Lantern Studio‘s, Coconut Island Games‘ and Application Systems Heidelberg‘s point-and-click adventure game LUNA The Shadow Dust tells a fantastic tale without words, but strong emotions.
LUNA The Shadow Dust (PC)
(China 2021, developer: Lantern Studio, publishers: Coconut Island Games/Application Systems Heidelberg, platform: PC)
Young boy Üri, together with cat-like creature Layh, has to climb an ancient tower to restore both his memories and the balance of their world by making the moon rise again.
A story without words
Sometimes a story doesn’t require many characters or even dialogues to evoke strong emotions. The plot remains very mysterious most of the time, but the final segments are all the more effective. The atmosphere is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s animated movies with its dream-like presentation, e.g. walking on books and being surrounded by darkness and then star constellations in one scene. It all makes for a very special journey one gladly takes on, with an ending that offers a satisfying explanation.
An emotional journey
While it’s nowhere near as ambitious as most animes, it’s probably the reason why story progression works so well: The connection one has with the boy and cat-like creature is more touching than most over-dramatic scenes can establish. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any of those, as some sequences with tears in both characters’ eyes or an unnecessarily long climb of a ladder are a bit too much.
Puzzles in light and shadow
The puzzles are imaginative, and despite levels (or parts of the tower) only taking place in one or two rooms with few points of interactions and no inventory items, they’re not as easy as they might seem. They fit the weird and wonderful world perfectly, e.g. making a rat eat different kinds of food which, after Layh has jumped on it, breathes fire, water, or blows wind in order to get rid of a pesky thorn plant.
Shadows play a big part, because Layh can become one itself and move in a sort of parallel world. For example, Üri casts a shadow that the creature uses as a platform. Changing the position of a rotating lamp also creates shadow platforms on which Layh can jump. The shadow world can become dangerous, though, as a shadow raven can attack Layh, although this can be prevented by Üri touching a feather in the other world. Even if this might all sound like rather obscure solutions, they make sense in the context of the world of shadow and light.
The game is a great example of how co-op can work in an adventure title, although one can’t play it together with a friend. Teamwork is essential to solve puzzles which don’t only require being in two places at the same time and switching between characters, but which also take into account Üri’s and Layh’s body shapes as well as the cat-like creature’s ability to become a shadow.
Time-sensitive and local problems
This doesn’t always work smoothly, because certain puzzles require fast reflexes and are almost quick time events. There’s also a fair bit of trial and error to find out what to do, taking up most of the short playtime of around 2-3 hours. Looking for points of interaction and some actions requiring pixel perfect clicking can be frustrating as well, especially since there’s no hotspot key function.
There are some fairly standard conundrums like the boy pushing a crate with the cat on top to reach a higher place or making Üri turn off steam valves and change the layout of a labyrinth for Layh to move around in. But there are some highly inventive puzzles, too. For example, both characters are in one place, but during different seasons, and switching between them while performing certain actions change the level for the other one, e.g. using the boy’s stony appearance as a stepladder for the cat to climb on and scare off birds eating apples from a tree.
Somewhere else Üri has to find various books, with Layh literally walking across pages of a book to be given the correct title by character portraits that have come alive. A short time travel section is also memorable, even if it’s not as original as what Day of the Tentacle: Remastered had in store.
Fantasy art and music
The art design is amazing, with everything hand-drawn, including painting-like backgrounds and impressive animation and lighting work. The cutscenes are just as beautiful, especially with the use of comic panels in more dramatic scenes.
The soundtrack is fantastic and transports the player into another world with its soothing medieval-inspired melodies, while the lack of voice acting isn’t noticeable at all. Most of the atmosphere is conveyed by some environmental sounds, like wind howling or the ticking of clocks.
Simply a gorgeous and emotional experience
LUNA The Shadow Dust shows what can be possible if a dedicated indie developer puts all their artistic effort in a project. It doesn’t only look and sound like an animated movie, but tells a heartfelt story that might be too mysterious or simple for some people, but is far more emotional than most text-and-cutscene-heavy games. It’s a very short game and a few puzzles rely too much on trial and error, but it’s really the sum of all its parts that makes this game so special and endearing.
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