If Alan Wake, Little Big Planet, and Megaman had a baby it might look something like Phobic Studio’s side-scrolling platformer Glare. Using a light beam as your greatest tool and weapon, a small floaty cartoonish character hops and slides around environments filled with familiar-yet-alien scenery to overcome a number of distinctly themed worlds. In fact, amalgamation is a bit of a running theme with Glare. It’s a relatively simple game that takes a number of familiar gameplay and thematic elements and wraps them into a competent package that’s easy to digest. While not groundbreaking, it embraces its simplicity and delivers a fun, if not overly memorable platforming experience.
Fighter of the Nightman
This is where I’d normally talk about the game’s story, but there really isn’t much to say. Almost the entire plot is laid out in text for the player in the opening moments, which both helped and hurt the game. The plot, which I’m really only slightly summarizing, is that a literal dark alien force called the Ramora is overtaking the game’s solar system and covering everything in darkness. You play as a golden-armored hero sporting a sun-mask called The Shiner that looks like some sort of cross between a steampunk space man and an Aztec god. Using your magical glare (see: flashlight) and blaster you are tasked with the burden of battling to the core of each planet in the solar system to free it from the shadowy grasps that clench it. That’s about it. Spiral your way down to a planet’s center, clear the core, and repeat.
With Glare, what you see is what you get. There isn’t any deep allegorical meaning to the invasion (or any non-allegorical meaning really beyond the Ramora just being bad dudes). There aren’t any sudden betrayals or crazy plot twists. In fact, there isn’t even any dialogue. On one hand the simplicity was refreshing. I don’t need every single game I play to try and teach me something about the human condition. The game’s simplicity of concept makes it accessible by platformer veterans and video game newcomers alike. Sometimes I just want something I can hope into quickly for a play session and put down without worrying about forgetting characters or motivations the next time I log on. That’s exactly the kind of game Glare is. It’s something you’ll want to play when you’re just trying to kill some time or relax, not when you need to scratch your competitive muscle or broaden your philosophical horizon. On the other hand sometimes the bare-bones approach turned me a bit off. While, like I said, I can appreciate a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously or pretend to be more than it is, I’d like some motivation to drive me forward. The game only clocks in at between three and five hours depending on how good you are and how fast you rush, but even as a relatively short adventure it sometimes, and I do only mean sometimes, dragged because there really wasn’t any mystery to solve or characters I cared about interacting with.
Champion of the Sun
Just because Glare is a simple game in its execution doesn’t mean that it isn’t challenging or engaging in its gameplay. The platforming controls are tight and responsive which make the game seem fair and consistent like any good platformer should. While much of Glare is standard platformer fair, your character runs and jumps to get from point A to B while dodging or defeating enemies, its “X factor,” so to speak, is the game’s namesake magic light the Glare. The glare does just about everything for The Shiner. When shined at the games enemies, many of which are a hybrid of Pókemon’s purple ghost Gastly and a robotic fish, and they’ll start floating in the opposite direction. The same thing goes for projectiles from hostiles. While the character also has a blaster that can be used to take out enemies, I found that more often than not using the light to run enemies into environmental hazards or deflect projectiles at them was the more efficient option. The light can also interact with the environment causing platforms and interactables to shift or change properties which is vital to progression. One of my favorite things the light does is act as a grappling hook, pulling The Shiner towards specific grapple points and letting the player hover there while they shoot, shine, and eventually move on. It’s a very fluid system that flows extremely smoothly and really made me feel “cool” when I could chain from grapple point to grapple point quickly and without error. The Glare doesn’t really do anything in particular that is singularly unique or new in a game, but tying it into one item that isn’t limited by batteries or power or whatever else does a nice job of encouraging players to utilize all of the tools available to them as often as they can.
Variety is the Spice of Life
The visual style of the game makes playing through it that much more enjoyable. As mentioned above, The Shiner has to clear a number of different planets of the dark alien force, and each one is unique. From snow to forest/jungle plants to lava and beyond each world is distinctly unique. While the game isn’t a visual powerhouse from a technical standpoint, the visual style does a good amount to add cartoony character through busy and lush backgrounds and foregrounds. In fact, the game might be a little too busy sometimes. It might have been an intentional choice to have certain hazards or movement tools blend in with the environments to make things a little more difficult and visually synchronized, but it was occasionally frustrating when I’d have to re-start a (admittedly well placed throughout the game) checkpoint because some deadly vines just blended in with some leaves.
Riding into the Sunset
Glare is a solid game. It does what it sets out to do, it just doesn’t really do anything more. It’s pleasant to look at, easy to understand, and controls well. That being said, it also doesn’t really do much to send it above and beyond the sea of other indie platformers either. The lack of dialogue or a meaty story is nice for hopping in and out, but I also can’t help but feel that it will make it that much harder for the game to remain memorable after playing through. The Glare is a cool tool, but when broken down to its nuts and bolts it’s really just a different animation for things other games have been doing for a long time. Put simply, Glare doesn’t do anything wrong, it just doesn’t do anything extremely right either. Those who are looking for an easy-to-grasp platformer should have a good time for a very reasonable price, but those not already predisposed to the genre or style can probably find something more enriching elsewhere.
Straightforward enough for almost anyone to grasp, fun and versatile Glare mechanics, and an overall pleasing visual style.
Might be too straightforward for some, occasionally cluttered environments, and doesn’t really do anything we haven’t seen before.