(Disclaimer – this is a review I wrote for The Vita Lounge originally, hence the difference in formatting. I’m moving it to my own site for archiving sake. If I replay the game one day, I may re-write this for consistency reasons)
When a game starts with the dismembered head of a God bestowing a magical spear onto you while babbling out a mix of English and German, you know you’re in for a unique experience. Lichtspeer provides exactly that – an arcade-inspired; high-score chasing; neon-drenched spear-throwing game that’s both familiar in its premise yet different enough in its execution to make it supremely compelling.
So after taking your deity-given weapon and being given your motivation (you must fight and die because the Licht-Gods demand it), the game shoves you on a path of numerous levels packed with foes to dispatch. This is the only real story you’re given throughout but the title is no worse off for this – instead, it builds a fantastical world through the use of brilliantly inventive locations and a heavy use of amusing German references. Nearly every level is named “das” something; if you miss three times in a row the Licht Gods will scorn you with a gigantic “NEIN!” across the screen etc. Lichtspeer oozes character, which is more than enough to fill any gaps in plot – especially for a more arcadey-focused title.
This character spills over to the enemy and environmental design. Foes range from hipster ice giants to poorly-flying winged horses – rather than going for realism, the developer opts for trippy fantasy (highlighted perhaps best of all by the fact that in-game currency is abbreviated to ‘LSD’) which means it was fun to anticipate what kind of adversary would be thrown at me next. Sadly enemy variety isn’t the game’s strong point, but new designs are introduced at a steady enough pace to ensure things don’t get stale.
The game adopts a stylized 2D look with blocky pieces mixed together to make objects – it’s rather unlike many other titles I’ve seen and as such manages to stand out as unique among indie contemporaries, although at times it does resemble a flash game. Its trippy nature is best demonstrated in Lichtspeer‘s environments, which create things like pyramids with beams of neon light shooting out of them in one level with icebergs and boats full of Vikings in the next – all animated well making them a joy to look at. Variety really is key here – by creating their own universe, the developers can have switch between crazy designs with each set of new levels meaning creativity is abundant.
When you’re not admiring the scenery, you’ll be throwing spears. At its core Lichtspeer is a very simple arcade-y experience requiring only a couple of buttons to play, but hides a few more layers of complexity under this. At the start of a level your character will move to a stationary part of the screen and hordes of enemies will begin to pour from the other end – to take them out, you have to aim and then throw your spear and hit them. The mechanics for this are simple – you can adjust up and down with the analog stick and throw with x, while a handy trajectory is shown for the first part of your shot.
It’s very easy to get a hold of initially and early levels provide a nice gateway in. You’ll learn to aim for headshots as these provide extra points; which enemies move quicker than others and how to take down certain objects in the environment. It’s easy to get into a rhythm of shooting at just the right angle and taking out lines of foes in quick succession and this is where the game begins to shine as you’ll have a lot of fun racking up big scores and moving on to the next part of the level (which is done automatically once all waves are cleared)
However, the difficulty quickly cranks up along with this progression and I can imagine this putting off a lot of people. Death is instant if you’re hit and you’ll be sent back to the last checkpoint if so, leading to some frustrating replaying if one particular enemy is bothering you. Thankfully levels are dividing into 5 or 6 sections so you never have to go too far back, but it is an annoyance worth mentioning (particularly when penguins on skateboards rolling down hills are in the mix).
To help with the challenge, you can spend LSD (the currency, not the drug) to buy various upgrades which really do help turn the tide in battle. Ranging from a simple shield around your character to bolts of energy shooting out of the ground, they all help in a pinch but all rely on manual activation – meaning you’ll have to get used to how they work to make the most of them. For example, you can upgrade your spear to split into five (which really helps if you’re a good but not great aim), but this is on a cooldown and must be activated in air, meaning you really have to get the timing down to make full use of it.
The game’s difficulty is highlighted in its bosses which are incredibly challenging encounters testing all the skills you’ll have picked up from playing so far. They use pattern recognition to force you to adapt strategies as well as stripping you of your upgrades – so you have to rely on aiming skill alone. I found the first few quite fun, but later bosses have far too many rapid-kill mechanics and often require you to aim at a very tiny, specific part to take them down – this makes them more frustrating than rewarding and although I did manage to best all of them eventually, it became pretty tedious to do so.
Once you’re done with the game you unlock new game+, which allows you to go through it all again with a few tweaks to make the journey worthwhile. There’s also a higher difficulty which I didn’t attempt because quite frankly the game was challenging enough on the difficulty I played but it’s there if you’re up to the task. Content-wise, Lichtspeer can probably be beaten in an afternoon but there’s plenty of incentive to come back and chase new high scores and unlock new skills.
Lichtspeer takes a simple idea and makes it colourful, challenging and fun. Its quirky humor will win you over and there’s some addictive high-score chasing to be done, but some frustrating encounters detract from an otherwise impressive package.