Oscura: Lost Light

(1 customer review)


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Complete Review & Description

There’s not exactly a shortage of puzzle platformers these days, especially in the burgeoning indie scene. As a result, new games on the block need something to set them apart, to make them more than “just another puzzle platformer”. For Oscura: Lost Light, from Melbourne-based Chocolate Liberation Front, that something is Limbo-like silhouetted visual design, coupled with creative and demanding puzzle design that makes good use of light and shadow.

Let’s backtrack a bit. Lost Light is actually the third game in the Oscura series, after the mobile-exclusive Oscura and Oscura: Second Shadow. These games were designed to deliver “”a stripped down platforming experience through the filter of modern game and art design,”” and were largely successful in this goal. They told the story of Oscura, a lighthouse keeper trying to restore light to a world overthrown by darkness.

Oscura: Lost Light is a prequel to those games, showing Oscura’s unlikely journey to heroism. The games opens with a young Oscura accidentally destroying the Aurora Stone – which casts light into the world – and scattering shards all across the Driftlands. As this first wave of darkness is entirely his fault, it’s up to Oscura to set things right, by scouring the Driftlands to restore the Aurora Stone to its former glory.

The core mechanics will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever played a platform game: you travel from the start to the end of each level, armed with a simple jump to overcome all manner of obstacles, from spike pits and pools of water to vicious monsters that are surprisingly well-realised, despite the silhouetted aesthetic.

On top of this, Lost Light has a neat hook that ties in nicely to the plot and visual design: coloured, light-giving crystal shards that bestow Oscura with special abilities. The catch is that, when triggered, each crystal’s range of effect is limited to the area of its glow – a smallish area around Oscura. The yellow crystal, for example, reverses gravity for Oscura as well as any loose objects caught in the yellow light, while the red crystal destroys any breakable walls and floors in range. Being light-based means that line-of-sight is also important, and anything that blocks the glow will also block its effects. This all makes for some intriguing puzzles, especially when you have to start using different crystals together. Level design is really Lost Light’s biggest strength.

The unexpected part of this is that obtaining these crystals isn’t a cumulative experience – you don’t start the game with zero, and eventually wind up with four, growing stronger in the process. Instead, you start each level without any crystals, and find them throughout that stage as necessary. On the one hand, this gives the level designers the freedom to mix and match the needs for abilities without being hindered by an overall sense of progression. You get introduced to all four colours within the first few levels, so after that point, they’re all fair game. But the tradeoff is that there’s a missed opportunity to instill an overarching sense of growth at a mechanical level to tie into what is essentially a coming-of-age story.

Lost Light’s smart level design makes its problems all the more infuriating – namely, unresponsive controls, the death knell for platformers. The game feels a little bit like you’re moving underwater, and you can never quite count on Oscura to land at the spot you’re guiding him to. Making matters worse is some weird hit detection, particularly around the edges of platforms, that will see you slipping off ledges when you should have landed cleanly.

Lost Light’s smart level design makes its problems all the more infuriating – namely, unresponsive controls, the death knell for platformers.
As annoying as it is to die repeatedly due to something out of your control, it’s mitigated somewhat by generous checkpoints and instant respawns. You can generally count on having a respawn point before each challenging piece of each level, so time spent retracing your steps to take another crack at whatever’s ailing you is kept at a minimum. I don’t know how many times I’ve criticised checkpoint placement in reviews (and platformers are usually the worst for this), so Lost Light’s use of them is a welcome reprieve.

The other problem is a control interface that isn’t quite as intuitive as it could be, despite the game’s full controller support. As expected, you move Oscura with the analogue stick and jump with the A button (assuming an Xbox controller layout). It’s in the use of powers where things get strange. Despite the fact that you’ll only ever have two crystals on you at a time, they’re not simply each bound to a button. Instead, you can only have one equipped at a time, with a press of either X or B to activate it, while Y switches between them. There doesn’t seem to be much point to this, and it makes later levels, where you need to switch powers quickly on the fly, more annoying than they need to be.
These problems aside, Oscura: Lost Light is still a solid game overall, and considering it costs $9.99 USD on Steam, it’s definitely a worthwhile pickup for any puzzle platformer fans.


1 review for Oscura: Lost Light

  1. Mathiasm27

    This game is too short, I completed it in 3 hours.

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