Editor's Note: This review is based on the Steam update version, which refined and added to the gameplay considerably. The copy Maiya used for review was furnished free of charge by Windmill Games.
Luminosity is an arcade score attack game by an independent developer by the name of Windmill Games. First of all, this is not to be confused with the somewhat controversial Luminosity program from Lumos Labs. There's a lot of games that strive to be 'retro' and evoke the old 8-bit or 16-bit days of the NES/SNES and Genesis, but Luminosity is a game that doesn't really bill itself as retro but nonetheless achieves that feel. It very much feels like some sort of modern version of an Atari 7200 game. And I don't mean to be derisive in that comparison.
A lot of games try to be "retro" and fail, but Luminosity is not one of those games at all
A lot of gaming in that era of the Nintendo/Famicon, Genesis, Intellivision, et al, was spent trying to replicate the quality and experience of an arcade cabinet. And Luminosity feels like that arcade cabinet game that Atari games were trying to replicate. It feels like it would have been one of those. For a simplistic game, there's a kind of inordinate amount of polish into the actual game design. It shows a certain level of careful attention that is the exception rather than the rule for the gaming industry.
Probably the thing about the update I loved the most is a very great soundtrack it tosses in. It's very melodic in that classic sense of games and while there aren't that many tracks I enjoyed all of the tracks on offer and they were very moody and atmospheric, adding quite a bit to the game. It's a sort of electronic ambient music that I thought was nicely understated; adding to the game but never overwhelming it for focus as the many overwrought "epic" soundtracks of the day do. The tracks were quite nice that way and indeed the one criticism I can really come up with here is that I wish there was more variety in them. Hardly a complaint, however, when that criticism is that you wish there were more of something because you enjoyed it so, however, and indeed, I'd gladly pay a couple quid for a soundtrack DLC or the like. I am, not sure who was responsible for the music but it was quite nice indeed.
On the other hands, it's kind of a mixed bag in the update, I feel, as regards graphics: it's a lot shinier and a lot more polished but at the same time that polish takes away from the charm a little, I feel. Nonetheless, it's like night and day between the two versions, and the first version already did a great deal to dress up what is fundamentally that kind of simple game in a very good look and feel.
Gameplay is not fundamentally different from the previous version,
but there are a great deal many little tweaks and additions such as new ship types
The gameplay of Luminosity is pretty simple indeed: you control a pong-like paddle which creates lines subdividing the screen, and you are attempting to cordon of increasing amounts of the screen. There will be a series of bouncing obstacles and your beam or line does not create automatically, but rather must travel to the edges of the screen. If it collides with one of the obstacles you take damage. And other than some powerups or increasingly difficult obstacles, that's about what there is to it.
Chief among the additions to this new addition are a variety of new player ship types that help vary up the gameplay significantly. For example along with the basic ship, we now have a "boomerang" ship that you can only reverse the orientation of by actually firing the laser which makes positioning more important, a "shield" ship that basically can repulse enemies with its active ability, and many more to unlock. Additionally there are new enemy types such as homing ships and others, and as such there's a great deal more variety on offer in Luminosity now, which is a great thing to see. The developers have really stepped up to address that criticism of the lack of variety in the past version.
The story mode is a neat add to the game,
but the game not automatically progressing through levels was irksome
This is the other solid add to the game, and quite an expansive one: the story mode, which offers 4 "sectors" of a couple handfuls of worlds each, each culminating in a special "mothership" boss enemy, which each have their own special mechanics to work around, which I thought was pretty neat. This gives the game quite a lot more content to go through, and although you'll have seen most of it by the end of the first sector, additional challenges with the combinations of mechanics it provides you through the other sectors keeps the game varied and interesting.
There's two chief complaints I have here, and they go thus: first of all, the sectors don't progress automatically as you play, instead each time dumping you back to the level selection after giving you a score out of three stars. Presumably, this is so you could choose to replay if you wish, but I think this would be better done with an end mission screen with options to replay, progress to the next level, or return to level select. Secondly, and admittedly a much more petty gripe, is the fact that the mothership art sticks out somewhat compared to the rest of the game. I actually couldn't exactly put my thumb on why, but they just don't seem to have the same style as the other enemies, and seem like they should be more detailed than they are if we're keeping with the game art style.
Despite those two complaints however, the story mode really clinches Luminosity for me here - there's a lot more on offer here now, and you're certain to get your money's worth if you're into the genre. The unspoken thing that the story mode does for the game is a simple "trick" of game design, letting the different mechanics be introduced individually and at a fair pace so that the player can absorb and learn them, and that star system helps them get feedback on how well they're doing with them as well. It's a clever if simple little bit of game design that really aids Luminosity and it makes the previous version look worse in comparison; the developers have done a really great job of pacing in that regard here, and the mechanics are introduced at a fair pace while keeping a consistent difficulty curve going.
Personally, I would rather a game like this that does a very simple set of mechanics with a great deal of proficiency and care than a more complex game that flops. Unfortunately, with Steam how it is, there's a lot of much more complex games you can get for the same price point. It may be best to get it in a bundle or on a sale. But nonetheless, it's worth picking up, in my opinion. It's a well-made game that does exactly what it sets out to do.