Laying It All On The Line
Do you know how many “Line” puns I went through before settling on that header? “Drawing A Line In The Sand.” “Worth Waiting In Line For.” “A Mighty Line Game.” Linelight is an un-funny game journalist’s dream. I wonder if the developers of the game had the same problem, although probably not, since both lines and light feature heavily in the game…
…Oh, right, the game! Sorry. Linelight is a minimalist puzzler with gorgeous graphics and a beautiful soundtrack, taking place entirely on a single 1-dimensional line. It aims to attract new fans to the game (bragging on its Steam store page that it can be played and understood even by “a potato with googly eyes and toothpicks for arms”) while also breathing new life into the increasingly oversaturated minimalist puzzle game genre. I think it mostly succeeds. Let’s dive right in!
As I mentioned before, Linelight takes minimalism to a whole new level by placing everything on a single line, which loops and curves around itself. Different colors and lighting are used to indicate spots on the line that are puzzle mechanics, enemies, or the player’s glowy white avatar. This is not to say that the game’s presentation is in any way lazy – quite the opposite in fact! Despite the linear limitations, everything is distinct and immediately recognizable, even moreso than the screenshots can really do justice (although it’s worth noting that the game does not have a colorblind mode, which is a shame, as it will render the game unplayable for much of the population.) Plus, the simple graphics are beautifully presented, with dynamic misty backgrounds that look like they’re part of the Astral Plane, and elements that bounce in time with the lovely music. Music which is so good, in fact, that I laid down five dollars of my own actual money to get the soundtrack.
Everything about the game is relaxing and pleasant, avoiding the frustration that can often come with puzzle games of this nature. The game’s free of technical issues and runs incredibly smoothly no matter how many bouncing lines and misty clouds are on screen at once. Losing is stress-free as well, as you’re simply sent back to the start of the current puzzle with no punishment. It’s the perfect game for me to play when I’m rendering a video or editing the Hey Poor Podcast, and while some might take that as a criticism, I mean it as a genuine compliment on how enjoyably chill the whole experience is.
Still, the emphasis on relaxation means that those looking for a more challenging puzzler may find themselves disappointed. Though I found a few puzzles that took me several tries, I breezed through the vast majority of the game even while doing those aforementioned other things – and I’m generally not very good at these sorts of games. Even for me, the gentle learning curve is occasionally a little too gentle – introducing new mechanics through play is smart game design, but not when it feels like every third level is little more than a tutorial. Plus, the gameplay relies on your standard puzzle loadout of keys, gates, timed platforms, and switches, and while I’d argue the game manages to breathe life into these tired mechanics, there’s no denying that the mechanics are just that – tired.
But sometimes the simplicity works in the game’s favor. Everything is so smooth and streamlined that when you figure out the timing of a puzzle you should be able to run right through it without stopping, which is an immensely satisfying experience even if it’s not typically something I think about in a puzzle game. And when the puzzles are clever, they’re really clever, especially as the levels get more complex and you find that the lines you needed to avoid three levels earlier are the puzzle you’re working on now. Or when you start having to use enemy red lines to push switches for you, making them feel more like misguided companions on your journey than actual assailants. It sounds kinda goofy, I know – but this is a game that’s really selling itself on its atmosphere, and for once, this is an example of that gambit paying off.
I don’t think it’s a game for everyone. If you’re looking for something to really challenge your brain, look elsewhere. And if you’ve never been interested in the genre, I’m not sure Linelight really does anything new or exciting enough that it’s gonna drag you in. But if you’ve always been interested in puzzle games but felt like they weren’t accessible enough, or if you’re looking for something sweet and non-stressful to play in this trying time, you’re sure to have a great time with Linelight.
Plus, I know when we refer to “games as art” we’re usually referring to their writing, exposition, or place in the medium, but Linelight screenshots seriously look like they belong in some kind of modern art museum. It really cannot be understated how beautiful this game is, especially in motion.
You might even say the game looks…Line. Get it? Like “fine?”
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PS4, PC (reviewed); Publisher: My Dog Zorro; Developer: My Dog Zorro; Players: 1; Released: January 30, 2017; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $9.99;
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Linelight given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.