Review: Lumino City11 Dec 2015 0
Let’s get this out of the way: Lumino City is gorgeous. British developer State of Play constructed an entire miniature, motorized, mountain-top city set for the game (as detailed in this short “making-of” Lumino City is a point-and-click adventure game most reminiscent of Amanita Design's excellent Samorost series in art and design. You play as a young woman named Lumi who must rescue her grandfather after he was forcibly abducted from his home while Lumi was making tea downstairs. I actually went back and replayed the opening sequence to make sure I didn’t misinterpret anything because I was shocked at how dark it was for such a cheery-looking game. Of course, Lumi has to traverse the titular city (the end credits actually have a pretty cool picture that traces your convoluted route) to rescue him, helping the colorful residents by solving puzzles, performing incredible feats of athleticism and uncovering an oil-drilling conspiracy along the way. The conspiracy element only comes into play in the last few sequences of the game, culminating in a “big reveal” moment that feels unearned, partially because it’s done through a lore-dumping slideshow and partially because there aren’t many hints to it earlier in the game. For the most part, though, the plot works well enough to move you from puzzle to puzzle.
Unfortunately, many of the puzzles in Lumino City are derivative, obtuse, tedious, challenging to execute or some combination of the four. I would lump most of the puzzles in the game into the same category as the dreaded “sliding tiles” or Tower of Hanoi puzzles that somehow keeps popping up in adventure games where the mechanics of the puzzle are immediately clear but the solution is not. For a game that extols the ingenuity of good-guy environmental engineers, it’s both sad and ironic that so few of its puzzles require any ingenuity at all to solve. Then there are the puzzles that require quick timing and reflexes to solve. They show up a few times in the game, and each is uniquely frustrating due to how unsuited the pre-rendered point-and-click adventure game engine is for them. One such instance is the sequence in which Lumi must reach a pair of green trousers at the center of a rapidly moving laundry Ferris wheel by climbing along red clothesline haphazardly strung across its diameter. If you don't tap the proper moving targets to get Lumi from node to node in time, she falls off of the wheel, right back at the start.
Another example comes later in the game in the form of the most infuriating Morse code puzzle I've ever encountered. Everything that leads up to the input of the code is actually some of the most enjoyable traditional adventure puzzling in the game. The input method, however, is so finicky that it made me put down the game out of rage for an entire day. Instead of a traditional Morse machine, Lumi has to use two levers to control the rate of rotation of a combination windmill-lighthouse to transmit two specific words to a friend far below. It inverts how you would normally operate a Morse device by having you interrupt the signal rather than create it. On top of that, if you misspell the word (which is very easy to do in Morse code) you have to start all over again. They’re short words, but the process of sussing out the second word with this system is what drove me to take a day-long break. These are just two of the most egregious examples of frustrating puzzles in Lumino City, but most others have at least a mild degree of frustration. Sometimes it’s because of an interface quirk or because of puzzle design. They all add up, though, like death by a thousand cuts.
There’s one saving grace when it comes to Lumino City’s more tedious puzzles: The Handy Manual. The Handy Manual is a diegetic hint system presented as a manual written by Lumi’s kidnapped grandfather. Interspersed within its 900 pages (most of which contain generated (I hope) text and repeated diagrams) are the solutions to every puzzle in the game. The table of contents lists “Pages of Note” that correspond to the different sections of the game. You then slide the pages and hold to flip through until you get to your desired page, almost exactly like thumbing through a physical book. The hints themselves are a mix of actual hints and outright solutions, but I can’t complain about the inclusion of full solutions because it allowed me to bypass one particularly tedious puzzle.
It truly pains me to dig into Lumino City like this. It should be immediately evident to anyone who plays or even looks at the game what an incredible effort went into making it. Unfortunately, the tedious and frustrating nature of many of its puzzles undermine the considerable charm State of Play cultivated through their craftsmanship. At the very least, download the aforementioned companion app to experience the art of the game and the efforts of State of Play to bring it to the masses. At least that way you won’t have to do any interlocking gear puzzles to get to the good stuff.
Side note: While Lumino City is a Universal app, I can’t recommend playing it on anything smaller than a 6+. I started out playing the game on my 6s and had to switch to my iPad (Hooray for iCloud sync!) after twenty minutes because I got a headache from eyestrain. I went back after completing the game to try out some of the puzzles on the 6s and surprise, they were even more frustrating!
Lumino City was played on an iPhone 6S and iPad Air 2.