Before I begin I wanted to give thanks to the developer, publisher, and staff for allowing me a chance to review this rather interesting 3D platformer. On the surface, Lunistice scratches a major itch for those hungry for old-school 3D platformers. There's a charming identifiable protagonist in Hana the Tanuki and seven stages with unique aesthetics and gimmicks. There are also many collectibles to gather, a difficulty curve that's not too difficult but not at all a "cakewalk." Finally, the soundtrack for the game is just as whimsical and mysterious, depending on the level.
From start to finish, it was a comforting platformer with no "upgrades" or severe gameplay changes. What you have available to you from the first stage at Home is what you'll need to complete the game all the way to the Moon. The protagonist, Hana, moves almost as fast as a familiar blue hedgehog but with an emphasis on platforming. Before players begin, I recommend turning CRT mode on as it's one of the few games with this feature to do it right. The scanlines aren't too rough, the curved display is a nice touch, and it helps bring out the vibrant colors of Lunistice.
Playing the tutorial level alone, it felt like a lost relic from the late 90s to early 2000s. Sound effects, specifically running, attacking, and jumping has that nostalgic crunchiness to them. While the enemy variety remains the same throughout the levels, they serve as part of the environment and not so much as an obstacle. You can go the entire game without attacking a single enemy (a requirement for one of the unlockable characters). You can take your time to explore the sunset beaches as well as the busy carnival levels, or blitz through them as if you're going for a world record.
Comparatively, the art direction reminded me a lot of Ex-Zodiac, both utilizing "low-poly graphics" to convey a specific era. If Ex-Zodiac reminded me of Star Fox, Lunistice reminded me of the Sonics and the Crocs. While the game is pretty, what makes or breaks platformers is the jumping and positioning. When controlling Hana, I was met with the tightest jump controls I've experienced from a modern indie 3D platformer.
Hana can double jump while attacking in the air with her tail, giving her a slight boost. In-game, it's called a "triple jump" but it's more so a glide. This is important to note because several of my retries was a result of missing a critical jump only to float on into my death. Lunistice has no "game-overs," so to speak. Much like the "easy" difficulty of modern platformers, including Crash Bandicoot 4, the player is given infinite retries.
The more retries used the lower your grade. Another thing that affects your grade is the number of cranes Hana collects. To my knowledge, aside from grades and achievements, there's no real incentive to collect everything. But you want the ultimate bragging rights of being the best right? Well, there is one other collectible but...that's not important right now. Pay no attention to the H-A-N-A letters and enjoy the seven stages of interesting environments.
From Hana's "home" to the autumn forests, the vibrance in the stages changes within each zone. Some of my favorite level designs are those that stick to a gimmick and offer a new way of enjoying the base game. One of my favorite archetypes is "music levels," or levels that alter depending on the music. Sonic Advance 2 was one of the first stages I remember playing where interacting with the musical notes add to the background music. The New Orleans stage in Crash 4 takes place during a party where the music notes alter certain hazards.
Lunistice's "music level" alters the pattern of platforms as well as the tempo of the rolling pins. Getting hit does give you an achievement, aptly named "Bonk!" The second zone in the Melancholy Forest stage centers around a giant tree. Hana will have to go to several locations that loop back to the tree and once each switch is activated, the tree teleports Hana to the exit. This "circular level" is similar to the ones in the Klonoa but with a twist.
The level begins in silence, with nothing but the ambiance. As the player activates the first switch, a drum fades in and as more switches are activated, the song begins to unravel itself with more instruments. At first, I thought it was something wrong with the game, but this attention to detail was a nice touch. There are several touches that give the game something beneath the initial surface. Perhaps the level select screen is listed like a folder on a computer? The environments are a tad bit whimsical even for a genre like this, right?
Well, I suppose I won't delay this any further. What is the plot for Lunistice? On the surface, you play as Hana the Tanuki as she goes through different levels. From the tutorial alone and other cues, it can be deduced that these aren't exactly "real" courses. The "infinite retries" and the concept of a scoring system also give the game its arcade vibes. There's a short cinematic that provides the only voice-over in-game as the narrator. The narrator is desperate in trying to save a cataclysmal event and mentions Hana as one currently "fighting the system," followed by commencing a sample loop. Lunistice begins.
During each level, if you go off the beaten path, there are tricky platforming sections that reward the player with a letter. Each letter is in order, so if you collect H-A-A and you're missing "N," thankfully you can restart the level without having to collect everything again. After you collect all letters, the glowing finish line is waiting for you. Cross it and you get a celebratory "GOAL!" and upbeat results screen music enough for any serotonin boost of a good job.
However, there are peculiar purple blocks behind the goal. What's that doing there? Why is everything glitching out the further I go down this path? What is this key--- Oh
At this point, I'll try my best to go as spoiler free as possible. Each act in a stage has two "bonuses" for collecting all H-A-N-A tokens. Act 1 is a key and Act 2 is a note. These documents provide insight into Hana's past as well as "Project Lunistice." From what I could gather, the end of humanity was imminent via an event called Moonfall. To prevent this from happening, several recruits were assigned to replay a training program while in deep sleep. Turns out the ones capable of saving humanity are caught in a deep sleep, fighting to remove themselves from the program.
The doctor, taking responsibility for this project, alters each level with a backdoor in order to guide Hana away from the simulation. This also explains the glitchiness and the lack of fanfare for obtaining these backdoors. Hana is fighting the simulation and the simulation doesn't like that. In fact, the final stage is absent of the color that once thrived in Lunistice. It instead turns in Nier Automata, basically. After clearing this level, Hana is free from Lunistice, and the actual credits play.
Upon completing the game, the player unlocks two characters, Toree the Birb and Toukie the Owl. Toree moves even faster than Hana, zooming at maximum speed yet they have no way to defend themselves and they only have one hitpoint. This character screams "speedrun" as Toukie screams "cool." Toukie's a ninja owl who can quadruple jump and attack with a sword. What's not badass about that?
Coming to the end of this review, I realize why I was so quick to give Lunistice a 5/5. It's a beautiful love letter to the platformers I've grown up playing as a kid. 5s don't mean "perfection" in this regard, but it reflects on how well the game does its job and the dedication I see from the developer through their own Twitter.
I don't usually cover credits but there was something about giving credit to their mother that made me think about my own situation. Sometimes going through a heavy loss is the motivation needed to see your dream project become a reality and this is something I can respect Lunistice for a lot. For $5 the game is an absolute recommendation as the number of content easily quadruples that much by a lot. Fans of old-school 3D platformers will enjoy this and those who love their lore will be surprised how deep this innocent platforming rabbit hole goes.