After a decade making big budget games, and co-founding Crackdown studio Ruffian, Gareth Noyce has gone indie. Lumo is his first solo project, a cute isometric platformer that has echoes of Nintendo’s best 3D Mario games. You play a boy lost in a danger-filled castle, and must navigate him safely through 300 rooms of traps, puzzles, obscure game references and precise platforming.
The game’s rooms float against a colourful space backdrop, each presenting a different challenge or obstacle to traverse. It’s a series of self-contained platforming moments, reminiscent of the sublime Super Mario Galaxy games. But its roots go deeper: Noyce cites classic ZX Spectrum platformer Head Over Heels as his biggest influence. Lumo is steeped in gaming history, but with a modern sheen.
At first, I can’t jump. I’m waddling around the castle, carefully moving between shifting platforms and spinning flames. But then I get a power-up that lets me leap in the air, and I retrace my steps, hopping effortlessly over the platforms that caused me so much trouble earlier. It’s classic Metroid-style progression, and it’s really satisfying. Hopefully this theme continues throughout.
Even at this early stage it’s surprisingly polished, and doesn’t feel like a one-man project. The art is chunky and colourful, with impressive lighting. Flames throw dancing shadows on the walls; the boy’s magic amulet casts a glow on his face. There’s a real fidelity to the world, even if it is cartoonish. Old-school gamers will also appreciate the Spectrum-era game references littering the levels.
The controls are tricky to get your head around. The boy only moves in four directions, and they’re relative to the orientation of the room. You’ll push left to go forward, because that’s where he’s facing, only to walk off an edge and fall to your death. It’s a curious control scheme, but I eventually got to grips with it.
The platforming starts out simple, but grows in complexity over time. One minute you’re standing atop a ball rolling through a narrow maze suspended over a deadly drop. The next you’re using fans to fire crates into the air and hopping over them. In one room a crate with eyes follows you around, love hearts popping out of its head. You have to lure it towards a raised platform, then use it as a step.
I’ve only played a fraction of the 300 rooms, and the game is already brimming with ideas. The real test will be keeping this invention up for hundreds more locations.
Right now Lumo is a refreshingly simple, back-to-basics game. It exists purely to be a fun, challenging platformer, without a story or any of the other trappings of modern game design tainting its purity. I can’t wait to play more.