Luciform is a tough-as-nails precision platformer where you must guide the eponymous Luci to victory against the evil Red-Eyed Gorilla. Use your colour-changing to abilities to fly from platform to platform, phase through deadly spikes, and save your friends.
Story – Luci vs Kong
The player controls a cute little bunny-eared blob named Luci, wished into existence by their incarcerated friends. Or maybe they’re family, or the remains of a once-great and multicoloured civilisation – who can say? Regardless, they’re captured by the menacing Red-Eyed Gorilla (which is, well, a red-eyed gorilla), and Luci needs to find them. Using colour-changing abilities inherited from their brethren, they must survive a gauntlet of deadly platforming traps and save their people.
As far as story goes, Luciform has more in common with Super Meat Boy than Celeste. The gameplay is the draw here, and the story is there more as a loose framework than a compelling narrative. The opening scene, such as it is, is presented without text and is over quickly, ensuring that any lore-ophobes will be able to get straight into the action. And that action will come at you fast once you’re through the mercifully brief (and optional) tutorial.
Gameplay – Colour Me Intrigued
The gameplay is firmly rooted in the precision platformer genre. Think Celeste and Super Meat Boy, two games that developer Chaos Minds readily offers as influences and inspirations. The core gameplay loop for all of these games relies on intuitive controls, short levels, and quick and easy restarts, and Luciform does pretty well on that front. Across 50 levels (an endless, randomised mode for the true masochists), players will need to combine quick colour-switching mechanics with some brutally difficult platforming to get from entrance to exit without meeting their end on the business end of those nasty-looking spikes.
The central conceit of Luciform’s gameplay is that Luci can only interact with platforms which are the same colour as them. So naturally, much of the action involves quickly switching colours in mid-air to be able to land on the next platform. Enjoyably, though, the developers didn’t just leave it there. Much of the layout of later levels requires using your colour-changing ability not just to land safely but to phase through platforms and spikes to proceed, rapidly switching hues while bouncing into and through multi-coloured obstacles. It gets pretty mind-bendy pretty quickly, and that’s before addressing the other main mechanical idea present: Luci never stops moving.
Yes, on the normal difficulty setting your leporine friend just can’t sit still and will constantly move forward. You can change direction, but only in mid-air, leading to many a narrow escape from a spiky death (and plenty of less successful attempts). As such, there’s constant pressure to think on your feet as Luci scurries along each platform like a hopped-up lemming.
Combined with the intricate level layouts, there ends up being an interesting amount of depth to the moment-to-moment strategy throughout. It’s never as simple as ‘change to the colour of the platform you want to jump to’. Rather, you need to co-ordinate being a different colour to phase through barriers, then quickly changing back to land or climb up a wall, all while planning ahead for the next several obstacles because Luci is already rushing on ahead.
That level design does encourage a certain amount of creativity in the solutions, though. Often – and particularly so in later levels – there are several possible routes through a level, so it’s not always a case of having to practise and practise until you do exactly what the developers wanted you to do. (Though rest assured, you’ll still be getting plenty of practice in each level.) Though there’s a kind of puzzle element to working out the strategy of each level, they’re clear and well-designed enough that you’ll rarely find yourself unsure of how to get through: it’s just a question of executing it successfully.
As such, the gameplay in Luciform is rock-hard, but ultimately fair. Any time you fail a level, you’ll understand where you went wrong and will be able to work on rectifying that in the next run. Luci is a frail thing, giving up the ghost after a single hit, but restarting is quick, which definitely helps to alleviate frustration.
Each level is fairly short, too: dying rarely means you’ll lose more than 30-60 seconds of progress at a time, but if you want to get through each level, you’re still going to have to execute it perfectly. The game even features the platforming staple of ‘coyote time’ – a split second where you’re off the platform but can still jump, designed to make platforming marginally more forgiving and a little more intuitive.
An easier difficulty option is available too, as a welcome accessibility option. With that setting activated, Luci no longer moves on their own, and you can change direction on the ground as well as in mid-air. The game is still plenty challenging even when not on the ‘intended’ difficulty setting, but this at least gives players a chance to catch their breath after a particularly challenging portion of a level. Colour blind options are also available to be activated from the settings screen: an absolute necessity for a game like this in which the visual aspect is so important.
All in all, Luciform feels almost like a rhythm game in places, with the continued movement and having to jump and switch colours with such precise timing. In the same vein, it’s not always about pure reflex. Sure, if your reaction speed is incredible you might be able to skate through a lot of the level on your own, just as you might blast through a familiar song on Guitar Hero even if you don’t know ahead of time where the notes are going to be placed. But an alternative approach – and one very much encouraged by these kinds of games – is simply learning each level through trial and error, rinsing and repeating until you get that muscle memory down pat.
Luciform is a pretty strong addition to the precision platforming pantheon, but its origins earlier this year on PC are still weirdly clear in the Switch port. The options menu still has a number of graphical settings that are out of place on the Switch (changing screen resolution in-game, a ‘full-screen’ check box), and the UI really isn’t optimised for the new console. Navigating menus is a chore, clearly designed for use with a mouse, and the fact that you can’t just hit B to back out of a menu screen – a reflex that is second nature to any console player – is baffling.
In the game proper, too, this can prove confusing: the buttons on the UI that represent each colour only match the controller positions when playing with a single Joy-Con, so in the heat of the platforming madness it’s very easy to get your fingers mixed up and send Luci careening off to a spiky demise. Playing a demo of the game on my PC, the UI made perfect sense, matching neatly to the Q, W and E keys by default, but in its move to Switch and the B, Y and X buttons, that sense of intuition is lost.
This is something that could have been a fairly easy fix: tweak the UI so that it reflects the controller being used, or even allow for remappable buttons (another pro-accessibility feature, incidentally) if possible. It’s a small thing – all these little gripes are – but it betrays a slightly careless approach to porting what is otherwise a very good game.
Graphics and Audio – Now in Technicolour
Luciform employs a cute, almost storybook kind of style. It’s simple, but it works well: when the gameplay is so reliant on the visual aspect, it’s obviously important to be able to quickly and easily discern colours of platforms, the location of threats, and other bits and pieces.
Still, for a game so focused on the idea of colour, it’s still a little strange that the aesthetic is generally so gloomy. It helps the platforms to stand out, for sure, but it just seems a bit of a shame that the rest of the screen should so often look relatively drab by comparison. Even in later levels where sweeping mountain vistas can be seen in the background, the overwhelming palette outside of the platforms is a mix of greys, blacks and browns.
Musically, the game covers its bases – there are a few pieces of background music that it cycles through, playing throughout gameplay, on menu screens, and elsewhere. These run the gamut from the dramatic and almost rock-inspired to the ethereal and spooky, but rarely worm their way into the brain during play.
As mentioned previously, the game also features a robust roster of options for colour blind players, offering different colour combinations for those with protanopia, deuteranopia and tritanopia. There’s also a setting for those with achromatopsia (aka total colour blindness), which adds symbols along each platform to denote which colour it is. While this seems like a fairly strong selection of options – which is obviously very important in a game like this – I can’t attest to their helpfulness personally, not being colour blind myself. Still, it’s a great and necessary addition to the game.
Luciform was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a review code provided by Chaos Minds.