March 30, 2023
When I was barely 10-years old, I became obsessed with Flashback on the Sega Mega Drive. It was ahead of its time, fusing stylish cutscenes and environments with pulsing gunplay and puzzles, encompassed in a neo-futuristic setting. Lunark has been heavily influenced by Flashback, as well as other similar types of games such as 1989’s Prince of Persia, but it’s far from a copycat and more like a love letter. There’s a hell of a lot to like about Canari Games’ platformer, even if those tropes of its 90’s-style gameplay trip it up on occasion.
The story of Lunark takes place amidst the backdrop of a totalitarian regime, where Leo has been wrongly accused of being a terrorist. He’s just a courier driver with no ambitions of being violent, but he’s pushed to fight back against the system across various locations across the city. Whenever pixel-art plays a part of any game, I’m always drawn in by my admiration for the style, and every single facet of its design is wonderful. From the neon pinks and blues of the train to the rundown and dilapidated inner cities, there’s always something pretty to look at. The animated cutscenes are also phenomenal, harking back to a forgotten style whilst still making it feel fresh in today’s large market of games.
Along your journey, you’ll meet a range of different characters all trying to survive in its oppressive world. A surprising amount of work has been put into making the NPCs interesting, whether you’re chatting with nightclub owners or workers of the building you have allegedly bombed. Lunark’s story keeps you engaged throughout, and its inspirations from science fiction properties like Blade Runner made me fall even more in love with it.
It takes a while to get used to Leo’s movement because of how closely it sticks to the mechanics of the games that inspired it. When jumping across multiple platforms, Lunark lacks responsivity to simply undertake the jumps in quick succession. Stopping after running, especially close to an edge, can result in falling to your death, and turning to fire your gun is a little sluggish, making it difficult to take on more than one enemy at a time. It’s a learning curve I’ve forgotten about in recent years, but it doesn’t take too long to remember that precise movements and actions are favoured over trying to be fast and rush through an area.
To help Leo get better as the game progresses, you can upgrade your gun to fire more bullets before it overheats, and more hearts can be acquired by finding orange shards to give to a dealer named Huggs. I never felt under-powered in Lunark, but it was still tough at times and these upgrades provide a nice advantage as you move forward. The familiarity of jumping and rolling across levels, paired with the use of your weapon starts to become second nature, and when the game opens up along with the bigger story, Lunark is a great piece of art, both in its simplicity and its style.
There’re various threats in Lunark that range from robots with lasers and swords, to missile turrets and mines. Neat mechanics like firing your gun at a missile can see it either fall to the floor to take out other enemies, or launch it back at the turret to cause damage. Many of the environments are filled with puzzles that require you to move platforms or find alternative routes, along with some other smart mechanical obstructions. Regardless of where you are in the world, there’s always something new for you to overcome, and the pace at which it unfolds never overwhelms, yet always pushed you, keeping the challenge to proceed at the forefront of everything you do.
Lunark is a challenging platformer. It’s controls might take a bit of getting used to, but its art style and story help to keep you engrossed. The enemies and puzzles continue to evolve as the game progresses, and the world is filled with so much detail and vibrancy that it never feels dull. You might not be as old as me, and can’t remember the wonders of titles like Flashback, but I can assure you, Lunark stands on its own and offers a compelling game right from the moment you’re let loose.
Varied enemies and puzzles
Controls are tricky to get used to
Lunark harks back to a time when 90s platformers were at their best, managing to offer a fresh approach thanks to a gorgeous art style.