GamingReview: Luciform

Review: Luciform

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There is an undeniable allure to the precision platformer. From a player’s perspective, the genre offers unrivalled mechanical purity, unfettered by such trappings as skill trees or enemy combatants. To a developer, this style of game presents a unique challenge; an opportunity to flex their level-design muscles and focus solely on making a meticulous arrangement of blocks and walls intrinsically exciting to jump around on. For these reasons, precision platformers are often the go-to for beginning game designers, and while Chaos Minds’ Luciform presents some interesting mechanics and levels, the inconsistency of its aesthetic and its frustrating difficulty make it feel like the developer’s practice project; the larval stage of something more refined.     

It must be said that it’s entirely possible I’d have enjoyed Luciform exponentially more had I played with a controller, rather than with a mouse and keyboard, however the game made this functionally impossible. Even navigating the menu with a gamepad made me feel like I was going insane. Pressing L2 inexplicably quit the game, while flicking the left stick upward did nothing at all, and after about ten minutes of plugging in and unplugging my DualSense, I threw in the towel, deciding keyboard controls would have to suffice. 

Seeing as this is an indie platformer, I’d assumed going in there would be some back-of-the-box, pitch-ready mechanic on offer to set it apart from the admittedly enormous pack, and I’m very self-satisfied to report that I was correct. Throughout its dozens of levels, Luciform asks you to constantly switch between three colors – red, blue, and green – in order to interact with platforms of the corresponding hue. For example, if your character is blue, they’ll fall through green platforms, but land on blue ones. This is a fairly novel concept, and one given due exploration by the game’s inventive level design, but Luciform’s other big idea saps this color-switching mechanism of enjoyment at almost every turn. You see, you have no direct control over your character’s movement; they proceed in whichever direction they’re facing until they hit a wall, and they can not rest in place. While in principle this element adds a sense of urgency to the climbing and jumping, in practice it makes each level an overly stressful gauntlet of trial and error. Because you begin each obstacle course moving at full speed, you have no time at all to process the hazards before you, and thus stand nary a chance of circumventing them on your first, or likely fortieth try. In the best precision platformers, your skill is tested on your own terms. Sure, there are a hundred saw blades hurtling toward you as you leap between pixel-wide blocks, but the speed at which you avoid them is left up to you, and so your mistakes feel like your own. In Luciform, no matter how thoughtfully designed each level was, I felt unable to appreciate its construction while performing the mental gymnastics color switching at speed requires. 

Narratively and aesthetically, Luciform is… odd. There is an opening cutscene which seems to paint a very loud gorilla as the game’s antagonist, and there’s an oddly evocative score comprising each level’s soundscape. You play as a small rabbit-like creature, and the background is a fairly well-realized forest, and you die when you run into these spiky vines and… I suppose my description of the game’s thematic elements is so disjointed because the elements themselves are very much presented that way. Having participated in myriad game jams, wherein competitors attempt to make a game as quickly as they can within a designated time frame, I’m reminded by Luciform of my own transparent attempts at tying a story and tone to an entirely mechanically-focused game, and of my eventual conclusion that this is largely a waste of time. Luciform feels like it isn’t content with simply being a difficult platformer with an interesting core conceit, and therefore negates any sense of identity it might’ve achieved through minimalism by throwing a handful of discordant ingredients together and hoping in vain that they cohere.

Luciform is an auto-scrolling puzzle platformer with some creative mechanics, and some really smart level design. For the few dollars it costs, I’d recommend the game to anyone in dire need of their next punishingly tough 2D escapade, and I commend Chaos Minds for conceiving of a novel design constraint and running with it for as long as Luciform does. Unfortunately, the game’s lack of identity and reluctance to give its own mechanics the space they need to truly shine holds it back from becoming the platforming classic it might have otherwise blossomed into.         

SUMMARY

+ Innovative color-switching mechanic
+ Dozens of creatively designed levels
- Lack of aesthetic identity
- Frustrating difficulty

(Reviewed on PC, also available on Switch, MacOS, Linux)
Ethan Goldreyer
I love playing games, making games, writing about games, and shattering the fabric of reality by writing about playing games that I’ve made. At the moment, I own a PS5 and a PC, as well as a Switch depending on how generous my girlfriend is feeling.

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