Need to know
What is it? A puzzle adventure about a boy exploring a dark tower with his cat companion
Expect to pay $23/£17
Developer Lantern Studio
Publisher Coconut Island Games
Link Official site
Hand-drawn animation has been making a resurgence in games recently and it's a more than welcome feature. There's something intimate and charming about 2D hand-drawn animation style and LUNA The Shadow Dust's artwork is a visual feast for the eyes. Its world invited me in and, for the most part, I was completely enchanted. But unfortunately, as much as LUNA looks amazing, there were moments where I felt lost in its puzzling world.
LUNA The Shadow Dust begins with a nameless boy falling from the sky. He drops like a stone through the air but, before crashing into the earth, is saved by a magical force that conjures a bubble around him, gently laying him on the ground. After he awakens he finds a rickety tower and, with his magical cat friend, begins to make his way through the rooms to get to the top. There's no text or dialogue to explain the story—it's all a bit mysterious. How high the tower is or what's at the top is not made clear, but LUNA's atmosphere and visuals proved more than enough to entice me inside the looming fortress.
As you explore the tower, each room is beautifully crafted from the get-go. The first room you enter is the hallway where a huge intricate mural depicting ancient lore decorates the wall. As you walk past it, colour begins to bleed into the images, like you're waking the tower from a deep slumber. The legends of this world are etched into every corner and open surface. The cosy kitchen, huge library, and flamboyant music room are all bursting with detail that made me look forward to what other rooms and secrets were hidden away.
Each room in the tower acts a self-contained puzzle. When you solve it, the door the next room will unlock, letting you progress further. The puzzles are in the same vein as other point-and-click adventures—doing simple actions in a certain order, pushing platforms, pressing buttons, and switching between controlling the boy and his feline friend.
Puzzle rooms aren't just button pushing and lever pulling, though. Theres always a fun magical twist. In one room, your cat companion transforms into a shadow that can traverse walls, jumping on platforms formed by the shadows of other objects. Another room has a door that transports the duo to different seasons, and there's a corridor of stained glass windows that morph to show different saints. These animations keep the puzzles from being too static, giving each some flair and making them a joy to solve.
One major theme that is repeated throughout all the puzzles is symbol matching. Almost every puzzle requires you to match two symbols together or challenges you to look at how certain images relate to others. It would almost seem overused if it didn't fit perfectly with LUNA's silent story.
Similar to the mural in the entrance, there are numerous paintings and ancient symbols that depict lore and legends throughout the tower and they have a surprising amount of detail. Large spaces of rooms are dedicated to these intricate murals that not only give a backdrop to this fantasy universe but also tie in with the puzzle-solving. I found that if I was stuck on a puzzle, I could examine the environment and there would inevitably be a note, symbol or mural to guide me.
The only time where I felt frustrated with its puzzles—and unfortunately LUNA does have frustrating moments—is when these environmental clues were nowhere to be seen. Instead, I found myself randomly clicking and repeating actions in different arrangements until I found the right order.
LUNA runs into the same problem that many silent narratives fall into. If a game only communicates through wall murals and symbols, beautiful as they might be, details are going to get lost. Both LUNA's puzzles and its narrative suffer from this. The main story beats are clear, but the intricacies of this magical world are completely lost, especially towards the end where a clear understanding of the magical forces would have given the emotional finale more punch.
LUNA The Shadow Dust is a fun adventure with some stellar artwork. The puzzles and their magical twists were a joy to solve, even though there were one or two that left me floundering. As much as I appreciated its mysterious silent storytelling, it left me wanting more and not in a good way. I would have loved to know more about the roles that light and shadow play in this fantasy universe, and how all the gods and saints tie into this dark tower at the edge of the world.