Title: Luna: The Shadow Dust
Developer: Lantern Studio
Publisher: Coconut Island Games & Application Systems Heidelberg
Genre: Point-and-Click Puzzle Adventure
Available On: PC and Mac
Official Site: https://www.lantern-studio.com/
Release Date: February 13, 2020
Version Tested: PC
I love indie games, and I adore studios that aspire to create art, not just a good time. So when I saw a trailer for Luna: The Shadow Dust, a new, artistic game with a beautiful art style, I became very excited. I wanted to review it, love it, and give it five stars, But I just… can’t. Luna: The Shadow Dust is a beautiful game, but it is deeply flawed. It is plagued with issues regarding pacing for both the plot and the gameplay, and no amount of beautiful art can save it.
Mystery Taken Too Far
The game begins with a nameless boy being dropped to the ground gently by a ball of light. The background is sparse and vague, and, once you have control of the boy, your task is to walk right. After a certain amount of time, you encounter a door, and that door becomes a tower. Without knowing your goal as the player, you are tasked with climbing this old, ancient citadel.
That is the core concept of Luna: The Shadow Dust, and the foundation for progression, although there is one segment in the plot that proves to be an exception. You travel from room to room, ascending the tower by solving puzzles. We are treated to a couple of short cutscenes throughout, all of which has no dialogue, with one that introduces us to another nameless character. This character isn’t a human though – it actually is the cutest, most adorable little creature. This animal can help you in many ways, but he also is given personality through expert animation and huge, emotive eyes.
However, although the first couple of cutscenes introduce essential aspects of the game, we are still left in the dark for most of the narrative. The emotions come across powerfully for some particular moments, and there are a few mildly surprising twists sprinkled throughout the three-hour experience. Still, the bulk of the experience is incredibly vague. It certainly didn’t help that the villain of the story was simply some conglomerate of dim, evil shadows. I didn’t feel any real motivation to defeat this enemy that seemed barely defined.
The end is what really brings the entire plot down, though. Not only is the end predictable in one key, but everything else is nonsensical. Cutscenes up to this point have been very short, maybe two minutes long at most. But the game ends with about 10 minutes of cutscenes. And these cutscenes explain the beginning, middle, and end of the game. Basically, the entire plot’s arc is portrayed in a lengthy cutscene at the game’s conclusion, and that left a terrible taste in my mouth. I had no real idea what my objective was for the entirety of Luna: The Shadow Dust, and by the time I did, the game was over. The mystery (what am I doing here, who am I, etc.) wasn’t engaging enough to support such an ending. In fact, no game should ever attempt this kind of plot structure.
Slow Even For a Point-and-Click
Luna: The Shadow Dust is simple in terms of gameplay. It’s a point-and-click puzzle adventure with only two buttons for the controls: space to switch between the playable characters and the left click to interact with every object in the game. Switching between the boy and the creature can lead to some interesting solutions to certain puzzles. The puzzles were, for the most part, quite good. They started rather easy, but they soon grew to be challenging. They were engaging, working my mind in some interesting ways.
But sometimes puzzles depended too much on the player performing specific actions. For example, I once was attempting to solve a problem in a giant room, but I was utterly stuck. The solution involved using my shadow in a very particular way. But I didn’t think to cast my shadow on a very specific wall (you couldn’t cast shadows on any other walls) in an exact place in the broad area. It’s moments like this where I can’t help but think certain puzzles could be improved, but that’s not where Luna: The Shadow Dust’s gameplay really goes wrong.
It’s pacing is horrendous. Specifically, it’s how fast you can move; that is the issue. You move really, really slow. At first, this was fine. Most puzzles took place in small rooms that didn’t require a lot of movement. However, as the puzzle spaces got more substantial, the more tedious the experience became. Another example – I would press a button and then, to see what effect it had, spend at least 30 seconds walking across the room, stepping into the elevator, pressing the switch, and waiting for the elevator to reach the top. If there was no effect or at least one I didn’t desire – guess what – I had to make my way all the way down and do it all again. Both the boy and the creature’s walking speeds added whole minutes to solving certain puzzles.
