LunarLux Review – A Stellar Mashup

If you are looking for another space adventure after beating Starfield, the team over at CosmicNobab Games has got you covered. LunarLux is an indie title, but that does not mean the scale of the experience is any smaller. It is a game of truly cosmic proportions, with the fate of the world at stake, story twists sending ripples through its universe, and an impressive collection of inspirations behind it.

It would be an understatement to say that LunarLux wears its influences on its sleeve. I often could not go one room without an Easter egg or a reference to one of the properties that inspired this game. The character designs feel like they are ripped straight from late Gainax/modern Trigger anime, combat is taking attacks directly from Undertale, Mega Man Battle Network, and Mario RPGs, and the story is a mishmash of all the aforementioned things. And let us not forget that one Among Us picture at the start of the game.

An Among Us picture frame.
For anyone wondering about the tone of the game: here’s an Among Us poster

Thanks to the openness with which it presents itself, this mashup of ideas and systems manages to carve out a unique feel for itself. At the same time, it will probably not be a satisfactory experience for anyone trying to find things similar to any one given title. Each moment feels like a short vignette, only to immediately switch to something completely foreign. As a fan of all these properties, I enjoyed it a good deal, but as a fan of just one, you might not.

Time in LunarLux is split between dialogue, exploration, and combat. There are plenty of NPCs and objects to check out on each screen, some may say too many, but I found all the interactables to be quite engaging. They either expand the world, hide resources or are a quick reference that does not overstay their welcome. The game rewards being thorough by providing affinity to a certain location the more you talk to and help the locals. Affinity provides discounts at local stores.

Bella petting a dog. Text underneath says they are practicing a petting speedrun.
Some interactions may net you secret titles

There are also plenty of environmental puzzles and secrets obscured by pieces of the environment, and sometimes you get a little minigame where you play as Bella’s robot companion, Tetra. Overall, the on-foot experience is very engaging, though I wish the world itself was more reactive. Coming back to certain locations, someone might discuss an event from the beginning of the game, all the while there is something much greater happening at that point in the story.

On the audio and visual side, LunarLux lacks a bit of a punch sometimes. The soundtrack has these excellent, punchy combat tracks, and atmospheric, clean exploration pieces, but then some extremely wonky, weirdly mixed themes sneak in once every few hours. Each attack has a voice-acted scream, but aside from “big number going up” a lot of the impact is lost in the special effects. The character designs during dialogue are insanely impressive, but the pixel art can be spotty.

A floor with arrow tiles
Arrow tile puzzles are a classic, but the proportions here are a bit weird

In that department, LunarLux is uneven, but the positives are far more impressive. I will remember the boss fight tracks far more than some random, early planet track, and the character art is just too special for me to think of the main character, Bella, as the pixelated version. The dissonance between the two sides became less noticeable once I became invested in the story.

Speaking of, the plot is engaging, but honestly a tad bit disappointing. It feels like the main character never gets her big show-off moment, whereas others do. There’s some mystery surrounding her empathy, relations between different characters, and the giant threat, but a lot of it is not fully explored here. The ideas are fun, but it all feels like Chapter I.

Bella lamenting not finding a way to communicate with the Murks
Maybe don’t boost your combat score on them then?

The idea of the main character not wanting to attack the invading enemy called Murks, and there being a heavy emphasis on grinding in side quests clash in a seemingly unintentional way. LunarLux never really acknowledges Bella’s apprehension whenever the player is not following the main story. This focus on fighting also ended up with me getting very overpowered. There were already many incentives to engage with the mechanics here, I do not think tying side quests into that was a great idea.

LunarLux features what is possibly my favorite combat system: turn-based with additional inputs for attacking and defending. It is how I found out about LunarLux initially, with it being recommended to fans of the Paper Mario and the Battle Network series. The creator is even working on a fan game of the latter. While that is the clear, main inspiration (measured by the number of references to any one series), upon engaging with my first enemy I realized it is far from defining the experience.

A mashing minigame during combat
Mashing is definitely my least favorite mechanic, as every time there is a prompt for it, it lasts too long

Battle Network is known for its iconic grid, which was only present here while dodging some of the enemy attacks. Even then, it was a 1×3 size. It would not be until much later that the enemies introduced a 3×3 dodging field. Other attacks included timing blocks and turning into a small heart, being put in a box, and dodging incoming projectiles with free movement. Sounds familiar? Meanwhile, all of my attacks consisted of timing presses, or… winning a game of rock, paper, scissors.

Though it was not what I expected, it is the exact kind of bizarre system I love. Each new attack is a lasting experience of its own, with new animations, mechanics, and learning curve. Finding uses for each and mastering it just in time for another to be introduced is the most charming thing about this type of combat system. The variety is always impressive, and makes discovering new attacks or combos in the overworld rewarding.

An attack requiring four directional button prompts
These kind of attacks are a perfect middle ground between action and turn-based combat

LunarLux is generally pretty clever about reusing its animations and mechanics to keep itself fresh without requiring crazy amounts of work. Unfortunately towards the end, a lot of the enemies are just boosted versions of previous encounters, and new mechanics are not as engaging. It is probably the biggest issue I have with the experience, but wanting more complexity is a sign of a really solid foundation. There is a sequel tease at the end, which I am very hopeful for to iron out any gripes I may have.

For that to happen, however, it needs to sell. I think LunarLux is a good game as is, with a lot of potential for any future installments, so it definitely deserves a buy. The designs are already there, and the mechanics, pixel art, and story need some more depth, but this is an impressive first go at a type of game that rarely gets it all right in the first installment. Just, do not split your next game into two versions with different attacks in each. I do not have that kind of time anymore.

Mateusz played LunarLux on PC with his own bought copy.

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