Are video games art?
It’s a common subject of debate, and one which perplexes me greatly. For me, the answer is simple: of course. Art isn’t just simply about pretty pictures on a wall which thousands of people gather around to stare at intently. For me, art is to be explored, art is to enrich and art is to be enjoyed, and that’s exactly what video games do. There’s no greater pleasure for me than to see exactly how a game went from simple beginnings as a concept, before growing into the playable construct that is presented to players.
Now, you may be asking how exactly this is all relevant. If you’re reading this review knowing exactly what Lumino City is and how it was crafted, then you understand completely. If you don’t, here’s the lowdown.
Lumino City is a puzzle adventure game and the sequel to its 2011 predecessor, Lume. Similarly to the first game, the set was entirely hand-crafted out of cardboard and paper, although this time, developer State of Play also utilized miniature lights and electric motors to create an incredibly unique world and playing experience. Using award-winning architects, prop-makers and animators, Lumino City is a collaboration between people from all walks of life. To really understand how remarkable this entire project is, you really need to see the full scale of the model which makes up the world. I suppose the best way to explain would be to show you a quick video from the developers which displays their exhibition at 2014’s GameCity event (if you want to skip straight to the model itself, it’s at around the 2:08 mark):
Impressive, isn’t it?
After filming the 10-foot high model, State of Play then took the footage and animated over the top of it, giving the game its beautiful, photorealistic touch. It’s an impressive feat really, being able to animate over the top of a physically filmed model and still manage to avoid a sense of discordance entirely. Lumino City flows beautifully, and the little touches – such as the accurate shadowing of each character on the world around them – make for a memorable world indeed.
The story follows on from where Lume left off. As Lumi – the young girl and main protagonist – settles down to welcome her grandfather back home and make him a cup of tea, he is taken from her and she must go on an adventure across the titular city to find him. It’s simple enough, and may not intrigue people who are prefer more adult themes within their games. But for someone who enjoys games like Fantasy Life and Tearaway, you’ll feel right at home. Lumi is naive, full of life and has a will to go and explore the world put before her.
The characters she comes across each have their own personality and tale to tell, though some are more memorable than others. Among the most memorable are an elderly gentleman who just wants to remember how to play a song for his wife, a sailor who somehow got his ship stuck on the large wheel in the center of the city, and a postman who just wants a nice cup of liquorice tea. The diverse range of characters makes for an interesting and engaging playthrough, prompting you to actually start a conversation with these NPCs, whereas you may simply ignore them in other games.
Puzzles are the primary part of gameplay within Lumino City and some of them are actually quite difficult, which may come as a surprise given the kid-friendly aesthetic. Although providing a challenge within gameplay keeps the player hooked, and allows the reward to be that little bit sweeter when it eventually does come, the difficulty levels do seem rather haphazard. Whereas one puzzle could take me mere moments to work out, the next would have me scratching my head for a long amount of time, so much so in some areas that I had to ask someone else for help. It can be quite disconcerting when this comes about, and although the challenge is nice, sometimes it can be too much.
The puzzles are however varied, from connecting up circuits to make an electric current flow through in the correct way, to finding your way through a maze to get to a goal, to helping the aforementioned elderly gentleman remember the song he wrote for his wife by playing out the tune on guitar. They’re charming and compelling, making for a refreshing change from some of the other games released in 2014.
The puzzles also have some throwback to technology of old, with a classic 70’s pinball machine making an appearance and even the need to use morse code to solve a puzzle (with a handy guide book to help you on the way). It’s interesting to see exactly how these items work; I’m no expert on old technology, so it was nice to see exactly how old computers used to read data and learn how security systems used to work back in the day.
The contrast between some of the technology used within the game and the technology that was used to actually make the game is astounding when you really think about it. This aspect is especially nice for young people who may play the game, and I’d thoroughly recommend this as a game you can work through with a little one. The puzzles are a great way to get them thinking, and you can always be there with them if they do get stuck; it’s a great bonding exercise.
In all honesty, the only major issue I had with Lumino City was its longevity. It took me between four and five hours to complete the game, and a lot of that was spent scratching my head and trying to figure exactly was going on with many puzzles. The two main gameplay aspects are puzzles and exploration, with the middleground verring heavily towards puzzles. It’s a shame really; Lumino City’s world is so beautifully crafted that I would have loved to have spent more time there. I would also have loved it if the five hours I spent there had seen me seeking out a few more adventures around the town.
Aside from the wonderful visual presentation, Lumino City boasts a unique soundtrack. Similar to predecessor Lume, the music helps to create a serene atmosphere to make you feel at home, whilst building up a desire for adventure and a willingness to explore the world put before you. The music manages to set the tone perfectly, which once again helps the game to avoid its sense of discordance by assisting smooth and effective flow. Even moments when the music shifts – such as when you bring electricity back to an old diner and you can hear the muffled tones of a seemingly classic track which has the essence of the 50’s all about it – play out fantastically well, making for a dynamic musical experience.
Going back to my first question: are video games art?
If your answer still isn’t yes after experiencing Lumino City and what it has to offer, I’m not sure what either the developer or myself can do to convince you. The time and effort that went into the creation of the world is astounding. To look at the passion that State of Play obviously had for the project, and to then have the audacity simply dismiss it as “not valid”, is ludicrous in my eyes.
Lumino City is an astonishingly beautiful and unique game which manages to keep you enamored throughout with a plethora of outlandish characters and intriguing puzzles. Although some players may take issue with the relatively short length or the fact that some puzzle solutions feel just a little too obscure, if you’re looking for a relaxing game which you can get completely lost in, Lumino City is the game for you.