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Luna: The Shadow Dust

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Application Systems Heidelberg
Developer: Lantern Studio
Release Date: Feb. 13, 2020

About Lauren "Feffy" Hall

I am a freelance writer based in Canada, where it's too cold to go outside; therefore, we play a lot of video games. I'm an expert zombie slayer (the virtual kind), amateur archer (for actual zombie slaying and general apocalypse purposes - it could happen), and a work-in-progress wife and mother (IRL). My claim to fame: I completed the original MYST without looking up cheats. It took several years. What other accomplishments does one need in life?

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PC Review - 'Luna: The Shadow Dust'

by Lauren "Feffy" Hall on April 7, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Luna: The Shadow Dust is a hand-animated story driven point & click adventure puzzle game.

Hand-drawn adventure games seem to be a more common occurrence in the industry these days, but Luna: The Shadow Dust brings something a little different to the table. Much like other games of its kind, Luna is driven primarily by the puzzles and the story, but it's unique in its artwork and simplistic, yet endearing, overall style. It's so much more than just another 2D adventure game, given its stellar soundtrack of whimsical instruments and its compelling artwork, which is a shift from the latest noir-style trend of the genre. The entire game is hand-drawn in a more child-like fashion than its competitors, and while recent hand-drawn games have been dark, edgy, and mysterious, Luna is, by contrast, warm, vibrant, and innocently magical.

It's not all sunshine and daisies, though. Luna begins rather darkly: You find yourself in a gloomy, almost desert-like plain, where a little blue flame sprite guides you toward a tall tower. While it is clear that you must scale the tower, it's not so clear who "you" are. You appear to be a little boy in coveralls and a bunny hoodie, which reminds me of little Max in the popular childhood book, "Where the Wild Things Are." Soon, you'll discover that your puzzle-solving adventure is a team effort, as you stumble upon a cat-like being who appears to be just as confused, frightened, and alone as you are. Together, you ascend from floor to floor, unlocking doors by using logic, mechanical switches, clever deduction, ladders, walls, and on occasion, shadows cast on the walls themselves. It appears as though no dimension is unusable in this magical little world, as you and your furry friend are able to use anything from the shadows and light to stuffed critters and musical instruments to your advantage as you progress from puzzle to puzzle.


Another way that Luna sets itself apart from its competition is the way the story is told — or rather, shown. You might say that it is something of a silent storyteller, as the entire plot unfolds without a single spoken word or moment of dialogue. This approach holds some of the game's charm, especially since the music is so incredibly good on its own, and the ambiance provided by the sound and the sweetly drawn artwork and animations doesn't necessarily lend itself to narration or conversation. Much like a mime relying on his visual performance to tell a story, Luna relies on its visually compelling art, immersive music and beautiful cut scenes to spoon-feed you bits and pieces of the story.

The only trouble with this is if, like me, you didn't go through the five hours of gameplay in one sitting, or (also me) you spent far too long on a puzzle or two (breaking up your gaming sessions into more manageable blocks), those broken-up pieces of the plot tend to get a little mixed up and confusing each time you return. The actual puzzles also appear to have little to nothing to do with the story, so while they are fun, casual player-friendly puzzles that will make you feel accomplished after solving each one, they don't provide much in the way of storytelling. They do lead you to new cut scenes from time to time, which slowly unveils the story as you progress up the tower.

Thankfully, the options menu, which uses pictures rather than words, provides you with a cut scene playback library, so you can go back at any point and review. Even with that, by the end of the game, I had only an abstract understanding of the story that I had been told — er, shown. I was still full of questions about missing pieces of the storyline that were so lacking in the first place that I wouldn't even know where to begin to ask for more. This lack of understanding didn't take away from the experience of the game, which appeared to be more about experiencing the art and style and completing the puzzles.

A good puzzle should be something of a head-scratcher: not too easy but also not so difficult to solve that you look up solutions online. The solutions should provide you with a logical "a-ha!" moment. In that respect, does this game deliver? Puzzle games have some pretty fierce competition these days, since the genre is absolutely saturated with quality indie games. It's difficult to stand out from the crowd, but Luna does with its rewarding approach to solving puzzles.

