Luminesca Preview: Lights in the Deep
Ever since the launch of Limbo, there seems to be no shortage of side-scrolling games that opt for a silhouetted art style that underplays graphics in terms of stark visual contrast.
With indie title Luminesca, the use of the silhouette style — black shapes in the foreground against a more vibrant background — is actually a game mechanic. An exploration-slash-puzzle game, it has players delving into the depths of an ocean, searching for paths that aren’t always apparent because the silhouettes hide which objects are foregrounded and which are background elements. Luminesca is still a work in progress at this point, created primarily by Matt Glanville using the Unity engine, who is releasing it slowly in chapters. Only the first chapter is available right now.
Players take on a sort of angler fish, a member of a group of bio-luminescent creatures that are slowly losing their habitat to the machinations of a giant machine that’s coming to life beneath the waves. Some of the little Metroid-like marine animals are being used to power the machinery. Your goal becomes to explore the depths around you, seeking out your wayward clan, and leading them to the safety of a new place.
The deeper you dive in Luminesca’s oceans, the less light permeates from the surface. The game is mostly about exploration, but finding your way into new areas can be difficult as gaps and openings in walls are impossible to see under normal conditions. Your only mechanic for interacting with the world is light: the animal you control glows faintly under all circumstances, but you can direct a beam like a flashlight with your mouse cursor, which can expose places where what looked like a contiguous wall is actually broken and open.
This balance of light and darkness meld the game’s aesthetic choices in art direction with its gameplay. The silhouettes aren’t just trendy and the contrast isn’t just beautiful, they’re important to the way you interact with the game. Managing light in any given situation — using both your flashlight ability and small, glowing rocks you can charge up in certain areas — is the only way to find your way forward. It also adds some use to the little glowing creatures you’re escorting through the game’s puzzles, as they give off light themselves, which can help show the path forward.
What’s best about Luminesca right now, though, isn’t the cleverness of its art direction or the exploration it offers, but rather its tone. There are other creatures in the depths, and at first one might think they are dangerous. Dark, frog-like animals with gleaming teeth hop about in some of the more narrow paths, and they’re easily of the size to swallow the player character or one of his glowing followers whole. That never happens, however. There are other dangers, like Sarlacc-like animals that use glowing decoys to lure you into their gaping maws, but I’m not sure they can actually ever harm you. This isn’t that kind of game.
Instead, you’re out to discover what’s going on in this strange world, where hulking seabeasts can be seen drifting in the distance and divers skirt around submersed machinery. You’re seeing what happens when one of your electrically charged friends wanders into a power switch, and what new sights that might reveal. You’re finding what’s hidden beyond the next reef or stone wall or cave hollow.
That’s not a bad way to present a game, really, and in my brief time with Luminesca, I enjoyed that there was no pressure even as I was discovering that there was no pressure. Floating through the depths, Luminesca asks you to illuminate the world around you, and so far, it makes finding what’s hidden there a simple, lighthearted delight.
The first chapter is currently available through a number of outlets, including Desura. You can grab it from the developer’s website here.