Update: There’s an update at the end of this post with notes after playing the remaining levels in the finished build.
The thing you’ll remember about Lumino City, certainly from the build I played, is the handcrafted element. That’s for both positive and negative reasons.
Lumino City is a point and click adventure which follows a young girl called Lumi as she tries to find her missing grandfather. The story plays out across a papercraft city – one which actually exists in miniature in real life – and revolves around solving puzzles and assisting the cast of odd cliff-dwelling characters.
The most striking thing about it is the art style. I’ve written about that before in-depth but here’s the shorter version: developers State Of Play built the whole thing as tiny papercraft sets and then recorded them so they could be used in the game. Post-production work saw the sets brought to life with lots of little finishing touches as well as things like the characters and their animations.
The depth of field effect you get with these scenes is shallow which means only a slice of the image is in sharp focus. Aesthetically that’s absolutely lovely. The game oozes charm with every screenshot. But when you’re actually playing you run into a number of problems relating to the aesthetic.
At this point I’d like to point out that this piece is based on my playthrough of a build which wasn’t quite content complete. In the period since, State Of Play have been adding to and tweaking the game ahead of its 3 December release. That’s why this is a hands on rather than a WIT. I’ll sit down with it again on Tuesday to see if there have been major changes and update this piece accordingly.
Now back to the aesthetic. As I said, the depth of field means only parts of the image are in focus. your eye is naturally drawn to those sharper segments and thus I occasionally found myself missing objects or items – once a whole platform to explore – because they were blurrier and thus I’d mentally discounted them from the active portion of the play area. It could also be tricky to tell which bits of the landscape were near and which were far away. A section near a bandstand I’d assumed was connected to a walkway turned out to be uncrossable. A train station which looked so distant I didn’t see how I could make the jump turned out to be just a hop away (as revealed by an errant mouse click).
It’s a beautiful game and those moments are infrequent but when they did occur they were intrusive. I think there are ways around the problem – having a system which highlights the directions you can move from the screen you’re on would let you know that you’ve understood the limits of the space while giving interactable objects a glow or similar when you mouse over them would let you know they’re important. At the moment clicking can lead you to interact with an object but it can also just force Lumi to walk halfway across the screen if it turns out just to be a piece of the scenery.
Beyond the aesthetic considerations are the puzzles themselves. They’re generally well constructed and, provided you find the right objects to click on and interact with, they offer enough stimulation without disrupting the flow of the story. At one point you encounter a house which turns out to also be a camera and you must solve a couple of darkroom puzzles in order to progress. Elsewhere is a ferris wheel-cum-washing line from which you must retrieve an item of clothing. They feel sweetly inventive rather than swimming in the opacity I remember from my childhood Simon The Sorcerer exploits. Use watermelon with sousaphone? Well obviously.
If you do get stuck there’s a hint system I loved. It’s designed to stop you from accidentally spoiling other puzzles. The way it works is that each puzzle hint is assigned a page number in a massive book, previously belonging to your grandfather, and which sits in your knapsack inventory. To find the page number the game gets you to solve a simple maths puzzle related to items you can see on the screen when trying to solve that particular puzzle. The rest of the book is full of curious-looking diagrams and filler text. Atmospheric but also guarding against finding solutions by random page clicking. Obviously it’s not foolproof, but it’s foolproof enough to stop most accidental spoilers.
It hadn’t been implemented for all levels of the game which I played though so I was stuck for a while on an area where I hadn’t noticed a clickable object. Actually, I’d clicked all around that general area but it just seemed to make Lumi keep crossing the screen so I’d written it off as not the right thing with which to be interacting. I’m not sure that a hint would have helped with that, I think it might need those interface tweaks I mentioned earlier, but I’m mentioning it here in case adding the relevant hint page clears up some of the ambiguity and confusion in that section.
The only puzzle which threw me off for other reasons was a music section. It asks you to learn six short bits of a song separately and then play them all together. One wrong note and the game stops the song, reminds you of that section then drops you back at the beginning of the backing track. As someone who struggles with basic musical ability this was by far the hardest and least enjoyable part of the game, although I got the impression it was intended to be heartwarming and whimsical. Eventually I just assigned numbers to the notes, took off my headphones and tapped out the appropriate tune. I’d guess it was a puzzle designed by someone with a facility for music but for people like me it’ll be a fierce difficulty spike. Afterwards you can stick around and jam with the guy. I did not stick around and jam with the guy.
The build I played cut off before the mystery of what happens to Lumi’s grandfather is solved but taking a general look at what I did play, it’s an intriguing and aesthetically lovely little game. The problems resulting from the stylistic choices were irritating enough to disrupt the experience of playing and I’m concerned that without changes to the interface one or two might only be resolved by accidental clicking or by Googling for what to do next. Overall, from this experience I would say Lumino City is thus far brimming with charm and creativity, but it does need more polish to remove the frustrating edges.
UPDATE: I’ve now played the remaining levels via the finished build and my views haven’t changed from those stated above. In particular I’d say it doesn’t address those UI issues I highlighted although a couple of the puzzles do indicate where on the scenery you need to click if it’s a time-dependent action. In terms of the remaining levels to be played I ran into problems with one puzzle in particular where the hint shed no light on the situation and solving the puzzle seemed to rely either entirely on super-fast twitch reflexes or an alternative solution which wasn’t apparently even when Alice and I worked on it together looking for anything we could feasibly have missed. A visually delightful game, to be sure, but the play could have been made far more enjoyable with just a few tweaks.