Nick's Gaming Blog

Lucidity–A Review

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Is Lucasart's latest offering pleasant as a Fall stroll...or as uncomfortable as a fall onto...purple barbed wire?

Lu-cid-i-ty: “A presumed capacity to perceive the truth directly and instantaneously.”  Ironically, a quick glance at Lucasart’s Lucidity does everything but present the player/observer with a true sense of the game.  Lucidity, with its disarmingly adorable visuals, minimalist heads-up-display, and soothing music, appears to be in “lock step” with the “no lives, no scores, no rankings, no pressure” school of gaming that titles like Flower belong to.  Yet upon closer inspection (and by “closer inspection,” I mean several “frustration-fueled” hours of gameplay) Lucidity is anything but child’s play.

This is Flower, one of the few reasons I've considered getting a PS3, and the one I will never admit to my friends who prefer games of the "Is it dead yet?  No?  Then kill it." genre.

This is Flower, one of the few reasons I've considered getting a PS3, and the one I will never admit to my friends who prefer games of the "Is it dead yet? No? Then kill it." genre.

Lucidity follows the adventures of a young girl named Sofi, as she navigates the imaginative landscapes that can only come to one deep in the R.E.M. stage of sleep.  Like any good pseudo-platformer, these happen to come in the traditional flavors: deep underwater, up in the clouds, wandering around in the woods…nowhere a portly plumber with a shocking predilection for psychotropic shrooms hasn’t trod before.  Moody and beautiful side-scrolling platformer…sounds a lot like Braid, you say.  At face value, the comparison is certainly merited.  Yet while Lucidity bears some semblance to Jonathon Blow’s title, (especially in regards to providing an underlying weighty narrative of topics quite more serious than grabbing coins and growing in size) it lacks the ambiguity that made Braid such a gem (and had it lighting up message boards across teh Interwebs with dozens of interpretations).  Blow had people debating whether his title was simply about lost love, domestic abuse, and, for some, the Manhattan Project.

The Lucasarts team instead chose a less subtle foundational narrative.  Not far along in the game we discover that Sofi’s grandmother, who she used to discuss all her adventures with, has passed away.  The levels that follow such, bookended by Sofi’s journal entries and postcards from Grandma, seem to mirror the Kubler-Ross grief cycle: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.  But, then again, perhaps I’m reading too far into this.

"Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'...into the future."

"Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'...into the future."

Intentions aside (assumptions and conjecture do not a review make) the undeniable strength of Lucidity is the audio/visual presentation.  While we’ve seen a fair share of beautiful side-scrollers, as well as other games of the 2D variety of late, none have looked quite like Lucidity. Perhaps the closest thing I can compare it to is Eric Carle’s picture books for children, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  There’s a sense of roughness and texture to the visuals that only a collage of cardboard paper would seem capable of producing, and it has a minimalist aesthetic to it that leads one to believe that, were Sofi to put her dreamscapes to paper, they’d look something like that presented in Lucidity.  Equally stunning are Sofi’s journal entries that precede every level, as the accurately depicted six-year-old unsteady printing is accompanied by a drawing of Sofi, which it appears Sofi has attempted to “color in.”

Accompanying this yet-to-be-emulated visual style is a soothing musical score, one piano, for the most part unaccompanied, varies in style between jazz and ambient, amongst others.  Though many of the tracks have an interchangeable essence to them, their “catchy” nature and an underlying sense of optimism permeating each song more than makes up for such.  Sound effects are practically non-existent, aside from the laying down of pieces, and voice acting is more or less limited to Sofi’s cries when she gets hurt.

These stunning backgrounds, both aurally and visually, are a welcome change to the heart-pumping frenetic pace of most modern-day games.  And, this would be perfectly fine if Lucidity was, in actuality, an “I’m alright, you’re alright” game dripping in “feelgood-ness”; the gaming equivalent of tearless baby shampoo.  It would also be acceptable if the gameplay was that of a more exploratory fashion, one more about discovery and Myst-esque puzzles than scoring points and a limited amount of continues.  But it is not, and herein is the chief problem of Lucidity; it is an unforgiving game that does its very best to give off an “all-too” forgiving impression. Underneath the facade of visuals suggesting a blurring between The Very Busy Spider and Goodnight Moon, and a jazzy “You can do it” soundtrack, lies a frustratingly difficult title which demands “on the fly” improvisation, pin-point accuracy, and a “start the level all over” mentality that will torture the casual gamer.

To begin, this game is not a conventional platformer.  Instead of taking direct control over Sofi, you’ll take on the role of…God/Grandma from Heaven/Sofi’s guardian angel, whose only form of protection involves stringing steps and 2x4s together.  Much like Pipeworks, Lemmings, the Bioshock hacking mini-game, or any of their variants, it’s your job to build a path for Sofi which safely guides her from one end of the level to the other without being disemboweled by deceptively cute nightmare creatures (including the molecule-esque things above…and yes, that black hole dealio).  Unlike many of the previously listed games, however, there is no preparation period to deploy pieces in the level before Sofi begins walking, nor is there any feature that allows you to “scout out” the stage before it begins.  What sort of items do you have at your disposal?  You’ve got springy shoes that provide a good bounce, vertically and horizontally, a slingshot that will fling you across crevasses, stairs to climb (and give you a good amount of time to plan your next move), fans that launch you high into the air, bombs that blow up enemies and some destructible areas, and finally, your reliable 2×4, the multipurpose tool.  These items are managed by the two large squares in the upper left and upper right of the screen.  At all times you’ll be allowed to store one item in the “HOLD” box on the left, and the box on the right informs you of what item is to follow whatever one you are currently deploying.

