Most video game plots and settings can be rather silly. Super Mario Bros. is about a plumber who sets off to rescue a princess in a land of sentient mushrooms where flowers give you the ability to throw fire. Nidhogg asks you to duel with someone to win the right to be eaten by a giant flying serpent while Chulip has you trying to win the affections of a girl by kissing everyone and everything in sight. Lichtspeer follows in this tradition by having a story that makes sense in a strange sort of way.
You play the role of a seemingly average German warrior in a future that seems like it came out of Heavy Metal or something similar that blends ancient themes with a few modern trappings. The gods are bored, so they give you a powerful weapon known as the Lichtspeer, which is essentially a javelin made of pink energy. It is your job to alleviate the gods of their boredom by killing everything in your path with the infinitely supplied Lichtspeer.
The absurdity of the affair is prolonged by the type of enemies you face. Things start off with zombies and ice giants, though the presence of knit caps and sunglasses on some of them should give you a hint that things are goofy in this realm. It isn't long before that's confirmed with flying Dobermans and Nordic penguins arriving via boats. Regular animals, like walruses and fish, become your deadliest and most annoying foes, while bosses range from the very normal flying sea serpent to a DJ fight that is a rhythm mini-game in its own right. Though the game loses some steam when it re-skins enemies and makes them act differently in the later levels, they're all still delightfully weird.
Then there are the little things that make this even more ludicrous. Your journey across 13 stages, each of which is split into five sections, may start off in a forest, but it doesn't take long before you travel to other lands, including space and other planets. Your score is converted into cash and referred to as LSD, which stands for Licht Standard Denomination. Random German words are everywhere, but it's done in a way that seems to make sense. It all adds up to one strange-sounding game.
For all of this silliness, the basic mechanics are quite simple. Once you arrive in any section, you stand in a fixed spot as enemies march toward you and try to get close enough to kill you with one touch. Your enemies come in from the ground and the sky, and depending on the section you're in, you may also have to contend with foes coming in from the opposite direction. While you're standing still, you can aim your shot and determine the strength of your throw by how long you hold the shoot button. Getting the shot to full blast is pretty quick, so if you have good aim, you don't have to wait for an enemy to be at point-blank range before you know the Lichtspeer will hit. If you're aiming for the body, most enemies will go down with one hit, but the ice giants will require at least two. Bosses have energy meters, so it takes more than a few Lichtspeers to knock them down. Headshots, however, will take down anyone with one hit — except for bosses.
Beyond your Lichtspeer, you have a few other abilities you can call upon. You begin with the ability to transform your Lichtspeer into three in mid-air, but earning enough LSD allows you to buy more abilities. You can transform your Lichtspeer into a Lichthammer that has wide explosion when it makes contact with an enemy. You can summon a column of light to act as a barrier for enemies who get too close or a bubble shield to protect you for a few seconds. You can even summon a rain of tiny Lichtspeers to clear the foes from an area. You can arm three of those abilities to take with you into battle, but all of them are governed by cooldown systems that can be shortened if you further upgrade the abilities. Nothing cools down instantaneously, so you must rely on your Lichtspeer-throwing abilities.
Though the core gameplay mechanics are simple, Lichtspeer provides a great deal of challenge. It doesn't take long before enemies start to come at you in hordes, with the faster-running zombies showing up to trip up your shot if you try to aim for a slower foe. Flying enemies will do the same, and when you have a nice batch of foes on-screen, you'll feel overwhelmed. Your natural instinct may be to throw out some rapid-fire shots, but missing your target counts, and three consecutive misses earn you a god's wrath as you get paralyzed for a few seconds. Combine that with the various movement patterns on foes, and certain one-time events, like facing a wizard who has a laser cannon that needs to be deactivated every minute, and you'll be quite familiar with death. That also doesn't take boss encounters into account, where you're stripped of your special abilities and must contend with various other hazards.
The game is hard, but it all feels fair. No matter how overwhelming it can get, you never get the sense that things are impossible. There's a hefty amount of skill needed to beat the stages, and you never feel like luck plays too big of a factor in beating a section or boss. Restarting stages is quick, and while you can't start at the immediate point of your death, you can replay sections instead of having to restart an entire stage. It strikes a good balance, something that other games tend to forget when they concentrate on just making things hard.
Lichtspeer only has one mode, but it has various difficulty levels, all of which are unlocked once you beat the game. The title also features a leaderboard system for every level, so you have at least 13 opportunities to reach the top, a hefty task considering how many players are there right now. However, the highest difficulty level, Rage Quit, is unlocked from the beginning, and it certainly lives up to its name by including faster enemies and many more of them; the more advanced foes also show up much, much earlier.
While good, the presentation is another example of how the game follows its own beat with positive results. You expect the game to go with an electronic soundtrack but not one that is so mellow. It still feels like it was designed with combat in mind, but the pacing is slow enough that it feels more relaxing than expected. Voices are limited to the gods, who all speak German but are digitally modified so you can barely make it out and can easily mistake it for loud mumbling.
Graphically, the characters look like they came from early Flash cartoons due to their muted color scheme and the lack of shadows and black lines. They still animate well, but if you look closely at the blood spray, you'll notice that any special effects are stylized as triangles. The backgrounds carry on this polygonal look with loads of sharp lines and triangles, but it also has a softer color scheme that looks like it came from old sci-fi book covers. It stands out in a good way, and you won't be mistake it for other indie games on the market.
Almost everything from the plot to the enemies to the presentation embraces the oddness of Lichtspeer, all they do so in a way that's not obnoxious. The game doesn't shy away from trying to challenge you from the outset, but it does so in a way that feels completely fair, even when dying seems like a constant thing. Most importantly, Lichtspeer is a fun experience that will stick with you, and it has the potential to draw you back in again, long after you've beaten it.
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