Fan, Boots, Fan - JUST GIVE ME THE SLINGSHOT ALREADY!
You know, it's been a while since I've played a truly bad game. I don't just mean those that were mediocre or boring. I mean the kind of game that could make a person's blood boil with some ridiculously bad decisions and elements, despite good intentions. Well not to worry, as LucasArts have come up with a solution to that. Say hello to Lucidity, a game that does what it does so horribly wrong that it can and will induce ragequits over and over.
The sad thing is that Lucidity looks amazing. The style is what I'd figure is the end result of a talented child's arts and crafts project. It doesn't look bad; rather, it radiates a kind of childlike emotion that carries the theme of the overall game exceedingly well. Everything on screen is rich in colour and possesses a suitable charm to make looking at it such a treat. The locations you visit look fantastic too, slowly changing in design as you progress through the game. It's subtle, but the effect it has is great as you realize that the theme is changing in line with the story unfolding.
Sofi's character design looks good and she's animated pretty well as she wanders along the stages. There's a few neat tricks used too, like when she's trapped and the darkness approaches she will visibly turn around in fear of it until you open the path for her. Little touches like that is what helps gamers want to get involved. In general the enemy designs are more basic; oddly moreso when you reach the last chapter as the woodland creatures of the earlier levels are replaced with what I can only describe as flashing lights and black holes.
The music is nice and gentle, alluding to the dream like setting of the game.Will anything jump out and grab you? No, probably not, but on this occasion I think it would be wrong to do that. It's there to be soothing and compliment the game progression in an understated way. The sound effects are done well too. Sofi will cry out when hurt but not to annoying levels even when you've heard it repeatedly. Action effects occur as well, and again it's done in a wonderful understated way that works.
In terms of story Lucidity doesn't offer a deep narrative. In fact, you're pretty much just thrown in when an initial scene depicting Sofi and her grandmother at home, with Sofi letting her imagination run wild. Events make it clear Sofi falls asleep and ends up adventuring through her dreams. The rest of the story is told via short diary entries by Sofi at the beginning of each level and postcards from her grandmother at the end of them, and it becomes very apparent from these that the story is dealing with darker themes than the visuals initially let on. It's a nice little background for the game and you may even feel for Sofi a little, but the impact is generally a bit muted in general.
At first glance Lucidity looks like a side scrolling platformer, but that's only partially true. While it's true that you'll have to guide Sofi across numerous pitfalls and pass hazards in an effort to reach the right side of the level, you don't have any actual control over Sofi herself. Instead, she automatically walks across each stage at her own pace and it is up to the player to make sure she doesn't dive headfirst into the nearest death trap.
The way this is done is via an item system. The game feeds objects to the player one at a time that can be placed in the level, which Sofi will interact with in some manner if she reaches them. Stairs can be dropped in to ascend to a higher ledge, a phantom fan boosts Sofi upwards and through platforms and bombs can be detonated to remove walls and enemies from the level. Since Sofi is always walking you have to react to hazards and obstacles as they appear onscreen and may even find yourself swiftly planting things midair to prevent a quick end to the poor girl. It may even be a case of throwing out makeshift solutions on the offchance you don't have the necessary item, like using a combination of spring shoes and a slingshot in place of a bridge to get across a gap.
Now, this sounds like it should work a treat and it does, at first. For a couple of levels you'll have fun working past the stage obstacles to reach that mailbox at the end and move on to the next stage. You might even enjoy figuring out ways to grab the fireflies that dot every stage, where many require deviating from the initial path. However, this brief feeling of joy takes a severe turn to darkness when the game tries to make things more complicated, as the flaws that were noticeable before get magnified a lot.
The biggest problem you get is the way usable items are given to you. Taking its cue from puzzle games like Tetris, Lucidity gives you items completely at random. It does let you store one item at any time, but you soon find out that this is a meager offering for what it throws at you. Getting passed the challenges of each level is normally done best with a very specific item (like using stairs to go up to a raised ledge) but odds tend to be stacked against you in terms of actually getting the item you need. As a result you'll end up madly throwing a jumble of other objects there and praying that they'll somehow see Sofi safely to the next challenge. Additionally, since you've had to spam items chaotically to get past one challenge, you now find yourself on the back foot with dealing with the next one. Even worse when you approach an obstacle and the game gives you completely useless objects 7-8 times in a row. This results in trying to find space onscreen to dump them rapidly in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, the next time will actually be the one you need.
The difficulty and level layouts tend to make this problem worse. Despite its cutesy appearance, this can actually be a rather difficult game. Numerous pits exist for the sole purpose of instantly killing the girl should she fall in and enemies are scattered all over each level to whittle away what little health you have. After the first set of levels a darkness is added that creeps up from the left side to cause another instant kill, which might not make much sense in a game where the protagonist is automatically moving but it is possible to get stuck behind walls which then adds a sort of timer to progression. Normally all this would be welcome, but here it becomes very frustrating. The game is already a luck based mission throughout, so the last thing it needed was a layout that proved very unforgiving to not using the right kind of item. So you basically have to get used to dying, and yes, you will die many times whether it's a misplaced item or getting caught behind a wall and not getting the bomb you need. Later stages are worse as the game loves to throw multiple scenarios at you in a row that require a chaotic mess of objects to get past, where failing once sets you back at the beginning of that section.
The controls also seem to be a bit twitchy. I've noticed that trying to get the mouse to sit items precisely where you want them doesn't really seem to work, and while the items may only get offset by a tile or two that alone is often enough to have Sofi slip through the gap and fall to her untimely demise yet again. Keyboard input is possible, but while it's more accurate and less twitchy than the mouse it's generally too slow to keep up with the onscreen action.
Now to be fair, I did give the game plenty of chances. I actually struggled through and completed all the storyline levels, which only took about two and a half hours, making it a rather short adventure. There are bonus levels you unlock by collecting the fireflies, but honestly just reaching the ending felt like a chore instead of being fun, so understandably I felt no desire whatsoever to even go near those bonus levels.
I don't really like writing scathing reviews since doing so means having gone through a bad gaming experience. It's just that I can't find much good about Lucidity. The presentation is nice and it had a good idea. Just really shitty execution that makes me want to ragequit, and when a game isn't fun then I think it's somewhat missed the point.
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