You'd think, being underwater and all, that drowning would be your primary concern. Apparently a gleaming dark void of nothingness emerging from the left side of the screen has taken on said role.

You'd think, being underwater and all, that drowning would be your primary concern. Apparently a gleaming dark void of nothingness emerging from the left side of the screen has taken on said role.

Don’t like the item you’ve been dealt?  Find somewhere to put it, or place it in “HOLD.”  This is a perfectly alright strategy until an hour or two into the game when the bomb becomes the panacea of all problems.  If you’ve got a bomb in storage, you’ll be forced to play whatever you’ve got, and at the pace Sofi roams at this point in the game, you’ll likely be playing it a second, maybe two, before Sofi encounters it.  This effectively eliminates any element of strategy from the game (aside from your saving of the bomb) and forces the player to rely on some amazing hand-eye coordination skills to barely stay afloat.  Complicating this is the inability to see just where one is falling to.  When you aren’t certain if Sofi’s about to get an “assful” of barbed wire, or land on a platform, you naturally deploy whatever you’ve got, which just might prove to be your undoing when you require said piece several seconds later.  The vertical nature of many of the levels means you could legitimately fall for several seconds before actually encountering anything, good or bad, and the lack of a mini-map or general indicator of where one stands (Muramasa: The Demon Blade did this quite well for a side-scroller) does not help.

Adding to the mess is the fact that it is sometimes difficult to discern the serene backgrounds from the “looks a little too much like the background” foregrounds.  Is that a platform above your head, or simply decor?  At the beginning of the game, the game’s easy enough to allow for “trial and error” in scenarios like this.  Later on, not so much.  This confusion carries over into the issue of just what is destructible and what isn’t, as there is no clear-cut indicator to assist the player.  Simply put, you might think you need a fan, when you actually need a bomb, and vice-versa.  And the fireflies you collect in every level?  Aside from unlocking a bonus level with every 100 found, apparently the more you find in a level, the more hits you can take.  Although, to be honest, I’ve never survived more than two collisions, and its worth mentioning that none of the levels have any sort of checkpoint system.

"When I was your age, I had to walk three miles to school through a psychadelic nightmare infested with creatures that resembled demented Beanie Babies."

"When I was your age, I had to walk three miles to school through a psychadelic nightmare infested with creatures that resembled demented Beanie Babies...and my father was an alcoholic."

Replay value is limited, but for an Xbox Live game, is decent.  You’ll want to go back to collect all the fireflies, both for the unlockable levels, as well as the achievements that accompany such.  Beyond that, there’s no alternate ending where you discover that Grandma ends up in Hell, or perhaps, with a 6th Sense twist, you discover that Sofi’s the one that’s dead, you know, an ending that I’d probably enjoy.

Overall, Lucidity seems to be living proof that a game can be art, and fail to be a game.  Those expecting a game befitting of the pedigree of witty adventure games that Lucasarts is known for, will not find refuge from the increasingly FPS world in Lucidity. Casual gamers will feel deceived at the “old-school” difficulty Lucidity provides, and hardcore gamers will like they’ve got a stripped-down Lemmings with a nearly non-existent strategy element.  To be clear, Lucidity isn’t devoid of fun, just devoid of the fun that most will feel they “signed on” for.  If anything else, it’s an exciting misstep in the right direction for Lucasarts.  If that makes sense.  *Awkward pause*  Look, the fact that Lucasarts is actually making a game that doesn’t rhyme with “Schmar Schmores” excites me greatly, now, to make a sequel to The Dig, please!

Also, please note that I’ve put a Lucidity trailer after the rating.

Nick’s numeric rating for those not disturbed by the application of a numeric grading system to something unquantifiable: 8/10.

3 Comments

    I personally liked that previously you didn’t have a numerical score for the game you were reviewing. I know we’ve said before, and it’s clear from your title of the score you gave the game, that a games goodness is largely based upon personal opinion. The scoring is especially jarring when i read an entire article of a reviewers opinion and observation (especially one of this length) and find that the score perhaps doesn’t match the review itself.

    I think you should continue with the bolding of the main points and have those main points be your “score” of whatever game you’re reviewing.

    Don’t submit to the mainstream way of “scoring” games! You can figure out a way I’m sure. Fight the power, stick it to the man, and all that…

    Don’t mean to be a nudge… just trying to help out a little. ^~^

  • I also agree. I find it strange that you’ve given this game an 8/10 on pure art alone… You’ve clearly stated that this is a failure of a game, so then why don’t you score it as such?

    Not to nitpick, but there’s a small odd thing I noticed at the end of your review. The “to make a sequel to The Dig” shows up as 2 separate hyperlinks to the same site… Shouldn’t it be all one link?

  • Zander, you make a good point, I probably should stick to not giving numerical summations. It never felt natural for me, and I felt, as you rightly suggested, that I was trying to be a bit more “in step” with other mainstream sites. While I’m not suggesting this as an “out” to defending the “8″ I gave it, I think it has something to do with it.

    As for the 8, that’s the “grade” for Lucidity as a “media product” or something of the sort, and not so much as a game/evaluation of gameplay. While some people still believe that gameplay “defines” or is the “crux” of a game, I think games are transcending such, and Lucidity’s experimentation with narrative, and truly amazing visuals, along with its music are certainly worth checking out.

    Lucidity just drops the ball on gameplay (though certainly not as poorly as many games) as it’s somewhat broken and slightly unoriginal, but that doesn’t keep one from seeing the game through, and enjoying what I feel merits encouraging others to play the game (aside from those that, as I mention, might be falsely lured in).

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