characters serve to drive the story forward and not hamper it with excessively long conversations.

Having said that the game does suffer a slight pacing issue. I felt level 11 took the wind out of the sails just as things were ramping up to a climactic final act.

a view through binoculars of the moon. It is set in a fictional future where the moon has been inhabited. The bottom of the image shows dialogue from a character called Leo that reads: "Hard to believe it used to be the Earth's moon."
new moon

Some issues with platforming controls also popped up on a couple of occasions. What sometimes felt like input lag seemed to be more to do with positioning not quite lining up with platforms. In one instance the animation for a running jump played out with Leo standing suspended in mid air off the edge. These were definitely anomalies as controls felt very responsive for the most part.

Graphics & Audio

The 2D pixel art is really nicely done with colour used to great effect to enhance the tone and atmosphere. Where this game really shines visually though is with its animations. Captured using the rotoscoping technique used in both Prince of Persia and Flashback it gives the character motions a unique realistic smoothness. Oh and yes you can pet the dogs!

The same technique is also utilised in the cutscenes giving them some very realistic looking motions.

2 characters in conversation in an office room in top left platform in a lavel in Lunark. A stairway to the left leads to the lower level. Dialogue at the bootom of the image shows a character called Gideon talking. The word read: "I need you and your "abilities" to track down a very ancient artifact."
uncover mysteries

Music throughout Lunark is great with a varied soundtrack and some really excellent beats. At one point I swear that I could hear that iconic jingly sound from Back to the Future. Once I had heard it I couldn’t help thinking that Leo resembled Marty McFly. I couldn’t unsee it.

One outlier on the soundtrack for me was the music playing on completing the game. It just didn’t seem like it fit with the vibe of the rest of the tunes.

Longevity

With just one mode of 12 levels to play through with no real drawing power to go for subsequent runs after finishing the story.

a level in 2D pixelart game Lunark showing a completed puzzle on a stone wall in the middle of the image. The completed puzzle shows a completed path in glowing light blue colour. There are 3 platforms in this level 2 to the left - one upper one lower, and one upper one to the right. All 3 platforms have a small grey computer terminal on them used to manoeuvre the pieces of the puzzle.
Puzzling times

For players on the hunt for trophies, there are 34 to earn – 5 bronze, 27 silver, 1 gold and a platinum. A new game+ and a level select would be a welcome addition to bag some of the missed trophies.

Final Thoughts

Lunark is a brilliant throwback to a genre that has been lost to the ages. While tipping its hat to its inspirations it also manages to carve out an identity of its own.

While there are certainly a few little quirks, the visuals, sound, story and gameplay combine for an enjoyable sci-fi adventure.

This one firmly grabs the Thumb Culture Gold Award with both hands.

Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.

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