The first thing that hits me when I boot up Light Fall is the music, a lovely medley of strings and bells. The second thing that hits me is a wall, swiftly followed by deadly pink crystals waiting at the bottom of the wall. I can only watch in horror as my cute inky character slides to his death, when I'm hit with an overdue, withering comment from the game's crotchety narrator: "The boy should be careful." And to think, I thought this game would be easy.
In my defense, I had a good reason to think that: Light Fall is a 2D platformer where you create most of the platforms by deploying a cube directly beneath you. Like, anywhere. You can only place it up to four times without refreshing it by landing on solid ground, but I figured having four anywhere, anytime platforms would be more than enough to make traversal trivial. Turns out it makes it terrifying.
The stages are skeletons that you have to fill in to proceed, building the level as you complete it. You can deftly wall jump up columns and negotiate hazards, or place stepping stones through the air. Every new challenge lets you balance using the existing level and using your cube, but even when you go full cube, nothing feels accidental or broken. And trying to break the level is part of the fun.
The speed and freedom that comes with using the cube is overwhelming at first, like learning to drive in a car that's way, way too fast for you. You really can do most anything you can think of, but Light Fall is still a tough-as-nails platformer at heart, so you're always a misstep from death. And while checkpoints are fairly frequent, they're just far enough apart that longer gauntlets are gutting to fail. Plus you don't have a health bar. One hit, and you're dead.
I never felt cheated when I died because the cube is so damn accurate. I don't even want to know what kind of technical voodoo went into refining this thing. I never once slipped off the side of my trusty cube. It always kept up with me perfectly and appeared exactly where I wanted it to. Again like driving, using the cube becomes second nature, and the more comfortable you get, the more adventurous you get. I was methodically plodding along for the first few levels, but within 30 minutes I was flying across helter-skelter quadruple jumps like it was nothing.
Light Fall gets better and better as you unlock more cube techniques. It's a game about one simple idea, but it wrings every last ounce of potential out of it. Normally you just summon the cube directly beneath you, but you can also carefully drag and place it to create a temporary barrier and protect yourself from enemies or projectiles. You can socket it into machinery to rotate columns or turn the propeller of a boat. My personal favorite is portable wall-jumping—summoning the cube beside you and kicking off it. These maneuvers flow together well and ensure each obstacle has multiple possible solutions.
I'm a big fan of the art, too, all dark foregrounds and stark, layered backgrounds. Levels are detailed but not so detailed that you lose sight of yourself. Visually it reminds me a bit of Rayman Legends, but the story reminds me of Bastion in that it's primarily told by the environment and a well-voiced narrator. In this case, that's Strix, a big talking owl who sounds like he's smoked a pack a day since his lungs first developed. I look forward to hearing more snarky remarks from him when I inevitably die in the full game, which I'll invariably play once it releases later this month.