In Love With The Moon

HIGH The gorgeous hand-drawn visual aesthetic.

LOW A melodramatic and cliché finale.

WTF My companion is a Furby?

LUNA The Shadow Dust is about a boy climbing a tower.

With an unnarrated plot, LUNA relies on its beautifully hand-drawn animation to tell a unique story. Backed by solid puzzles and rich variation in concepts, the layers of LUNA are most effectively presented as a metaphorical message. The message, however, explores themes that are a little too familiar for my taste.

As an unnamed young boy falls down from a dark sky for no apparent reason, a mysterious flame appears to save him, catching his fall and leading him to a door. The boy enters a skyscraper and begins learning about the world’s past and its current state of darkness through his climb.

In addition to this worldbuilding, a more personal narrative also unfolds as the player meets a Furby-like companion. The pair become close friends and rely heavily on each other to progress. The fact that this relationship is developed without any words speaks to LUNA’s amazing storytelling.

In practice, LUNA is a fully-animated point-and-click adventure puzzler. Without any dialogue or text to tell the story, the only hints and information are to be interpreted from the environment. ‘Climbing’ the tower means progressing through several stages where solving a puzzle unlocks the next door.

As an area is entered, a map gives color to previously-dark areas. Next to the obvious illustration of progression, it also has thematic meaning — I saw it as the boy’s climb redeeming himself for past mistakes, or as a metaphor for depression with the struggle to regain life’s joy visualized as a puzzle experience.

The themes are effectively translated into sophisticated gameplay. Every room includes a unique puzzle, usually consisting of two phases — the player figuring out a clue, and then solving the puzzle with that information. For example, one puzzle revolved around the use of shadows as platforming objects. Once I realized I could enter the shadows on a wall, the only thing left was to figure out a way past the obstacles.

More central to the puzzling is a swapping mechanic where the boy exchanges perspectives with his companion creature, and effective use of this function is necessary to solve many of the more complicated stages. For example, the companion can enter a pipe to unlock a door from the other side, while the boy directs it on the way there.

It’s this combination of analyzing clues, rationally solving a puzzle and using both characters’ abilities to their fullest that makes LUNA’s gameplay so engaging — I have rarely encountered a title so good at integrating story, gameplay and aesthetic. Additionally, LUNA features gratifying achievements, which is something hardly ever praiseworthy in any title.

LUNA is also well-polished, and I had no technical difficulties. That said, I would’ve wished for the controls to be a little slicker, as the characters’ movement felt too slow and not as tight as the game required at times.

With lovely animated cutscenes tying major plot events together, LUNA’s second half isn’t afraid to touch upon heavy subjects of loss, corruption and failure. While the themes are presented convincingly, I can only say (for spoiler reasons) that the message itself feels a little overdone and heavy-handed.

It’s a huge let-down that such a personal narrative relies on a ‘save-the-world’ gimmick to ultimately get its message across, because it clearly didn’t have to. LUNA would’ve been perfect staying the way it started and sticking to the concepts of depression, anxiety, companionship and failure.

LUNA The Shadow Dust’s amazingly-integrated package of wordless storytelling, clear gameplay and unique visual style would be even more powerful if not for the clichéd finale. Even so, it’s a wonderful experience well worth anyone’s time.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: LUNA The Shadow Dust was developed by Lantern Studio and published by Coconut Island Games and Application Systems Heidelberg. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: LUNA The Shadow Dust has no ESRB rating. While most of the game feels very child friendly (albeit a little spooky), several cutscenes involve what appears to be blood as characters familiar to the player are struck down by heavy objects. Aside from that, there’s little to fear.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has no dialogue or text whatsoever. I played most of the game without sounds and didn’t experience any issues. This title is fully accessible.  

Remappable Controls: There are no remappable controls and no control diagram. It’s a point-and-click adventure. Clicking the left mouse button results in walking to the selected spot or interacting with items. The characters can be swapped during gameplay by mouse clicking or pressing the spacebar. Strangely, there are no clues or options with any text, as even the menu only shows icons not instantly familiar to the player.

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