Review: Lumini

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In this understated indie surprise from Speelbaars and Rising Star Games, you control the eponymous lumini, an ancient race of creatures that are like, for lack of a better description, a crossbreed between fish and butterflies (or lightning bugs or really any type of flying insect). The adventure begins with the arrival of one lonely, purple lumini, but as you air-swim through the caverns and forests and ancient ruins of their home world, you collect glowing particles of the planet’s life energy hanging from local flora, and then safely transport the pollen-like resource to cubic monument checkpoints, spawning more lumini to join the school of flying creatures.

The lumini come in four different colors–purple, red, blue, and yellow–each featuring unique powers that are capable of evolving over time as hidden gems of like color are discovered. For example, red lumini have an explosive bomb-like attack capable of killing other hostile fauna, such as fungal spore shooters, spikey porcupine slugs, and carnivorous plants. Eventually this attack can be upgraded to gain a pulse-bomb effect that delivers three detonations in rapid succession as opposed to a single blast. Blue lumini are able to do a speed boost, primarily for evasive purposes, but also just to speed up point-to-point travel. And the yellow ones can generate an electric charge to attract sparkly collectibles from a distance. Through evolution, energy harvested in this manner will allow the Lumini to activate a short duration electricity shield. Except for the red lumini, the other three can launch a stun attack to deal with enemies in non-lethal fashion.

Some clever environment interaction is introduced through a mechanic that allows the lumini swarm to be split into two smaller swarms, each mapped to an analog stick and controlled independently. This is primarily used for pressure plate puzzles, in which one group of lumini needs to be placed over a switch to open a door while the second school is moved through the door to activate another switch to secure the open door for the other group to follow through. Other times you may have to guide the two lumini flocks across a series of switches that must all be hit at the same time, or do your best synchronized swimming routine by rotating the two groups in circles at the same time to spin windmill-like cranks.

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While keyboard controls are supported–by default WASD and the arrow keys serve as the twin analog sticks, but the keys can be rebinded–I concur with the game’s opening splash screen recommendation to use a gamepad. Though lumini are creatures of the sky, they have a buoyant locomotion that, to the player, conveys a sensation of bobbing and swimming through water. This graceful, effortless control feel, combined with the seamless world flow, adds to the game’s serene tone and pacing. Keyboard controls work fine, but for me some of the smooth control feel became lost without analog sticks.

Between the hostile creatures, hazards like walls covered in red thorns, and the simple puzzles, there is enough potential danger to keep you cautious, but in general Lumini is about relaxing, playing at your own pace, and losing yourself to the rich atmosphere. Lumini is an adaptive sensory experience, meaning that both the audio and visual elements change as you play. For example, crystals that have lost their shine and glowworms that have lost their glow illuminate in the background as the lumini pass by. In addition to spawning more lumini, bringing energy to checkpoints restores native vegetation to vibrant life. Similarly, collecting and interacting with certain things is met by audible rings and chimes. Coupled with the luminis’ playful chirpiness, atmospheric sounds like echoing water drips, and a wonderfully peaceful soundtrack, the game world succeeds at enveloping all of your senses. To me the game became a sort of interactive white noise machine that I never wanted to turn off. (On a side note, a deluxe edition with an art book and soundtrack is available on Steam.)

Looking deeper, there is a sense of history to the game world that becomes increasingly compelling the longer you guide the lumini on their quest of planet renewal. Even though the game makes no overt attempt at delivering a narrative, the environment itself hints at the world’s past, using things like crumbled statues, hieroglyphs, and ruins to reveal the remnants of former civilization. The only thing that breaks this immersion is a transparent control overlay that stays in the bottom left or right corner of the screen nearly all of the time, constantly flashing different button prompts to show how to change between lumini and use their powers, like some annoying pop-up tooltip that can’t be closed. And indeed, there is no option to turn this off, which there should be because the gameplay is so straightforward that such an ever-present form of tutorial simply isn’t needed. Hopefully the developers can implement an update to allow for the ability to switch this control guide off.

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If you’re OCD (like I am!) about collecting every last energy particle and finding all of the crystal shards and other precious, shiny objects tucked away in secret nooks and crannies scattered throughout the world (character models and concept art are unlocked as rewards for your effort), the game will last in the ballpark of four hours. Moving at a faster clip, avoiding exploration, you could probably guide the lumini to their ultimate destination within a couple hours–though rushing kind of defeats the purpose of the game. Once the game has been completed, a hard difficulty setting unlocks, which increases the level of danger by populating the world with a larger quantity of even stronger enemies. Hard mode definitely changes the dynamic as you have to navigate with greater care and caution, because it’s very easy to speed boost into the gaping maw of a hungry whale behemoth, losing all of your lumini in a single gulp.

The achievements also add some interesting replay value for completionists, such as clearing the game with a 100% kill rate or without harming even one other living creature, or reaching the end without losing a single lumini from your school. This isn’t a large game with a ton of content, but there is an innate endless replayability. After finishing it twice (once on normal, once on hard), I started a third run to do some last minute review note taking only to look up at the clock to realize that I had sort of zoned out for half an hour, mesmerized by the calming atmosphere, constant sense of forward progress, and elegant, flow-based movement. In that way, Lumini could easily be mistaken for a Thatgamecompany production, sharing similar zen-like immersive qualities to games like Flower and Journey.

To summarize, Lumini is the perfect chill out game.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Adaptive audiovisual elements are totally zen
+ Luminis’ air-swimming locomotion is incredibly smooth and satisfying
+ Immersive exploration and sense of discovery

Cons:
– Control overlay mucks up the pretty scenery; no way to turn it off
– Not a lot of content and replay value unless you’re obsessive about achievements and exploration

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: Speelbaars
Release Date: 9/3/2015
Genre: Adventure
Players: 1
Buy From: Steam

Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!