The Lightbringer Review: Light of Redemption
The Lightbringer clearly has old-school Zelda DNA in it. I know it, you know it, the developers know—and embrace—it. As we all know, there’s that proverb about imitation and flattery—and there’s a fine line between an homage and a blatant rip off. There are plenty of Zelda-style games out there that tread closer to the latter. Fortunately, The Lightbringer is not one of those games.
The Legend Begins
The Lightbringer is set in a world besieged by a malicious corruption. At some point in the past, the world’s inhabitants used the energy from ancient monoliths to improve their lives. The tribes in the north got a little too greedy and took too much of this precious resource. They inadvertently awakened the corruption, a dark, slimy tar-like mess that quickly overtook the monoliths. Plenty of people perished and society crumbled.
In such dire circumstances, legends tend to arise. Your sister was the Lightbringer foretold of in legends, and your goal is to succeed where she unfortunately failed.
Gather the Purifying Light
The Lightbringer is a puzzle platformer with a little combat thrown in. The goal in each level is to gather as many green light orbs as possible and make your way to the monolith to cleanse it. I assume there’s a minimum amount required to complete the level, but I can’t tell you what it is. My obsessive nature meant that I only ever missed one or two light orbs in any level. They generally aren’t that hard to find, but there are a few complexities.
Switches, flame/spike/boulder/arrow traps, locked doors, tricky platforming, giant fans, disappearing blocks, explosive boxes, death-defying jumps—these elements are common in most platformers. While there’s nothing especially unique about these elements, they’re implemented in such a way that each level is always engaging. This also means that every level is essentially a giant puzzle to solve.
The Slime-slaughtering Boomerang
The Lightbringer’s combat puts a unique spin on the genre’s conventions. Unlike Link and his sword, our unnamed Lightbringer chooses a boomerang as his sole weapon. It’s your primary line of offense. You’ll also use it to trigger switches and collect items. You can aim it and charge it for a long-range throw. Aside from that, you’ve got a double jump and an evasive roll.
This focus on boomerang-style combat changes the game’s pacing. While Zelda’s combat is typically fast, The Lightbringer is a bit slower. This isn’t exactly to the game’s detriment, but it’s a useful fact to know ahead of time, especially if you play a ton of games like this. It’s due to the weapon’s nature—if you throw a boomerang and miss your target, you obviously can’t throw it again until it returns. This makes combat a bit more defensive, despite the lack of a way to actually defend.
The Corrupting Slime
The Lightbringer’s enemies are a unique lot. The slimes are about the least aggressive enemy ever. How they managed to destroy society is anyone’s guess. The run-of-the-mill slimes simply slither along mindlessly, just waiting for you to get close. Once they notice you, they’ll slowly slime their way on over to run into you. They’re exactly as threatening as they sound. Honestly, they’re kind of cute, what with their gelatinous bodies and googly eyes.
Some of the slimes are a little craftier, however. Some wear pots or ice cubes as a one-hit shield. Others wear spiky helmets, which can only be knocked off with a well-placed boomerang hit to the back. Inexplicably, some have mastered balloon travel and will menace you from the sky by shooting slime blobs at you. Some have mastered vehicular travel and control tank-like vehicles. Slimes without headgear only take one hit to kill, and you can jump on them too. They burst with a satisfying “pop.” The only other enemy is an explosive barrel covered in exclamation points. Its sole purpose in life is to track you down and spontaneously explode.
ABR: Always Be Rotating
Part of The Lightbringer’s complexity is due to its isometric viewpoint. You have total control over the camera, which is great because you’ll be rotating it constantly. The designers have seen fit to hide items in all sorts of unlikely places. In addition to the light orbs, each level also has a set number of red crystals. I don’t think you unlock anything for collecting them all, but it does give you another reason to thoroughly explore each level.
The game is broken up into four chapters. Each chapter takes place in a different setting. Chapter one has a tropical vibe, chapter two is set in some sort of sky desert, and chapter three is in the frozen north. The final chapter combines locales from all these locations. A boss fight caps off each chapter. These hulking monstrosities take much more effort than your everyday slime. While none of them are especially complicated, they are strong, fast, and aggressive. Environmental hazards also play a role during these fights.
The narrative doesn’t get much more complicated than the chosen one vanquishing evil, but it is uniquely presented. Your vanished sister narrates—in poetic verse—the start and end of each level. There are also several bells in each level that provide more insight into the game’s setting. These snippets explore the light, the monoliths, and what happens when an all-consuming greed swallows everything. I do wish you could read all the bell entries from the menu, though.
Beauty with the Beasts
The Lightbringer’s cel-shaded world certainly calls to mind The Wind Waker, especially the first chapter. It’s part of what makes exploring the world so enjoyable—it’s undeniably beautiful. The water is particularly inviting, but don’t jump in because you’ll drown. There’s a point in most levels in which you can stand on a platform to get a wide view of the area. These moments provide a great opportunity to take it all in—the water’s shimmer, the ice’s reflection, a light orb’s distant flicker. Trees and grass sway in the gentle breeze. Villagers fish and fly kites. There are tons of little details to discover.
The soundtrack is equally stellar. Compositions of piano, drums, and guitar are atmospheric and rousing. Even the calmer songs have this element of energy running through them. It’s worth a listen even if you aren’t currently playing the game. Each section of the game’s world has a slightly different instrumentation focus, too.
Platforming is the Real Enemy
As much as I enjoyed my time with The Lightbringer (and I did—I apparently played it for fifteen hours, according to my Switch), the gameplay balance isn’t quite equal. The game is far more focused on puzzles and platforming than it is on combat. In fact, combat can often feel laborious because of how long it takes to defeat each enemy with the boomerang. Without any sort of upgrades or additional moves, it just isn’t suitable as a primary weapon. And as your sole weapon, I expected more complexity in its implementation. After all, there’s no reason he couldn’t have taken a sword with him when he chose his boomerang.
The slimes also rarely pose any threat. They mostly get in the way. Aside from the occasions in which you get locked in an area and have to defeat a group to escape, you could probably ignore most of them. The exception is the balloon-type slime. It tends to pop up in complicated platforming areas so that it can knock you off platforms. Still, if anything is going to kill you, it’ll be the environment, not a slime.
This isn’t a game that needs a complicated narrative, but there are a few inexplicable quirks. First, the slimes are a tame corruption, considering they destroyed villages and killed people. The bosses are an obvious exception, but they also seem to be trapped in their specific areas. Second, you do encounter a few people during the journey, but you can’t talk to any of them, and they don’t seem concerned about the nearby slimes that could be slaughtering their families momentarily. It just feels like there’s more worldbuilding going on in the background of which I am not privy.
Third—and this is hardly a complaint—I wish there were more levels. Despite my gentle criticisms, I totally gelled with the game and its style. I easily could have spent a few more hours in its world. The last few levels are delightfully complicated, and I was ready for more of that challenge.
As a side note, the game has been a little buggy. I’m missing one red crystal, and I can’t get it because the box that has the key I need is missing. I confirmed its existence in the Steam version just to make sure I hadn’t missed it. The loading screen also sometimes cuts off the narration. The developers are currently addressing these issues.
Let in the Light
Nostalgic and engaging from start to finish, The Lightbringer is a solid puzzle platformer with a lot of heart that’s easy to recommend. It’s not perfect—the combat element needs a bit of work—but it’s easier to overlook its weaker elements when everything else is so smartly designed. While The Lightbringer ends sooner than I would have liked, it also feels like the prelude to something grander. After all, is the darkness ever truly vanquished?
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.