Lunark's visuals achieves something rarely seen used effectively in video games: it adheres to the principal that less is more. Visually, Lunark isn't using a lot of pixels to create its retro style. But what Lunark does do is make every pixel count, producing what I can only describe as some of the most impressive visuals I've seen in a retro, 2D-style game. Canari Games and Wayforward showed this upcoming platforming adventure on the show floor at PAX West, so read on for our impressions.
Movement in the LUNARK Style
In this platforming adventure paying homage to classic games such as the original Prince of Persia, you'll play as a man named Leo. My demo on the show floor of PAX 2022 gave me a brief tutorial on Lunark's movement system, and then I was brought to an ancient, overgrown ruin to explore. Lunark is all about movement, so as you might imagine, the developer placed a lot of emphasis on making it look fluid and realistic. This is done through the use of rotoscoping.
If you jump into a wall, he's knocked over and it's as if every complex muscle movement is conveyed through animation as Leo gets back up.
Rotoscoping is nothing new in video games. If you haven't heard of rotoscoping, you've definitely at least seen it somewhere. This is an art technique not just exclusive to a single medium, after all. The gist of it is, a real person acts out scenes on video, and graphics are essentially superimposed over the video of that person. The result of which can produce a striking resemblance to real world movement while still retaining a game's graphical look. Prince of Persia did this in the 1990s, but seeing this done in such a way in 2022 is no less impressive.
From screenshots and gameplay, you'll notice Leo comprises only a few dozen pixels at most. The sprite is not complex by any means and you can only get the gist of his hair and clothing -- his face looks to be made of under ten pixels. This is why Lunark is so splendid-- it produces some of the most realistic pieces of animation I've seen in a pixel art game. When Leo leaps forward to bridge a gap, he visually swings his arms. If you jump into a wall, he's knocked over and it's as if every complex muscle movement is conveyed through animation as Leo gets back up. There's also times when the camera shifts perspectives and zooms up close on an object Leo is picking up. The way in which he reaches for the object is lifelike while retaining that retro feel.
Tomb Raidin' Time in Lunark
I had just a bit of trouble grasping the controls for Lunark, but I think the developer knows others will run into this problem as well. A low-stakes tutorial had me take control of a robot that mimics the same movements Leo is able to perform. Without any sort of failure state, this allowed for me to understand the movement system at my own pace, frustration-free. Once you get the hang of things, it's actually pretty simple. It's best to use a D-pad on controller while moving Leo around, as it felt much more precise than the joystick.
Leo's able to traverse environments by leaping across ledges, jumping up high, and rolling under gaps. Armed with a gun as well, he can take out any foe that stands in his way, provided you don't get hit first. Putting all of Leo's special moves into practice is a fun time. The ruins I explored were full of simple environmental puzzles. Mostly, I had to find crystals strewn about the ruins and putting them in the correct slots, thus opening a new way forward.
There's light combat elements in Lunark, and from what I can tell, this mostly comprises shooting your sidearm at enemies. Combat is secondary to platforming, no doubt, but enemies like crawling spiders and bats in the temple added an element of danger. I was actually surprised to find that, after exploring the temple in full, I encountered a boss fight. A giant spider cleverly required both combat and platforming to defeat. In a multi-tiered room, each platform allowed me to pick out different weak spots on the giant spider, all the while I had to avoid or kill members of its brood.
The great thing about PAX is that it allows you to find diamonds in the rough, and I think Lunark has a serious chance of being something great. While I'll hold my final judgement until the final release, I definitely look forward to seeing how the traversal mechanics can be expanded upon by providing new environmental puzzles and other dangers.
TechRaptor's Lunark preview was conducted on a demo booth at PAX West 2022.