Sometimes I wish I had more of a bent towards nostalgia when it comes to writing about games. That’d make writing about Lumo so much easier, y’know?
I could sit here and I could wax lyrical about the year I got my first computer, how I expected a bike or whatever it is people always seem to bang on about in that sort of story. About how Ultimate (Rare to you crazy modern kids) changed everything for me with Knight Lore or something like that but that’s not really my bag.
For starters, Knight Lore was no Jetpac, was it?
But if I was that kind of person, I’m sure I’d love Lumo because Lumo takes that Ultimate not-iso template from Knight Lore, Alien 8 and that other one no-one cared about and runs with it.
the videogame room as homage
It’s packed full of things you have to be a certain age to remember first time round, memories of a nineteen eighties a world away from the riots, strikes, poverty, unemployment and carbombs.
Instead, broom cupboards, budget games, cassettes and so many things that tickle the I Was There glands. Nods, winks and the videogame room as homage, the eighties as someone growing up, the eighties as things that stuck with you anyway because things do that.
Lumo is a lot of yesterdays, definitely. And that’s fine.
It’s not enough for me. That’s never enough for me. I don’t lament the passing of the eighties, I was poor through most of them, I saw friends and family crushed under a government who just wanted to sell us all down the river. I looked out of my window at night and I saw the flames of the refinery lighting up the sky. The stench of the place, I never knew clean air until I got away. I never knew the stars for the thick clouds that hung over my days. Really and metaphorically, I guess.
When I look back, I don’t look back wistfully, wanting to relive moments of my time from then, to capture some of the feelings I had. And even though folks know me as ‘that guy who bangs on about obscure bloody Spectrum games no-one in their right mind cares about’ as well as ‘that dude who needs to stop flashing lights in my face’ and ‘gobshite’, I’m not interested in games for the feeling they gave me in 1984 or whatever. I’m not interested in them because they were cool when I was yay big, although obviously, many really were so very cool.
I talk about old games because I want them remembered. Videogames are so ridiculously ahistorical. We’re so obsessed with the new, so narrow in our writing of our videogame history that huge swathes of it just slip away. We have so many dead ends that we just stopped exploring. So many seeds that withered and didn’t thrive that people pick up now, like new, like they just found it. I love that but I want the folks who wrote these things first time round remembered too. I want you to know the name of Mel Croucher, I want you to know Simon Brattel, I want you to know Shahid ‘Ex Face Of Playstation’ Ahmad made things that mattered then too.
I’m interested, as I always have been, in videogames for what they are. What they can be. What they will be. Exercises in nostalgia, that thing videogames do where a game looks like an old game and look, do you see, you were a child and ohhhh? Nah. Not my bag.
Lumo could have so easily just sat back and been a game like so many other games and gone ‘hey, remember the eighties and [x games console/computer]’ and for a lot of folks, that’d be enough. And yeah, if I was someone else I could have recommended it for that.
Like I say though, not my bag, that.
Lumo though. Lumo is very much my bag precisely because it doesn’t wallow in or rely on nostalgia, instead it picks up pretty much where we left off.
There’s a problem with doing that, of course. We stopped making games like this a long time ago. As far as I can remember, for quite the long while the only substantial entries in the Ultimate-style school of iso videogame genre came in the shape of Moonpod’s Mr Robot and Jon Ritman’s last isometric-y huzzah, Monster Max. They’re both really good games but you wouldn’t expect most people to have heard of them, never mind played them. So that leaves a fairly substantial gap. Probably back so far as Equinox, maybe? I’m not precisely sure so I’d be happy to be corrected but still, it’s been a while. And no, puzzle games don’t count.
Realistically, Lumo is likely to be the first game of its type a lot of people play because we just stopped making the things. I’m not entirely sure why, either. It’s probably that thing we did in the nineties where we decided things had to be plausible or coherent or whatever seriously real games needed to be to be seriously real games. It’s usually that, anyway. Stupid nineties.
