By Marty Mulrooney
LUNA The Shadow Dust is a hand-animated point-and-click adventure game created by Lantern Studio, a small creative indie game design team consisting of just four people. Featuring traditional frame-by-frame character animation with 20 minutes of animated 2D cinematics, LUNA puts players in control of a young boy and his mysterious cat-like companion as they climb an ancient tower one puzzle-filled room at a time.
LUNA The Shadow Dust has no written text or spoken dialogue and this even extends to its main menu. After pressing the correct button to start a new game, a beautifully animated cutscene shows the main protagonist, an unconscious young boy, falling from the sky.
A magical orb slows his descent and shields his fall, but when he comes to he doesn’t seem to remember who he is or where he has come from. However, lighting a nearby lantern reveals an ancient tower that stretches high into the sky. With nowhere else to go, the boy enters…
The gameplay of LUNA The Shadow Dust consists of solving puzzles and progressing to higher floors within the tower. Very early on the boy rescues a small, round, cat-like creature from a pile of rubble. Both of these characters can be switched between at will by the player, and must work together to solve a series of increasingly challenging puzzles.
A memorable highlight is a puzzle where the cat must repeatedly enter an organ to duplicate himself as specific musical notes before stepping onto a series of pads. The boy can then conduct this makeshift cat orchestra to unlock the next room.
The hand-animated graphics in LUNA are truly beautiful; solving each puzzle feels like taking control of an interactive Studio Ghibli film. Furthermore, despite the game technically being restricted to the tower (and the surrounding area), each floor has it’s own distinct personality.
A particularly beautiful environment is revealed when the boy and the cat discover a room that can cycle through the seasons; this room also provides one of the game’s trickier challenges.
Most of the puzzles are wonderfully intuitive and satisfying to solve (full disclosure: my wife often figured out the solution to a room quicker than I did). This is a game just as well-suited to relaxing group play as it is solo enjoyment.
In keeping with the game’s name, some of the best puzzles involve the use of shadows (the cat can sometimes become a shadow himself, using other shadows to reach hidden areas). This is where the teamwork element of the game really comes into its own, with the cat helping the boy to progress and vice versa.
However, not all puzzles are signposted effectively and sometimes this can result in guesswork, which is a shame. However, such instances are the exception rather than the rule, and any frustration is certainly lessened by the beautiful graphics and wonderful soundtrack.
Indeed, the gentle, poignant music composed by Wang Qian makes it well worth spending a few extra pounds on Steam to purchase the Deluxe Edition, which includes the 34-track soundtrack and a digital art book.
The art book is particularly useful to fully understand LUNA’s world and story; it’s just a shame that this worldbuilding couldn’t have been incorporated more effectively into the game’s narrative.
This is the main criticism that can be levelled at LUNA; some of the story beats are difficult to follow, and the lack of written words and spoken dialogue doesn’t always work in favour of the story Lantern Studio is trying to tell.
However, despite being overambitious with its puzzle design and storytelling at times, LUNA The Shadow Dust is far from disappointing. If you love animation – especially the films of Studio Ghibli – and point-and-click adventures (or even action-adventures like The Last Guardian), it’s a safe bet you’ll enjoy the four hours it takes to complete this game.
Yes it’s short, but it never overstays its welcome – and it promises great things to come from Lantern Studio. The fact that LUNA The Shadow Dust was created by such a small team is astonishing, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
8 OUT OF 10