 


The puzzles were varied and immersive. Some involved sound and music, some involved lighting a particular lamp or series of lamps, and some were more abstract. In one particular puzzle, your furry companion slips into a world of shadows to manipulate the objects that cast those shadows. You are also periodically helped by peculiar little one-eyed mice, who can be physical pieces of the puzzle or set the stage by chewing a hole in a wall or the environment, giving you a clue about where to begin.

Your goal in each puzzle is to unlock the door on the other side of the room and make it to the top of the tower, presumably to restore sunlight and life to the world you're from, which appears to be currently under a veil of shadow and some kind of corruption. Perhaps you aren't from that world at all, and you are there to watch over it. As I mentioned, the story is a little fuzzy.

While the story in Luna was lacking in clarity, the puzzles were quite good. They were appropriate in terms of difficulty, they kept me engaged, and they weren't so challenging that I felt like I wasn't progressing. Unfortunately, I encountered two issues with the puzzles that, when compounded with each other, caused a great deal of frustration.

 


The first issue is that there is no save option. To be fair, this isn't always a deal-breaker in an adventure game; checkpoints are not uncommon, as any seasoned gamer will attest. However, in Luna, it was irritating for more than one reason. After completing a puzzle, which was sometimes a lengthy affair, you would appear to progress on your tower map, which is signified by a satisfying twinkling and crumbling stone sound, and the visual of the light moving up to the next level. Sometimes, this would be followed by a cut scene, and other times, you would find yourself in a new room. In either case, this sequence smelled strongly of success, but it was next to impossible to tell if you were safe to leave the game or if you would have to complete the previous puzzle again upon returning to the game — something I had to do this several times. The inherent save points were indiscernible to this player. This frequently seemed to happen after completing a particularly time-consuming puzzle that was probably a delight to solve the first time but exceptionally tedious when I had to solve it another time.

What made this worse was encountering a random bug in Luna. I completed a puzzle, moved on to the next stage and, having already experienced the no-save frustration , I decided to progress to the next puzzle just in case. The trouble was that the game took over my movements by way of a gradual cut scene of sorts, which would've been a beautiful segue in the flow of the story if it actually worked as intended. This time, it didn't work, and my character just ... stopped. He just stood there, scratching his chin in confusion along with me, and I was unable to move or interact with anything. Finally, I gave in and quit to the menu, reloaded the map, and lo and behold, I was forced to complete the exact same puzzle again to see if the bug was really a bug or if I had missed something.

It was a bug, which was a discovery that made me both thankful and mildly annoyed. The little boy continued along to a cut scene as intended, and the game carried on as though nothing had changed. Sometimes, a save feature isn't necessary, but in a game like this, it would've been nice to have, especially when it breaks up the flow. Having a previous save to revert to would've been a game-changer.

 


Even with those mild irritations, Luna was a well-paced, engaging experience. The story didn't lack in intrigue but in actual information. I would've loved to discover where the boy came from; why this world was so beautiful and focused on art, music and literature; and what evil stole this world's sunlight and why? And honestly, why the bunny hood? I would like to know more about the mysterious creatures that live there and the characters of the story, but much of that was simply left to interpretation. That can be a compelling way to tell a story, of course. Sometimes, it's nice to be able to imagine all sorts of happenings in a story, but with so many open avenues for the mind to traverse, it was almost overwhelming to begin.

What this game lacks in story, it makes up for in beauty through the endearing artwork, the sweet, sincere characters, the simplicity of the goal and gameplay, and the music and sound, which can't be praised enough. Paired with the puzzles, which I felt were well crafted and not overly tedious, Luna was an enjoyable game to play. The length of the game, which was roughly five hours, was perfect, although I would sacrifice more time for a more conclusive plotline. Despite a few minor bugs (and minor bugs are often expected with new games), the title was smooth and easy to navigate.

In the end, I felt that Luna: The Shadow Dust ebbed and flowed more like a beautifully soundtracked picture book than an actual video game, which is admittedly a refreshing change of direction for this genre. If you're looking for something a little more out of the box than a typical point-and-click experience, then Luna: The Shadow Dust might be the game for you.

Score: 7.5/10



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