Developed By: DICO
Published By: D3Publisher
Category: Action, Adventure, Indie
Release Date: 08.20.20
Composers: Kumi Tanioka
Gleamlight is kind of like Hollow Knight, only more colorful and slightly fae-steampunk. The first key difference, though, is the complete lack of narrative or instruction—I actually sat watching the little circle of illumination around a sword stuck in the ground for a minute when I first started the game, expecting some opening cinema, until I started realizing I was supposed to do something!
I hit every button I could find, and nothing worked, until I found the Y-button, triggering a glass-shattering sound, and our hero walking up to pull the sword from the ground. Finally, the screen lit up a little more, and I was ready to play. I had no idea what to do, but I figured out how to jump and swing my sword, so I was off to a good start, at least.
The world of Gleamlight is like an underground stained-glass mine full of breakable landscapes and demonic, mechanical enemies who seem to run off of the same red-light crystal that you do. One of the most interesting mechanics of the game is the health bar system—or rather, lack thereof—that has you losing a bit of your light each time you get hit, and your enemy gaining it from you. If a fully lit enemy takes two strikes to kill, in other words, you need to hit that enemy two times in a row without taking damage in order to kill them. If the enemy hits you, they get a hit back from you.
The good news is that you also get to absorb that energy back when you land a hit, so it’s not too difficult to stay lit. The problem occurs when you get stuck in a back-and-forth slugfest with an enemy that doesn’t really get either of you closer to victory. This means you have to strike precisely and then get out of the way strategically—usually while also doing some precision platforming at the same time!
As I mentioned before, there is a complete lack of handholding in this game. I didn’t even realize I had gained a new power after fighting the first boss until I accidentally hit the left bumper and did a weird mid-air power dash. This new skill actually proved to be quite necessary to get through to the exit of the current room I was trapped in, so I was grateful to have it; though I would have maybe appreciated a little heads up that I had leveled up.
This continued to happen after each boss I defeated, but now I was looking for the new skill, hitting any of the many unassigned buttons to see if they now did something—but they knew I was going to do that, so they made the next skill a double jump that used a button already assigned to trick me. I didn’t take too long to discover it though, as I never really stop trying to double-jump in a game, even when I know it’s not a feature.
This continued for about an hour, when I beat the third boss. This time, after the fight ended, the screen started to fade to black. I thought maybe this would be where they finally give me an opening narrative! Maybe they are going to finally tell me what this is all about? Nope—end credits.
What the hell? $19.99 for a one-hour game that felt like a demo? I was a bit perplexed. I kept waiting for the “opening” credits to end so I could keep playing the next stage; but it never happened. The end credits finished, and the title screen appeared. Ever the suspicious fellow—I never leave a movie theater without waiting until the end of the credits, just in case—I pressed “Start Game” again, and found my save file. I believe in New Game + wholeheartedly, so of course I clicked on it to see what would happen. My game started in the same room I had just left after having defeated the final boss, only now, the only way to go is back the way I had come.
Turns out I have another new skill now, and in addition to the original enemies that were in the various stained-glass levels, there were now more intense versions of them strewn about the place. Each place you go back through where there was a boss originally, now has a new and more powerful boss to face. I fully intended on finishing this one in reverse to see if it did the replay thing again, but instead found myself stuck at the second to last boss, unable to seal the deal. I spent more time on this boss than the rest of the game combined, and I had to watch a boss run video to figure out how to beat him. I feel shame. But yeah… I can totally see the price tag being justified for this one.
Overall, the visuals in Gleamlight are very beautiful. Each area you traverse is made up entirely of crystalline structures, most of which you can break—it’s almost as satisfying as bubble wrap—and the gameplay is massively addicting and fun. The soundscapes can get a little repetitive at times, but I found that I was usually too focused on not dying or landing on a pile of pointy red crystal spikes to pay the soundtrack too much mind. It was still very calming and unobtrusive either way. If you love a good, dark, figure-it-out-yourself kind of platformer, in the same spiritual realm as Hollow Knight and Steamworld Dig, this is a perfect game for you to pick up. I think it is worth the full asking price, but if you can catch it on sale, you really have no excuse—pick this one up!
Digital – $19.99
The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.