LUNA The Shadow Dust
Take an Amanita game, blend the artsy style of GRIS in and give it a room-escape twist: this is what playing LUNA The Shadow Dust essentially feels like. For me, this was an unforgettable experience: it’s a unique and magical game with an emotional and heartwarming story and an amazing soundtrack.
I am a big fan of Amanita games, and LUNA The Shadow Dust takes the best aspects of their specific style (the way the puzzles are built, charming characters, whimsical machinery with all sorts of cute buttons that do unexpected funny things etc.) and tops them up with with a watercolour hand-painted 2D art and a haunting soundtrack, both reminiscent of GRIS’ unique artistic design. And just like in GRIS, the enchanting story is told without words, through images and an immersive, moving soundtrack, extremely fitting for the game setting.
LUNA The Shadow Dust belongs to the point and click genre but at its core, it’s basically an escape-room game. The nameless protagonist (we find out his name from the achievements description – Üri) sets on a spiritual journey to reach the top of the tower that holds the balance of the universe. He starts at the bottom, making his way to the top one room at a time. Each room represents a self-contained puzzle and the locked door that leads to the next room can be opened only if the puzzle is correctly solved. The difficulty remains pretty constant throughout the game (apart from the last puzzle which is substantially more difficult than the others), but just like in Amanita titles, the player often needs to pay attention to details; because of that, the solutions are not always obvious and sometimes one has to think out of the box and try unexpected things. Even if the objects that you can interact with are highlighted on mouseover, one needs to trial-and-error a bit in order to understand their logic or how / in which order they need to be combined.
Shortly after he starts his journey, the main character meets Layh, a charming animal who instantly develops a strong bond with Üri after he is saved by him. From that point on, the two friends have to join their strengths together in order to solve the tower’s mysteries. Layh is tiny and can crawl into small spaces, but he needs Üri’s help to reach higher areas; Üri on the other hand can push or pull boxes on which Layh can climb; later on, new abilities of these two characters are revealed, but one thing remains constant throughout the game: they will always need to work together. The player controls Üri and Layh separately, one character at a time with the ability to switch between them (by clicking on their portraits or by pressing space), no matter if they’re in different realms or close to each other and they will often have to interact with other adorable animals, like this little fellow here:
As it is often the case with tales that are told without words, LUNA The Shadow Dust’s story leaves a few aspects unexplained and there’s quite a lot of room for speculation. “Why did the boy fall from the sky at the beginning of the game?”, “Why is the tower located at the intersection of two words and what is its purpose?”, “Will the boy develop magical powers when he grows up, and take after his caretaker?” and many others. The secret ending sheds a bit of light on some of these open questions and gives the story a mystic, spiritual connotation, therefore I highly suggest unlocking it (and the extra cutscene that comes with it) after you finish playing the game. The player can go back anytime and revisit any room, therefore triggering this additional ending is extremely easy.
LUNA The Shadow Dust is one of the games I would definitely nominate for this year’s Game Awards. It’s a creation of love, beautiful and heartwarming, mysterious and challenging, and it deserves all the credit it gets.