Recalling the primary colour steeped gaming era of the 1980’s, one of the most influential games to me as a young lad, other than the arguably seminal How to be a Complete Bas***d, was an effort called Head over Heels. An isometric puzzler that placed a premium on solving room-specific puzzles and old-school platforming, it seemed unlikely that anybody would want to commercially pick up the gauntlet of what seemed to be a lost genre some twenty-nine years on. Well, developer Gareth Noyce has done just that with Lumo; resurrecting the genre with the sort of verve and charm that makes it stand comfortably alongside the more contemporary efforts of today.
Lumo goes head-over-heels for classic design
Cast as a young boy or girl who on an outing to a classic games convention, gets sucked into a computer monitor Tron-style, Lumo begins in earnest thrusting the player into the first of roughly over four-hundred very different isometric chambers from which they must escape. As alluded to at the start, Lumo lovingly cribs from the isometric adventures of yesteryear and so if you’re familiar with those, then you’ll know *exactly* what to expect. For the rest though, fear not, Lumo’s puzzle platformer beats are as easy to grasp as they come. The added fact that Lumo is utterly free of combat and boasts a colourful vibrant visual presentation (not to mention it helps to get their logic bits working), also means that the game is highly suitable for the sprogs, too.
Just about every room that you walk into will have some sort of platforming or puzzle conundrum to solve, with more often than not a hybrid of the two popping up. You’ll be doing everything from pushing boxes about to climb up onto ledges, jumping across chasms, dodging traps, navigate moving boulders and more besides with the effects of the puzzles that you solve not always being limited to one room. Dropping a bar of soap into some dirty water in one room for instance, might result in bouncy, jump-friendly bubbles being produced in another that allow you to cross a previously impassable chasm.
Rather than just bringing an old concept kicking and screaming into 2016 with a few token bells and whistles, the much increased horsepower of today’s hardware has provided Noyce with ample scope to innovate with these conundrums in a way that was previously impossible. Collapsing slopes, rotating platforms and spinning jump pads all contribute to the impression that as much as Noyce is a student of the past, he also has the talent to meaningfully augment it for contemporary expectations as well.
There’s a real twee charm to how some of these puzzle mechanics are manifested, too. One good example being a lovely sentient crate who, with hearts playfully rising from its brow, is smitten with your character and will follow him/her around the room, stopping whenever the player character does to use them as a step up to a higher platform all the while making adorable little noises the whole time.
Further layering proceedings is a Metroidvania style progression system. At the beginning of the game you can’t even jump properly but gradually, new abilities are introduced such as leaping and swimming to name just two that allow you to navigate previously inaccessible areas. The real genius of course is in how Noyce deftly intertwines newly accrued abilities with those isometric puzzles, with Lumo gradually introducing new concepts, phasing out old ones and generally keeping the whole puzzle platforming shtick exceedingly fresh in the process. Further afield, mini-games such as a frantic mine-cart escape switch things up a bit from the standard template and stand as entertaining, though not ground-breaking distractions from the status quo.