Luna The Shadow Dust is a masterful work of art that should be experienced by all types of gamers
Luna The Shadow Dust is a story-driven point-and-click puzzle game developed by Lantern Studio, and published by Coconut Island Games and Application Systems Heidelberg. The game released on Steam and Mac on February 13, 2020 and is one I’ve had my eye on for a while. The game’s art is all impeccably hand-drawn and gets more wonderous as you progress the game. Add in the soothing and moody music, as well as a cute black cat companion and we have the makes of a wonderful journey with emotion and challenging puzzles.
You start the game as a young boy with a hoodie that has floppy bunny ears, falling through a night sky. A bubble of light catches you and lays you softly onto the floor, as it then materialises as a light source in front of you. Following it you come across a thorny tree root sticking out of the ground which casts a shadow on a nearby rock. Interestingly there’s the shadow of a crow standing on the root despite there being no physical crow to cast the shadow. As you get closer to the crow, it squawks and the light orb reels back behind you, as if it’s scared of the crow. By clicking the tree root, you walk over and kick it which scares off the crow shadow and the light then resumes following you.
What seemed like a meaningless encounter would lay the foundation for some of the games challenges throughout the game, that light and shadow work in different ways. You and the light walk forward to a free-standing door which you click and it opens, but nothing happens. While scratching your head, the door closes and the light orb jumps up into a lantern hanging off a tree branch above the door. The lantern starts emitting coloured light which in turn lights up the glass panes of the door. Suddenly an enormous walled tower materialises in front of you, reaching far up into the sky as you can see, with numerous illuminated windows.
You click and open the door again, stepping into a room with shaded art on the rear wall. There’s no written story words or instructions to guide you. It’s up to you to explore the room using the mouse, a method that’s no stranger to point-and-click game veterans. This particular room has nothing to interact with until you get to a door at the other side. It is locked, and your character scratches their head. As you walk back to each of the main sections of the wall art, they start to fill in with colours. Once all four sections of the wall became coloured, the exit door then opened. Once you step through the door, you are shown an outside illustration of the tall tower, and the room you just completed becomes coloured in and the next connected section of the tower lights up, moving you to the next room/puzzle.
This was a long-winded way to explain the main gameplay loop for Luna The Shadow Dust but in these first scenes you learnt the essentials for the rest of the game – enter a room, figure out it’s mechanics by searching with the mouse until it’s icon changes to a hand or feet, solve the puzzle, exit the room and climb further up the tower. It’s not as simple as that though, far from it. The use of objects, observation of colours, writing and illustrations on the walls, and even what shape shadows are cast by the lights are all possible solutions to the task. The challenge of these puzzles increases as you progress the story and each room’s art detail and objects become more intricate and fascinating. Remember, this is all hand-drawn and I was constantly blown away with how detailed the art was, and then how amazing it was to interact with that art, in particular with the shadows.
It’s not long before you come across an injured cat who becomes a loving companion. This scene, amongst many others, is where the music influences the story and connections. Most of the time the music is calming which helped me be in a problem-solving mood without getting too frustrated. Other times the music really enhances the feeling of anxiety, suspense and emotion. You are given control of the cat and pressing spacebar changes who you control. Sometimes you need to position one character, switch to the other to interact with something, then change back and forth to solve the puzzle. In some cases the characters are split up to solve a multi-part puzzle and meet back up once both sides have been solved. It’s a very cool system, particularly when shadows become involved.
Shadows play a large part of the puzzle mechanisms as well. They started off super frustrating for me as I didn’t think I’d be able to run along the top of shadows, and then the tree root and crow returned, pecking away at my efforts to deal with them. Slowly and methodically, I eliminated possibilities and it was almost at the point of giving up that I partly solved the puzzle, and then it all clicked into place and I understood what I had to do. This game is certainly one for the more patient puzzle solver. From here on, the game does really well in playing with elements like this to make the puzzles far more clever, often way clever than me as it took me multiple head-scratching pauses to figure them out.
There are a couple of sections of the game that take you to places beyond the tower. I won’t spoil how/why this occurs, however the puzzles involve using various forms of transport and separate companion sequences. Often there were multiple stages to the puzzle and I sometimes forgot what I did in the previous scene which mattered to the current one, so there was some time wasted going back, with the slow transition animations, to check what I had done and/or correct it. Outside of a couple of these examples though, the game is short at around 3-4 hours, depending on how challenged you are by some of the later puzzles. You can go back and complete previous puzzles if you want to 100% all achievements, though outside of this there’s not much replay value.
Overall I gave the game a 9/10. Luna The Shadow Dust emphasises the strength of friendship, both in the light and in darkness. In a time like we’re experiencing now in the world, game’s like this warm the heart. It’s strengths are the beautiful hand-drawn art and the emotive music, giving you the right mood and mindset to tackle the puzzles ahead of you. It certainly was a pleasure to play through and the story that eventually unravels is an emotional one. Luna The Shadow Dust is a masterful work of art that should be experienced by all types of gamers, and I can’t wait to see what comes next from Lantern Studio.
This review utilised a Steam key provided by the publisher through Steam Curator Connect. Luna The Shadow Dust is available now for AUD28.95. Keep an eye out for a future release on Nintendo Switch.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis