LUNARK from WayForward and Canari Games is a sci-fi cinematic platformer that pays homage to 1980s-1990s entries in the genre. Learn more in our LUNARK review!
LUNARK from WayForward and Canari Games is a sci-fi cinematic platformer that pays homage to 1980s-1990s entries in the genre. Think of a pixel art style Another World or Flashback with a dash of Prince of Persia, and you wouldn’t be that far off! LUNARK even uses rotoscoping for its cutscenes, which really gives it that 1990s look and feel we all know and love. You’ll be taking on the role of one Leo, a courier with… unique abilities. Your journey will take you from a dystopian megalopolis to eerie caves to an alien forest.
Canari Games took the project to Kickstarter back in early 2019 seeking CAD $70,000 in funding to bring the project to life. Once the crowdfunding campaign was over, and thanks to the support of over 2,800 backers, the studio managed to secure a little over CAD $81,500 in funding. While the original plan was to release LUNARK in 2020, the pandemic did a number on the world. It’s now 2023, and with the support of WayForward as the publisher, LUNARK is ready to go on the Nintendo Switch.
LUNARK is set on a distant planet ruled by a totalitarian regime, and it’s up to you to rise up and join the revolution before it’s too late. Things will start off easy enough as Leo lands at one of the factories overseen by someone known as Gideon. While there, you’ll have to open up your inventory to show one of the guards at the entrance that you’re not armed – something about the recent series of terrorist attacks. You’ll also have to open doors by stepping on switches – you know, the usual.
You’ll control Leo with the left analog stick or the D-Pad, jumping with the X button to overcome some gaps along the way or to jump up towards a ledge so that you can go higher. You can run by pressing and holding down the R button. Leo has a roll that can be used with the A button, as well as a shield that can be activated with the L button when needed. H can interact with the B button. Since you’ll run into some enemies here and there, you’ll have to fire your weapon at them with the Y button. I do have to mention that having the jump mapped to the X button felt very weird, so I used the in-game controller configuration menu to switch what the X and B buttons did.
You’ll get to learn all of the basics during an early sequence in LUNARK. After talking to Gideon – who just happens to be Leo’s mentor – you’ll be able to control one of the droids that are being built at the factory. It’s during this segment which, as Leo just happens to mention, feels like a video game, that LUNARK will display all of the controls for moving, running, climbing down a ledge, jumping forward, making a long jump by getting a good run before jumping, rolling, as well as for shooting at a target. Something you won’t learn until later on is that you can punch enemies if they get too close, which might give you a chance to avoid being ambushed.
Gideon has a request for you. While being very vague about things, he mentions that even though Leo has always been different, he put a roof over his head, gave him an education, and even provided him with a job. While Leo is very grateful about it, Gideon says it’s time for Leo to pay him back. You’re asked to use your abilities to track down a very ancient artifact. He gives you a gun and mentions that the coordinates for your next destination have already been uploaded to your ship.
Leo seems confused about the whole exchange but follows Gideon’s orders. Once you arrive at your destination, that’s when you’ll realize what Gideon meant. You’ll find an engraving on the floor. After bringing your hand closer to it – by way of a cutscene – the engraving will start to glow, and the floor will open up, allowing you to explore the ruins. Weird, right? As mentioned before, the cutscenes were rotoscoped, which means the animation looks really, really good.
Once inside, you’ll get a taste of the game’s action and puzzle elements. You’ll get to shoot at huge spiders that will rush toward you as they try to eat you alive, as well as giant bats that are very protective of their territory. If you’re damaged, you’ll need to make good use of the plants that bear a healthy fruit that you can eat to heal some of your wounds. If you die – which will happen often, either from taking a leap of faith that sends you down a pit or from receiving one too many attacks – you’ll be able to quickly respawn at the press of a button. This will send you back to the last autosave.
Your gun starts at level 1. Your weapon’s level will establish how much it overheats every time you shoot it, as well as what its autocooling speed will be. If you manage to find a Gunsmith station, you can place your gun on top of it to upgrade it so that it can level up. While you can complete LUNARK with the gun’s starting level, boosting and upgrading its performance will certainly help you survive in the long run.
For the puzzle side of the equation, you’ll have to collect a variety of keys to activate switches which will, say, move a platformer here and another one there so that you can continue with your platforming fun. You will also have to roll around to avoid deadly lasers shooting down from the ceiling so that you can time your roll to make it to a safe spot. Some doors need to be opened by moving through a sensor, while others you’ll have to open by getting the help of some of the many NPC you’ll meet.
Boss fights will also have a bit of a puzzle element. Without spoiling things too much, I do want to mention how the first boss in the game will be a giant spider with a series of weak points marked by huge green spots on its body. You’ll have to jump up three levels of ledges to be able to hit them, all while avoiding the smaller spiders that patrol each spot. You should always try to defeat the smaller spiders to get them out of your way… but they’ll sometimes jump to the ceiling and drop on with their fangs ready to take a bite!
As a fan of the old-school games that inspired LUNARK, I was looking forward to checking out how it would use the source material while also aiming to give us a new adventure that stands on its own. Its story is a slow burner with some twists here and there, and the overall game loop is a fun one. LUNARK is out tomorrow on Nintendo Switch at a $19.99 price. If you hurry up, you can take advantage of a 10% discount on the game’s price.
This LUNARK review is based on a Nintendo Switch copy provided by WayForward.