Much could be made of LUMO‘s heritage, but it’s one that, for many, will feel like ancient history. LUMO is an isometric adventure in the style of much-loved eighties computer games Knightlore, Alien 8, and genre classic Head Over Heels. There’s a powerful argument to be made that this last – Head Over Heels – was the finest game ever released on the 8-bit home computers of the day and any game that openly cites the Ocean classic as an influence opens itself up to close critique.
For gamers of a certain age – and I count myself among that select cabal – LUMO is more than just a revival of the genre we grew up with. It’s tinkering with our childhood in ways that, if it gets it wrong, could forever damage our rose-tinted memories. If you’re one of the fragile entitled who fears childhood will be ruined by an all-female Ghostbusters reboot, the anticipation might be more than you can bear.
So, allow me to put your mind at rest. Your childhood is safe in Gareth Noyce’s capable hands. In fact, Noyce has shaped his vision around the memories of those isometric adventures, not the reality. LUMO might recall the days when loading a game from cassette tape took eight minutes and you held your breath every second, but in reality it’s a thoroughly modern take – and all the better for it. Whilst those of us who remember the halcyon days of maps scrawled inside school jotters (when all this was just fields, you know) will enjoy the pangs of familiarity, those dragged screaming into this world long after isometric pioneers Ultimate Play The Game disappeared circa 1988 will find the game no less captivating. (History buffs will tell you that Ultimate evolved into Rare and have continued to innovate in each console generation since that time.)
Part of the charm is LUMO’s insistence on sticking to a set of design principles laid down all those years ago. Camera position is fixed – there’s no option to rotate the map to explore each room from every angle. All that’s allowed is a slight craning of the camera left and right, occasionally allowing the glimpse of a glowing secret, or hidden platform, obscured behind foreground detail.
And, of course, that isometric viewpoint is the real antagonist – there’s slight perspective applied, but the mechanics remain consistent with those honed to perfection 30 years ago. Navigation in this 3D space is tricky. You are helped by the option of tweaking how controller direction affects your character’s movement, allowing you to pick the configuration that feels most intuitive. Even so, with narrow ledges to negotiate and pixel perfect jumps required to avoid death by poisonous lake, you’ll soon learn just how tricky precise movement can be. Jumps are easy to misjudge – in both distance and direction – and it’s all too easy to miss what looks like a simple leap. Soon, though, your brain clicks and your fingers catch on to the timing required, but this remains is a tricky game that punishes you for failure.
Punishment, in the default adventure mode at least, is slight, though. With infinite lives to play with, the worst that can happen upon your protagonist’s demise is that he’s returned to the point at which he entered the room. The game does offer a more hardcore mode, where the aim is to complete the whole thing in a single sitting and just a handful of lives (more can be collected en-route) but we can’t imagine anyone other than the Gamerscore completionists taking this mode seriously. Not when Adventure mode has so much charm.
Your initially powerless wizard – who can manage no more that a tiny hop at the outset – soon gains all kinds of abilities to navigate what is a beautifully rendered environment full of all kinds of bric-a-brac. There are plenty collectibles to root out, from the familiar (arcane spell books, at home in a dungeon setting) to the bizarre (rubber ducks and cassette tapes). Some are easy to spot but hard to reach, requiring a series of leaps and mid-air changes of direction, whilst others are hidden in the scenery, or even off the map, inviting you to break the game’s own rules to locate them. Thoroughly entertaining stuff.
The diverse range of objects you encounter is a good analogy for the game itself – often there seems no rhyme nor reason for the twists and turns on which the adventure takes you. It feels like every (good) idea that floated through the creator’s head was somehow captured, digitised and fed into the game. Fairly early on, just as you become accustomed to your dungeon surroundings, an innocuous lift will raise you to a brightly coloured, futuristic room, complete with bleeping, blooping, patrolling robot. And don’t get us started on the elevator music on the ride up. It’s these twists and turns, this very British sense of eccentricity, and the knowing winks to gaming history, that make LUMO such a beguiling prospect.
This is a substantial game, one that encourages meandering exploration rather than A-to-B efficiency. Its appeal is broad, its humour gentle, its cleverness beguiling and its execution almost flawless. Noyce has taken a classic eighties adventure and created a classic eighties adventure, but one that’s been fettled by the gentle application of modern technology and thirty years of gaming nouse. Head Over Heels was never bettered in its day or in its genre, and whilst LUMO might kickstart a slew of ‘reimaginings’ of its eighties brethren, we can’t see it being bettered, either.
Lumo is available from the Xbox Store priced £15.99.
Don’t forget to check out our interview with the game’s creator, Gareth Noyce.
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