While Lumo refers to itself as a “modern take on isometric platform games” that were popular during the ’80s and ’90s, I had a hard time figuring out exactly what they were referring to outside of perhaps Q*bert. In fact, the only isometric games I remember were turn-based titles like the excellent Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre.
Sans nostalgia, I dove in on the PlayStation Vita version of Lumo, though the game is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and computers. What I found wasn’t without its charms, but it was also chocked full of frequent (and unnecessary) frustration.
Lumo offers you two choices on how to control movement, allowing you to test both of them out before making your decision. Once that’s done you’ll be dropped into the game where walking and jumping constitute most of the action. Eventually a staff will be collected that allows you to ward off certain foes and, more importantly, make otherwise invisible objects appear.
Everything handles well enough, but the forced angular perspective makes almost every action far more difficult than it needs to be. While some screens allow for minor (keyword being “minor“) adjustments of the camera via the Vita’s shoulder buttons, it’s so slight that after a while I stopped even trying as I could never move it enough to make a meaningful difference.
Other than some points for creating an unusual visual style and a main character that looks a lot like Vivi of Final Fantasy IX fame, there’s not a lot to praise about Lumo‘s graphics. The typically small rooms recycle their gimmicks liberally, and despite its basic appearance the Vita version has still been toned down — just look at the ice in console versions versus the handheld.
There’s some good music here, but the problem is it stops and reloads every time you transition from one room to the next, which is something you do a lot given their small size. Sound effects are fine, and you’ll become intimately familiar with the ones for dying and respawning.
There’s almost no story outside of a brief Tron-inspired opening where a young boy (that’s you) gets sucked inside a computer game. It’s one of several nods to various ’80s nostalgia you’ll encounter as you try to find your way back to the real world.
Although it branches out toward the end, Lumo is primarily a platform game. What makes it, um, “unique” is that so much of the challenge stems from the angle you’re forced to play at, and attempting to do so on the small Vita screen makes an already tough task even tougher.
Your willingness to accept that a tremendous percentage of your failures will trace back to misjudging a jump because of the angle will likely determine how much enjoyment you get from the game. I found that it alternated between mildly frustrating and infuriating because it was just so hard to see where I was supposed to land in multi-tiered zones — in some cases so much so that I resorted to watching gameplay videos just to see where the landing spots were.
To its credit, Lumo brought enough to the table that I was willing to repeatedly return as I made my way through the castle; frequent saves and bite-sized rooms made it so very little tangible progress was ever lost. As noted, there are also cool moments where the game channels the likes of Pac-Man, Indian Jones, Zaxxon and even Slalom for some of its most memorable sections.
Unfortunately, these are counterbalanced at every turn by annoyances like tiny landings when entering new rooms that make it way too easy to go back to the previous room when you’re just trying to create enough space for a jump.
There is also a few times where the camera pulls back for larger areas, and those make any type of precision nigh impossible — I distinctly remember basically blind jumping across floating boxes because it was just too small to gauge. To wit, I have no doubt Lumo is a better game on the XB1 or PS4 when it’s being projected on a 60-inch screen, but that isn’t the version I played.
Lumo isn’t a small game, containing 400-plus rooms and stretching more than five hours with a number of secrets and items (cassette tapes and ducks, of course) to collect. There are two modes to choose from as well: Adventure and Old School. The former allows for saves and doesn’t penalize failure, while the latter turns it into a pseudo arcade experience by removing such modern niceties.
As a handheld experience, Lumo isn’t great. The combination of a nearly fixed perspective and small screen sees the basic become difficult, and the difficult become infuriating. I do feel there’s a game worth playing here, but I’d strongly encourage you to get it on a console or PC.