I decided to pick Lunar Axe up because of my love for the HOGs and especially due to the good reviews it has sprouted so far. However, after a few minutes into the gameplay, I was quite disappointed – the game seems to be very overrated and in my opinion, the other reviews are not objective enough.
The fact that a lot of work has been put into it is quite obvious from the store page – the hand-drawn graphics make it one of a kind HOG, but unfortunately that’s pretty much all I can positively say about it. The game has otherwise been quite annoying and frustrating for me.
First of all, the orientation is one of the worst I’ve encountered in a HOG. The design of the scenes makes the arrangement of the exits towards other locations very counter-intuitive and frankly quite hard to spot. These exits are not placed only at the edges of the screen but some are also in the middle, and they look like they’re part of the background. Since there is no map available in the game (not even on the easiest difficulty), the only way to identify the possible exits is by hovering the whole screen and spotting the mouse cursor change that indicates that there is another possible location to visit. Also, after entering some rooms, the player’s orientation changes (without it being shown), which makes it extremely confusing. When entering a room ahead of you you’d think that hovering the bottom part of the screen would make you go back, while in Lunar Axe you’d actually need to click forwards only because the perspective of the player has silently been turned 180 degrees. Some bigger rooms are split into smaller zones and there’s only one specific way to traverse them, even if in reality they all connect with each other and you should be able to move in any direction you see fit. Surely, after going through the locations back and forth while solving puzzles, you mentally learn the actual plan of the zone and navigating the area becomes easy as long as you keep this map in your mind – but there’s simply no reason to not have this as a built-in feature, as it is commonly present in pretty much any other HOG.
Secondly, the areas in which you have to mouseover to go to another location are extremely small. Some are even hidden behind the collapsible inventory bar, which is quite annoying to handle as well. Every time you want to go somewhere you have to make sure that you collapse it. When trying to see if an item can be used for a puzzle, you have to click and expand it. It’s a non-stop game of hiding it / showing it depending on what you want to do, and most of the time it’s just in your way.
Thirdly, there’s no way to skip a puzzle. And many of the puzzles are quite hard, plus they don’t come with instructions on what you’re expected to do. They’re mostly puzzles you likely encountered before in other HOGs, but of those kinds that are less popular among players, for example “Hungarian rings” or other minigame variations in which clicking something / rotating something affects all the other elements (so basically, discovering the correct order of actions after several failed iterations). One puzzle requires you to have good sound identification skills (you’ll have to identify chimes of a certain tonality among several similar ones, without any other text aid), while another one will have you solve a logical puzzle under a very tight timer (having the timer here is pretty much nonsensical in my opinion since it ultimately boils down to repeating the solution as many times as needed to create the muscle memory necessary to pass the puzzle). To top it off, the game ends with a boss battle that is so poorly designed that it’s quite difficult to understand what the actual hitbox is or where / when / how many times you are expected to place a hit – it’s not only counter-intuitive but also timed and quick-reactions-demanding.
Fourthly, there’s no real hint option and because there’s no map, there’s no way to see what locations have available actions (and while at it, no fast travel). What’s present though (but not on the hard difficulty) is a way to highlight the items that can still be picked up in the current location (also serviceable with a cooldown), which is pretty much useless because they are trivial to spot and also highlighted by the mouse cursor which changes when hovering them. But if you’re stuck on a puzzle, or you don’t know where to go next – then there’s no help, you’re left alone struggling.
Fifthly, the story is very slim, I’d say almost non-existent. It can be deducted to some extent through some notes scattered throughout the game, but these are also missable – you might end up not collecting / reading them. Also, there’s no journal that tracks your progress or describes your flow of actions. What is available to you is only a to-do list of tasks that is pretty much useless, considering that your next goal is quite obvious at all times.
There are a few hidden object scenes in the game (very few though) and while they’re as nicely drawn as the rest of the game, they’re also very compact, consisting only of 6 items to find in each of them. The objects are quite tiny but still spottable, although not extremely trivially due to the dark-ish style of the artwork. The hidden object scenes and also the other minigames screens can be revisited even after they’re completed and even if they aren’t used more than once in the whole game. This was quite confusing for me and it made me revisit them several times, thinking that there are still items that I have to pick up from those locations – yet this was never the case. In other games there’s some sort of animation on top of a hidden object scene, indicating that it still needs solving, but in Lunar Axe neither the hidden object scenes, nor the minigames are highlighted in any way (not even on easy mode).
As a quick summary, I’d say that Lunar Axe has a lot of potential but considering that it lacks most of the elements that are essential for a HOG, it just seems that it’s created by people who don’t have enough experience with this genre. In the eventuality that the game will be updated to be more aligned to the core features of the genre, I think it could prove to be a very nice experience.