The golden era of the point-and-click adventure game is generally considered to be in the early-to-mid 1990s, where games such as The Secret of Monkey Island or Broken Sword were beloved by critics and fans alike. Those games have largely fallen out of favour, but developer Lantern Studio has taken much inspiration from those adventure games of old with the creation of Luna: The Shadow Dust.
First impressions of Luna: The Shadow Dust are mostly for its impressive art style, which resembles a classical storybook. The art is apparently all hand-animated, a skill that is rapidly becoming a lost art in these times. The result is a visual feast. The colours are bright and warm, making the world feel deeply inviting, with the detailed animations only emphasising how much care has been put into the visual design.
The story of Luna: The Shadow Dust can only be gleaned by implication and observation, as the game has no dialogue of any sort. The two main characters are a boy in a rabbit-eared hood and a mysterious cat-like creature who accompanies the boy on a journey through a huge tower, which is filled with curious devices and secrets. Some hints of the wider story and world that the game inhabits are present in things such as huge murals and gorgeous stained glass windows that litter the tower. Piecing together the clues, the backstory seems to involve some sort of king or overlord who was overthrown due to some sort of shadowy evil. Sadly, this bit of world-building is both vague and almost entirely disconnected from the gameplay, making any investment from the player difficult.
Gameplay largely consists of puzzle-solving. Each room contains one or two puzzles, mostly connected to intricate Rube Goldberg-esque devices that must be activated by using logic and reasoning skills. Many of these puzzles require the boy and cat to be separated, performing different actions in order to uncover the way forward. Early in the game, this works well, as the smaller areas make spotting the subtle hints and clues needed to solve the puzzle easier. In later rooms, as the scope expands, this mechanic becomes increasingly difficult, and the rich visual style almost works against the player, making those vital clues harder to spot in the larger environments.
Unfortunately, Luna: The Shadow Dust has taken one too many cues from ‘90s adventure games, in that some of the puzzle solutions do not seem to conform to any kind of Earth logic, such as stomping on a poor rat to get it to open a barrier, which seems like a poor method of assuring rodent cooperation. This convoluted approach to puzzle-solving was a noted flaw in some early adventure games, and to see it used here is a shame.
Luna: The Shadow Dust works best in the first half of the game, where the puzzles have logical through-lines, leaving ample space to appreciate the breathtaking aesthetics. Later on, the larger spaces become more of a distraction and frustration, particularly when combined with the slow walking animations and obtuse puzzle solutions.
Much about Luna: The Shadow Dust is frustrating, not simply because of the puzzles themselves, but also since such a beautiful world is clearly contained within, as demonstrated by the tantalising glimpses of history and backstory. That the wider world is not explored or explained in any details feels almost criminal.
Luna: The Shadow Dust has a beautiful art style, and the early puzzles are fun and interesting, but it falls short of becoming a truly great game. Players who are adept at out-of-the-box thinking might find more to enjoy here, but many will be put off by the levels of frustration prompted by later puzzles.
Reviewed on PC.