Puzzle-Platformers have been a staple genre of video-games since the first cartridges crawled out of the primordial ooze, and Rock Square Thunder’s 2021 offering, The Lightbringer, seems on the surface to be a solid example of the genre. Playing through its relatively short run time, however, left me distinctly aware of the evolution and innovation made in the genre, and that while a retro styling is often a popular choice it’s always important to keep up with modern sensibilities, and disregard them at your peril.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Budget game, budget price|
+ Some good puzzle design
+ Challenging combat
|Negatives||– Outdated, awkward camera controls|
– Lack of character/story
– Not very original concept
|Price (When Reviewed)||£13.49|
|Our Playtime||4 Hours|
|Available On||Nintendo Switch, PC|
The Lightbringer is certainly not a game afraid to draw comparisons between itself and older titles of the genre. The most obvious example would be the older Zelda titles, from which a lot of this game, from tone to design, is borrowed. In itself that’s no bad thing – plenty of excellent games are inspired by and iterate on older titles – but in playing The Lightbringer I’m most constantly reminded of how these other titles and series have changed over time.
For example, take the camera control. A far more dangerous adversary in The Lightbringer than any of its physical enemies, the camera is mapped to the right stick, while the left stick controls movement. Without input from the right stick, the camera does not move – there is no “drift” to follow the character – and similarly the right stick doesn’t affect movement. This isn’t a fixed-camera game, it’s fully 3D, and perspective is important to be able to pull-off many of the jumping puzzles. I found repeatedly that this killed my momentum. I would run, jump, run, reach a corner and stop. Turn the camera. Then run, jump… etc. Because the turn/look controls are entirely separate, trying to combine them into one move is just awkward – there is a reason that camera controls don’t work like this anymore!
It’s for retro design choices like this that I would think The Lightbringer was aiming itself at the nostalgia market, but I don’t think players who grew up on games of this style will find enough meat on the bones to keep their interest. It isn’t a long game, taking perhaps three to four hours to complete, and never gets truly difficult. On the other hand, I’m also not sure that The Lightbringer is a great entry-point to the genre for younger players, despite its relatively lightweight tone. There are too many out-dated mechanics that will throw a younger player off, most notably the finicky camera controls. I let my young son loose on it, and despite his being quite competent on the newer Mario titles and Astro’s Playroom, he nonetheless spent a few minutes dropping Unnamed Protagonist into the sea before getting bored. While part of that can be put down to the innate psychopathy of children, I could see that everytime he turned a corner he got disoriented and lost track of where he was going.
And yes, Unnamed Protagonist. Our hero in this game is a stocky, top-heavy young man with a shock of white hair. Swap his red cape for a red scarf and we’d have the Kid, the character you play in Supergiant’s Bastion, and another throwback to a game I’d probably rather play. The Kid is a good example of how a character with no name and no voice can still have character, and be present in a story. The Lightbringer is… not. You are following the directions of a narrator called Sister – can you guess her relationship to Unnamed Protagonist? – who sounds quite bored as she tells you about the islands and the light and the darkness and…. Sorry, I drifted off there. Sister doesn’t only sound bored, but the visual novel style image of her that comes up whenever she is expositing at you even looks bored, an art choice that is either somewhat baffling or bravely self-aware.
There are some aspects to the game that work quite well. When not being hamstrung by the awkward camera the puzzles and platforming are enjoyable, and while not particularly difficult, can certainly provide a relaxed good time. The combat, on the other hand, can be quite challenging in places, with difficulty spikes that I’m not sure are entirely intentional. Unnamed Protagonist’s weapon of choice is a boomerang, also used for some puzzle-solving, which you’ll throw at enemies to dispatch them. Some enemies have armour that must be broken off first, others have shields so must be hit in the back. There are no lock-ons, and unusually for a ranged-combat based game you can’t strafe – further throwback mechanics that have since been iterated on and improved in many other titles.
I don’t think the combat system itself is bad, though I didn’t really get on with it. I found the controls a little awkward and as much an obstacle as the enemies. The boomerang itself is… fine, I guess? It feels a little bit of a gimmicky weapon to me, which I accept is a personal preference and some will take to it more than I did. The protagonist’s visual resemblance of Bastion’s Kid certainly drew some negative comparisons for me here. Despite constantly reminding me that they exist there was none of the intuitive flow of a Supergiant game on show, leaving me thinking of how much I’d rather be going toe-to-toe for a few more rounds with Megaera or Theseus than the uninspiring slime-ball enemies of The Lightbringer’s archipelago.
Ultimately The Lightbringer isn’t a bad game, it’s just not a particularly noteworthy or interesting one. If retro-styled puzzle-platformers are your thing, and you don’t really care about story beyond the most superficial level, then for the price you could certainly do worse, though if it’s a meatier experience that you’re looking for you may want to look instead to some of the titles that provided its inspiration.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.