[su_highlight background=”#3b88ff” color=”#ffffff”]Platforms: PC, Steam | Developer: Evan Todd | Publisher: Evan Todd | ESRB: Unrated | Controls: Keyboard, Controller[/su_highlight]
A small game with a smart name; Lemma is a new indie parkour title, developed by Evan Todd, that has made it to Steam after five years of development. There aren’t too many big names for the genre (since parkour is rarely the focal point in games), but a few stand out that draw comparison – Mirror’s Edge probably the biggest title.
As with Mirror’s Edge, Lemma has a vibrant colour scheme in its level designs with each level having some sort of corresponding theme. This ranges from a blue watery atmosphere in the earlier levels to a desert with yellows and browns. Due to its more limited budget however, Lemma has a distinctly geometric art style with the levels being composed mostly of blocks. The game makes the most of this design choice by featuring active world building, with some segments of the levels visibly falling into place before your eyes!
This in-game world building takes centre stage in Lemma’s gameplay, giving a unique take on the parkour genre. Whereas Mirror’s Edge placed a greater emphasis on gymnastics, requiring a lot of jumping, Lemma is all about the wall running. This is because upon running beyond the edges of a wall, the player character will form a ghostly surface that she will continue to run along. As well as allowing you to run further (and avoid falling damage), these new surfaces can be strategically placed to climb upon or wall jump since they remain even after death.
The death system in Lemma teleports the player player back to where they were a few seconds earlier, which is somewhat prone to issues. While there were never instances where I was spawning in mid-air or any other situations of an infinite death loop, some levels do have doors that block you from backtracking and it is possible to respawn behind these doors. Although it isn’t a major flaw due to Lemma frequently auto-saving or alternatively climbing over the doors through the clever use of the player created surfaces, it is something to bear in mind when entering a new area.
Player death occurs from either the environment (either touching a damaging surface or falling from too large a height) or if the enemies get a hold of you. Disappointingly each enemy is just a moving block of varying colour and size; depending on their type they will either explode or crush you. While they function well enough, my main gripe with the enemies is that they don’t add anything in terms of gameplay. Since avoidance is the way to deal with them all it does is slow the game down and provide a hindrance during puzzle solving. It felt as though there should have been a reliable way of trapping or disabling the hostile blocks rather than waiting for them to get out of the way.
Contrastingly the story elements in Lemma are well integrated with features that are rarely seen in this genre. Aside from the standard collectible hunt which includes printed emails that hold scraps of the story, there are relays at various checkpoints throughout the game. Upon reaching these relays the player character is able to use her phone to communicate with her friend, Mark. The player is capable of selecting multiple dialogue paths to which Mark will respond appropriately, a nice detail that is often reserved for visual novels and story based RPGs. The decisions that are made during the game culminate at the end, with four potential endings that can be achieved.
Coupled with workshop support that lets the community design their own levels, there is a lot to do in Lemma. The greatest feature that the game presents is the ability to extend surfaces and a noticeable lack of developer walls. It really does create a great sense of freedom, even though it is possible to lose direction without waypoints. While some ideas fell flat, they do not detract from the game as a whole; and it would be interesting to see what Evan Todd can produce with a bigger team and budget – hopefully a project with an option that will allow you to turn off motion blur entirely.
Reviewed on PC. Review copy provided by the developer.