Imagine trying to innovate on the 2D platformer. Nowadays, that seems like more of a challenge than even completing ones like Super Meat Boy or the recently released Celeste. It is an overcrowded genre no doubt, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be done. In fact, Bishop Games have done just that with Light Fall.
This unique platformer places you as a young boy who has lost his memory. He has somehow come across the power of the Shadow Core, which gives him abilities unlike any this world has seen. The journey is narrated by Stryx the owl, who seems to know more about this mysterious world than he lets on. As you travel through the multiple areas of Numbra, you’ll learn about a darkness that has overtaken everything.
Since trying out this game last year at PAX East, I knew it was going to be something special. Light Fall still plays like a top-notch 2D platformer. It has challenging, well-designed levels and a heap of collectibles to gather. That said, it takes traditional 2D gameplay a step higher than other titles with the Shadow Core.
The Shadow Core is a box you can spawn at any time in multiple ways. It can be used as a platform to boost yourself up, a wall to jump off of, a shield to protect yourself from danger, or as an attack to damage enemies. Using it feels weird at first, almost like you’re cheating. There are times you may forget the box is even at your disposal. But, as the game goes on, the Shadow Core starts to feel like second nature.
The way this magical cube affects the flow of gameplay is unmatched by other titles. No longer do I stop and wait for moving platforms to reach my level. I have no reason to fear pits in the ground, and enemies are of little threat to me. At least, that’s how the first couple of worlds feel.
As soon as you get the hang of this Shadow Core, the world of Numbra forces you to question that confidence. Suddenly, it stops being so easy to jump across dangerous pits or avoid the purple spikes covering nearly every surface. Rushing through levels with ease turns into carefully planning out routes with the Core at your side.
To keep things challenging, the device doesn’t have unlimited uses. It can only be spawned four times before you must touch the ground to let it refresh. This limiting feature challenges players to start blending both their experience with traditional platformers and their knowledge of the Shadow Core if they want to succeed.
Fortunately, Light Fall has a reasonably forgiving checkpoint system. In fact, I’d say there are a few too many of them strewn about. The abundance of respawns is probably done on purpose, however, as some collectibles require you to return to checkpoints for them to count. If you die with a collectible on you, you’ll have to go back and get it.
I am somewhat conflicted on the final levels. They are certainly challenging, which I can appreciate. However, parts of them remove the ability to use the Shadow Core. This should be expected, as most games that provide you an advantage like this have sections where it is removed. That said, this removal gets rid of all of the factors that make Light Fall distinctive. These segments are now nothing more than well-made 2D platforming puzzles. I’m playing Light Fall to take advantage of this unique mechanic and having it taken from me ruins a lot of the fun. Yet, these segments are few and far between and do little to tarnish my overall enjoyment of the game.
Light Fall uses color as a striking visual aid. The darkness is your friend, with dangers taking on a bright pink tint. This distinction helps players react quickly to situations while continuing their flow state. In the later worlds especially, I was planning out three steps ahead of my current jump without needing to pay too much attention to where my character was at. The difference in color combined with the realized sense of speed allows you to keep on moving instead of stopping, jumping, stopping, and jumping again. The art style reminds me a bit of a darker Ori and the Blind Forest. Almost as if the colors were inverted and infused just a touch of edginess.
Epic piano arrangements and string orchestras back the adventure. The soundtrack to each world raises the stakes and is a beautiful backing to the tough platforming. Stryx is also an entertaining narrator. He is either telling you stories of the world or scolding you for every move you make. Aside from one late-game character, Stryx is the only voiced personality. He is well-written, witty, and does a great job carrying the title.
After playing Light Fall, I am kind of sad that I don’t get to use the Shadow Core in other platforming titles. I’ve gotten so used to the thing that by now that I can’t imagine playing something else without it. Fortunately, Bishop Games accounted for this with some extra game modes. The entire campaign can be played again in hard mode, which remixes levels with new obstacles and challenges. There is also a speed run mode with leaderboards for you to test your skills against the rest of the world.
Light Fall is a wonderful little package. It stands out in a genre filled with lackluster clones and copycats. After waiting on the game for so long, I am happy to say that it delivers on all fronts. Challenging platforming, a killer soundtrack, tons of extra content, and a unique twist bring Light Fall to the top of its genre. Even if you aren’t into hardcore platformers, this game is worth your time. Just don’t expect to enjoy another platformer for a little while.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Light Fall for the PC provided by Bishop Games. It is also available on the Nintendo Switch.