The fact that you can walk the boy and the creature simultaneously by switching to one while the other is walking indeed makes the experience less monotonous. But it simply can’t alleviate the dreadfully slow speed your characters take to do anything. There are also certain moments in the plot that require you to climb ladders or push rocks for many minutes. I know that Luna: The Shadow Dust is trying to convey to the player the enormity of the task ahead, but, and I hate to say, it just comes off as slow and dull.
But let’s change gears. I’ve been fairly critical of Luna: The Shadow Dust so far, but there are things it does right. The art is gorgeous. The animation reminds me of Studio Ghibli’s work, and everything looks hand-animated. The environments exude character and detail, and there are truly some beautiful moments in the game, owing in no small way to the animation. Since there is a complete lack of dialogue, the cinematics depends on the visuals to convey plot and emotion. As I have mentioned before, the game falls short when conveying the plot, but the emotions, for the most part, come through loud and clear.
The boy, although generic in appearance, looks great. It is honestly the little creature that stole the show. I fell in love with that little furball the minute I saw him. Little animated touches like the way the creature falls from heights add a lot of character to the animal and the game. The random animals, such as mice, that litter the world are adorable and unique. They seem to especially exude the style that is typical of Studio Ghibli’s work. Ultimately, although Luna: The Shadow Dust fails in terms of story and gameplay, it looks gorgeous. I loved looking even when I didn’t like playing.
Musical and Emotional Swells
I have to say I also loved listening to Luna: The Shadow Dust. The soundtrack did a lot of work in supporting this game. When the game hit emotionally, it was often because the music was powerful. There are no crazy instruments that dominate the score; there are strings, pianos, and choirs that all work together to convey a sense of adventure and wonder. Occasionally, there are electronic instruments utilized to create what are more like soundscapes than songs. These are effective, too, though, and critical in maintaining the tone throughout the game.
Do I see myself jamming to Luna: The Shadow Dust’s soundtrack outside the context of the game? No, it doesn’t quite reach those heights, but it blends with the game perfectly, doing what is necessary to make every moment work. When a plot point or puzzle is lackluster or frustrating, it isn’t the soundtracks fault – it’s actually what kept me going through the game.
Performance on PC
I would be remiss not to make a note on the game’s functionality. For the most part, the game worked fine. The graphics were never compromised, and my game didn’t break obviously. But sometimes I thought it did. Puzzles glitched for me three times throughout the game. These glitches made progression impossible, so I had to restart from the latest checkpoint and do the entire puzzle over again. Considering the puzzles become quite long towards the end, this was annoying, to say the least. One time, the same glitch occurred again, even after restarting a puzzle. At that point, I was afraid my game had utterly broken, but – third times a charm – I finally got it to work.
Otherwise, there were only minor inconveniences. For some rooms, the music got stuck, repeating the same note over and over and over again. And every once and a while, I found that I couldn’t interact with some objects only to be able to moments later. Glitches like that never halted progression, but it sometimes threw me off the scent of the puzzle’s solution.
Verdict: I wanted to love Luna: The Shadow Dust. The game is beautiful, but it falls short in one crucial category: being an engaging game. The gameplay is slow and menial, and the plot fails to interest me. It’s confusing, and the entire story’s arc is experienced only within the last 10 minutes of the game. So, regardless of stellar visuals and a delightful soundtrack, I can’t recommend Luna: The Shadow Dust. It’s more of an art piece than a game.
- Dazzling Soundtrack
- Stunning Visuals
- The Creature Is Actually Adorable
- Some Good Puzzles
- Some Puzzles Have Vague Solutions
- Movement Is Way Too Slow
- The Plot Is Way Too Vague
- Plus, The Entire Plot Takes Place In The Last 10 Minutes