And so many games that tread these sort of paths are happy to lock themselves off to people who weren’t around at the time or aren’t already big fans of the genre. Lumo could have done that too. It could have been designed with just a bunch of old people in mind, it’d probably do fairly OK being designed for and marketed at a bunch of old people. To be honest, it’d tempt me and I like to think I’m fairly unflappable most of the time about this stuff but hey, even I have weak spots. I even liked Molecule Man, me.
Lumo doesn’t do any of that. The first 3/4 of an hour are pretty much an introduction to the not-quite isometric videogame. It’s a slow start and I’ve never really figured these type of games as being especially obtuse in any way but I’m old, I saw them first time round. My normal isn’t something I’d feel comfy assuming never mind. But it’s also an opportunity, for old people like me, to sit there after the first five minutes and go ‘it is, it really is’ a bit. I may not be nostalgic but my observational skills are A++.
And so it all starts with a pretty much guided tour of some rooms. Your little wizardy chum is plonked down in a castle, at first only able to walk about. You’ll trip through rooms for a bit getting used to the different room sizes, popping through doors and trying not to fall in the water but it’s nothing especially challenging. There’s secret rooms to find, ducks to collect if you want to ramp the challenge up a bit but yeah, it’s all fairly straightfoward until you stumble upon the definitely not an agility orb.
As is customary, in short order the game starts to introduce more complexity. There’s moving platforms, lifts, gym balls that require tricky balancing acts to get from one side to another, switches and items that do things, cannons to toy around with, more environmental hazards and in next to no time, you find that nearly each of the rooms begins to represent a microchallenge of their own and as you go on, Lumo chains these challenges together requiring multiple rooms worth of challenges to solve a larger challenge. They’re all very videogame challenges for sure but Lumo is Videogame:The Videogame (Also, contains videogames) at times so no matter.
It’s a very classical approach to game design and I’ll admit, I was wary as to whether, given the current vogue for permadeath, randomised rooms and Olde-Nintendo oriented design and all our modern conceits, I wondered whether it’d still work for me. You’ll likely not be surprised to hear that it does. Whereas 30 years ago this would have felt very normal, now it’s a refreshing change of pace. Molyneux only knows I wouldn’t want every (or even most) games to be like this but I do miss the more leisurely pace of these things. I didn’t know I did before but yeah, I do.
I definitely don’t miss the large map, no saves, limited lives of older games though so thank Molyneux that Lumo doesn’t put you through that unless you explicitly choose to put yourself through that. It’s an option to play with a handful of lives and when you’re done that’s it matey, game over, ta ta, off you fuck and all that but I don’t know why you’d do that to yourself. I really don’t.
So yeah, I liked Lumo. I liked it a lot. It made me appreciate that there are so many threads we left dangling whilst we went off and did something else in the name of progress. I come from the remakes scene so I know it’s possible to make a game that’s respectful of its influences and wear its heart on its sleeve without being a slave to its history. I know that. And because it’s based on a format rather than being a long overdue sequel to something or a tribute act videogame, there’s no fandom to be concerned with so Lumo has the space to stretch out.
Its to Lumo’s credit that it feels like it picks up from where Ritman/Drummond, ACG, The Pickfords and a handful of other producers of not-quite-iso videogames left off. That’s fantastic but time’s moved on and I’m so glad Lumo feels 2016 enough, different enough, that it’s a new thing not a tribute act. That said though, if someone had released this as “the final adventures of Sabreman” or something, it’d do it justice all the same. In the same way as if the wonderful Spellrazor had been touted as a modern follow up to Hall Of The Things, I’d buy into it. Neither need that sort of baggage though.
More than anything else all this reminded me of how much we’ve still got to explore around what we already have, how many more spaces we’ve still got to weave and mould games into that we’ve neglected to do so far, despite all these years. How many formats we’ve stopped playing around with when there’s still so much more to do.
I left Lumo not with a fuzzy hazy feeling of nostalgia but the same sort of excited hope for the future you get when you play a really tremendous new thing. That’ll do me, yeah?
(Pictures from store page and the work in progress version I’ve been sitting on. Vines from Gaz’s Tumblr)