Review: Lunark (Nintendo Switch)

Lunark demonstrates cinematic platforming at some of its finest. This sci-fi adventure shouldn’t be missed; only be certain you’re up for the challenge.

The driving force for protagonist Leo is the atmospheric phenomena spurred by the titular moon, but it’ll take a while before you can learn exactly what’s happening. The plot is a highlight, full of steady surprises, and doesn’t take long to start throwing twists your way. I don’t dare spoil even early ones. The immersive cutscenes consistently sparked my excitement for what was to come next. The story cleverly sidesteps many clichés yet retains a comfortable familiarity. Its page-turning quality keeps players engrossed from the opening to the closing credits.

Players new to the subgenre may initially find the controls slightly strange, but they can quickly get the hang of them once the intricacies are understood. As a big fan of Flashback (from which Lunark draws inspiration), I enjoyed seeing Leo pull off various long jumps and associated climbing and hanging once I got the hang of the setup. The occasional moments of frustration get offset by the excitement and satisfaction that arise from successful navigation, whether horizontally or vertically.

Alongside the expected moveset, Leo will engage in battles against various threats to his survival. Weapon upgrades are available, provided you can find and reach them, but speed can also be a valuable asset in certain situations. The combat system offers surprising depth, at times feeling like a puzzle element. Learning whom to engage and discovering tricks to eliminate opponents quickly makes combat less of a time-waster and more rewarding. In addition to combat, the game includes traditional puzzles that offer a welcome break from the more intense sections and add an extra layer of challenge. As you progress, stealth will become a must, so impatient players should take note. The variety of gameplay elements keeps things engaging.

When Leo isn’t busy with various manners of action, he’ll interact with various characters. Some of these NPCs are Kickstarter backers, and the game acknowledges its supporters in a clever way, with names sprinkled throughout in a manner that makes sense within the world. These characters augment the engaging storytelling and ensure that Leo’s tale isn’t just one of his own survival. Viva la Revolución!

Lunark offers some memorable sci-fi locales these characters inhabit. The aforementioned cutscenes are stunning, as is the animation in general. It’s worth noting that the latter means some instances seem sluggish, but that’s “par for the course” with this type of game. While the pixel art is a bit chunky in docked mode, it still manages to convey a charming, inviting look that’s rich in details. Even the darker areas make good use of vivid color. All these combine to make areas a delight to traverse, even when backtracking.

And you will be backtracking. The checkpoint system strikes me as a bit haphazard, with inconsistent spacing. The frustration of replaying long stretches (if all hearts are lost) can be gradually lessened as you discover (with practice) that once daunting areas are soon flown through with relative ease. And there are some thoughtful touches like enemies not respawning. Persevere, and you’ll find yourself facing some epic boss fights!

And the music is great. I might go so far as to call the soundtrack stunning. It caught me by surprise in the best possible way. The tunes are fantastic and nicely varied. Importantly, they fit the locales and complement what’s happening on-screen at a given moment. It evokes all the right emotions. While I lack music theory knowledge and time to delve deeper, I highly recommend giving it a listen. Once hooked, you can experience it in-game.

While Lunark is getting patched with tweaks to cut down on potential frustrations (great for newbies) and other polish and quality-of-life improvements, my lone gripe is still present: it only saves progress at the start of a level. With later stages taking an hour or more, forget playing this one in handheld mode for a few minutes here or there. You’d better make sure your schedule is clear, like when you were a kid, and that no one else in the house wants the Switch. If the game allowed players the option of choosing between starting from the beginning of a level or the last checkpoint, this game would earn an easy 10.

Even with an inconveniently designed save system, Lunark is a game I’ll look back fondly on for reaching the highest of highs. It’s easily one of my favorite titles in recent years, one I’ll undoubtedly revisit. A must-play for cinematic platformer fans, Lunark’s full of surprises, bound to leave lasting positive impressions with players. If this is indie studio Canari Games’ first release, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

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