by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Blinded by the Light
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, indie platformer hit Limbo owes Oscura: Lost Light a giant thank you. Silhouette foreground visuals on a faded background? Check. Creepy monstrous baddies? Check. Environmental deaths coming out of seemingly nowhere to kill you? Double check. Save for its four light-shard powered special abilities, Oscura is a Limbo clone through and through. Now, taking inspiration isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when that inspiration happens to be one of my favorite platformers of all time. But if a game is going to borrow and steal, it needs to either offer a unique twist to establish its own identity and merits or pull off what it's imitating extremely, extremely well. This is where I find fault with Oscura. It doesn’t really do either. I just feel like I’ve played the game a hundred times before already.
Oscura: Lost Light has a story, but it’s more a brief bundle of clichés to justify the gameplay than anything that is (or meant to be, I’m sure) particularly in depth or compelling. The events of the game take place in a land of fantastical floating islands protected by a magical lighthouse that holds evildoers at bay. The old man (or, rather, elf/goblin shaped thingy) that guarded the lighthouse is stepping down, and you’re taking over with only one rule- don’t touch the light source. Apparently you were a pretty bad choice for the job, as you almost immediately harness your inner Eve and touch the forbidden object. It shatters, sending shards around the land, and the lack of protective light lets evil encroach on the land once again. You are tasked with traveling around the land and grabbing some shards that give you some special abilities. Not particularly enthralling, but it gets the job done.
Of course the focus in most platformers isn’t the story, but the quality of the actual moving and jumping. Like most of its kin, Oscura has you constantly running from left to right trying to get the end of the stage while avoiding hazards and enemies while gathering collectables. For the most part this functions as it should, although I did have a few issues with edge detection and in-air movement. It seemed inconsistent. On one particular jump that I was having difficulty with, I was attempting, through trial and error, a number of ways to traverse the chasm. It was hard, though, because sometimes my character would hit right on/slightly before an edge, stick, and let me jump again to safety, and other times would slide me right off. Either one of those is fine, but both aren’t. Moving in the air via jumps or gravity switches also, unfortunately, feels a bit touchy and unwieldy. Particularly, I wasn’t comfortable when I had to turn directions in the air. Lastly, and perhaps most egregious, is that far too many times not enough was on screen. The game seems to revel in making you use trial and error, which is frustrating when you’re dying because you plainly couldn’t see where you were supposed to be jumping to instead of some wrongdoing on your part. Hard platformers are great, but platformers that are hard because they don’t give you the information you need to succeed until you die are not as fun.
Special Powers and Pretty Landscapes
The selling points of Oscura are its light-shard-granted abilities. You get four, which are used in partial tandem to navigate the map‘s puzzles. One makes intangible pieces of the map solidify, one makes weak surfaces crumble, one flips gravity, and the last slows time. The puzzles and maps are thought out pretty well, providing a nice mix of fast-paced twitch sections and parts that make you slow down and think a bit. They also take the abilities into account well, leading to solid, fun platforming (when the platforming is working well, as mentioned above). The only downside here is that, despite being competent, nothing seems new. With the flood of side-scrolling platformers available on PC, I feel like I’ve played this game a bunch of times before. Even the differentiator, the powers, are fairly common in puzzle platformers. I’ve flipped gravity. I’ve slowed time. I’ve been there. Luckily Oscura functions well enough in its core gameplay that it’s still fun, but it doesn’t master its craft well enough to stand above its brethren in the genre.
Oscura’s presentation seems to take Helen Keller’s famous words to heart: keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow. Unlike most of the myriad of games heavily inspired by Limbo’s aesthetic, Oscura does have narrative justification with the land’s light going out and being encroached upon my shadow. The look of the game is pleasant, and adds positively to the feeling of the game. Bad guys range from weird bats to floating spikey circles to bat-monsters and beyond, and they generally feel adequately creepy and pseudo-ethereal. I may have been frustrated with a lot of my deaths while playing, but at least I had some pretty visuals to look at while it was happening.
Oscura: Lost Light is an unfortunate victim of being good enough to entertain, but not good enough to stand out in one of the most saturated markets in the industry. As much as I enjoyed the visual style and incorporation of the powers throughout the game, the occasional inconsistencies in platforming, frustrating forced trial and error, and the lack of a unique identity ultimately make it difficult to recommend against others that do what what they do better or more memorably. Ultimately Oscura’s light is, I think, destined to fade into the darkness of forgotten platformers.
Good level design, pretty visuals
Occasionally inconsistent platforming, frustrating unavoidable deaths, and a lack of originality