Review: Lucidty


Point, Click, Curse.

It's old news, but let's take a moment to honour the fact that Lucasarts don't just make Star Wars games again. Ok, so news that Lucasarts are starting to make good Star Wars games again would probably be just as welcome, but a return to point and click seemed about as likely as EA suddenly becoming the lesser of two evils and well... doesn't hell seem slightly colder to you these days?

So here we have Lucidity, an obscure little game from Lucasarts that is arguably their boldest move yet. And whilst the resulting game has significant disappointments, it's an interesting little experiment and hopefully a sign that the new 'Workshop' division won't simply end up as an assembly line for point and clickSpecial Editions.

The art of Lucidity has a wonderful children's storybook feel that's instantly charming and nostalgic. Sofi, (the protagonist) is a dot-eyed, button-nosed little cherub who seems to have wandered in from It's a Small World. It's a cutesy design that comes to contrast perfectly with the progressively murkier background palette, as the story too takes a darker tone and Sofi herself moves into more fantastical and dangerous surroundings.

Clocks in a nightscape screenshot for lucidity

Sofi doesn't speak at any point in the game and whilst the art-style calls for her to be basically expressionless, a remarkable amount of personality is communicated through her animation: the way she happily skips through each level contrasts nicely with the way she cowers against obstructing walls as a fog full of snapping fish advances to cut her journey short. Even her red bobble-hat features two perpetually swinging pom-poms that arguably have more character in them than a dozen action game protagonists.

The game as a whole displays a refreshingly high level of fluid animation, particularly after the static disappointment of Lucasarts Workshop's previous effort The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. Even when in the sparse cutscenes a few in-betweens go missing and the fluidity drops, it all seems strangely appropriate, giving it a Raymond Brigg's The Snowman-ish quality (though the soundtrack, whilst soothing and appropriate, doesn't show any danger of Aled Jones).

With its Mary Blair protagonist and Pixar-lighting plan layouts, you'll have to forgive an animation sadact for having a moment of gushing praise for a title that feels a lot like playing through a concept for a cartoon short inspired by some obscure children's story book. Because ultimately, all this hard work and inspired creativity has little pay-off. I'm not going to fall into the trap of pointing out how difficult a game featuring a kids' book artstyle has turned out: Yoshi's Island gave us some of the most intelligent yet most difficult platforming ever seen with a similar starting point. But I am going to note what a shame it is to view such appealing art through the red haze of gamer rage, because I haven't sworn this hard at the competency of a toddler since Puyo Puyo.

Lucidity protagonist Sofi walking through a farmland dreamscape

The playable element of Lucidity frankly feels like an afterthought. The player must plant a series of action instigating 'pieces' in Sofi's way, in order to propel or walk her across the terrain to a mailbox goal at the end of the level. Elsewhere, the comparrison has been made with Lemmings, but the system is nowhere near as complex: travel is one-directional, there are only six playable pieces, and the player cannot move freely to view the upcoming terrain. In short, there is very little strategy involved, and much of the game is a mad rush of chaining whatever string of often unhelpfully random pieces you are given. If a useless piece comes up, there is no quick way to dispose of it without first placing it in the gameworld: only a single piece can be saved to the right mouse button at any one time. This slot is usually best reserved for the versatile 'bomb' piece, but playing a constant roulette with six items that cover a far more limited range of actual applications (four of the pieces can move Sofi diagonally upwards) seems pointless.

Actually placing pieces is easier said than done. Though mouse controlled, the pieces are placed on an invisible grid, which would be useful for setting up long pathways if the game was just a touch slower. In practice, because the grid is invisible and the screen is nearly always moving, placing a piece even slightly lethargically means placing it in a neighbouring square by accident (where it's bound to mess up your entire strategy). Whereas, trying to follow an airborne Sofi requires tea-reading skills and the flow of genuinely useful pieces you're sure the game is incapable of favouring you with. I'd suggest this ghastly grid was some kind of console co-development hurdle, but the gamepad-like implementation on the keyboard keys has all the same annoyances and a frustratingly slow response time.

Astonishingly, the game isn't even as hard now as it was upon release, when Lucasarts Workshop felt a checkpoint system was unnecessary. It interesting to consider what the November update has done to the game. Certainly, death is a regular occurance in Lucidity's world of chasms and controller awkwardness, and I suspect the number of times I've aced a level to be embarrassingly low. Still, the addition of checkpoints has removed any sense of difficulty by concious design, and now the game feels somehow more lazily designed, despite some welcome extra effort on the part of the developer.

Lucidity protagonist Sofi reads a book while her Grandmother looks on

The checkpoints do make the content of the game more accessible however, and players are now more likely to be drawn into discovering new routes and fireflies. Every 100th firefly rewards you with a bonus level and accompanying piece of concept art, and since these levels actually present some interesting gameplay (such as one where you must bomb a route through a cavern, without a timelimit), they're almost worth suffering the gameplay for.

That's the dilemna with buying Lucidity at all. As a little gaming trinket, Lucidity, is an attractive prospect and one I'm happy to have paid a pitance for in the inevitable Steam discount spree. Those wonderful visuals only improve in motion, and the very existence of the Lucasarts Workshop, an indie-styled division at a developer that has been in a creative rut for some time may well be worth your appreciative pounds. Just don't expect much game for your bold idealism.

Lucidity

Verdict

6 / 10

Platform and review information

Available on PC and Xbox 360.

Game was played on platform in bold, materials were purchased by the writer.

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