A light in the darkness that dims a bit too quickly
Are you familiar with the Flatfish? The creature lays perfectly still at the bottom of a body of water, perfectly camouflaged by its surroundings. When smaller, unsuspecting fish swim by thinking their little fishy thoughts the Flatfish strikes, devouring them before they even know what happened. Much like this sneaky creature, Lightopus hides its true colors until it’s ready to pounce. A game which first appears to be a slow-paced, relaxed experience quickly turns into a frantic struggle to survive. It’s just too bad that the fun doesn’t last.
Players take control of the titular Lightopus and set out into the deep, dark sea in the hopes of saving the creature’s kidnapped young, the Bublies. The goal of each stage is to both collect enough Bublies to propel yourself to the next level while also tracking down three stars that have been scattered around the level. The strange thing about the game is that while the plot’s primary objective is to save the Bublies (and even though those little critters are what ultimately let you advance to the next area) players can’t truly complete a level until they track down enough stars. Anyone confused by the premise could easily swim around forever gathering up Bublies without ever seeing a single boss stage.
I bring up the boss levels (known as “hives” in the game) because surprisingly, Lightopus features a heavy dose of combat. Most times our hero is being chased around by jellyfish-like enemies and the fight or flight response kicks in. Attacking enemies head-on is a no go, as that’s a one-way ticket to death. Instead, players need to maneuver so as to smack their foes with one of the Lightopus‘ trailing tentacles and let the Bublies finish the foe off. The catch is that fighting enemies kills Bublies, and without enough of them you won’t be able to finish a stage. It’s a neat mechanic, but it never quite totally clicks, leading to a lot of failed attacks and missing chunks of health.
I can’t say I’ve ever had the pleasure of going deep-sea diving, but if the world beneath the waves looks anything like how Lightopus presents it, then I want to go to there. The characters and environments are literally aglow in neon colors, and the package comes together as a sort of beautiful explosion. I wish there were a way to pause the action and zoom out just to take in all of the art at once. The soundtrack is equally lively, finding a nice balance between peaceful ambiance and driving rhythms. Presentation is easily the game’s most immersive and impressive element.
What ultimately holds Lightopus back is the lack of any real growth or development. What you’re doing in Level 1 is the exact same thing you’re doing in Level 20, but with more enemies onscreen. It’s the same thing every single stage, and even though it’s fun for a little while, the mechanics and gameplay aren’t engrossing enough to stand on their own for an extended period of time. The species of the Lightopus is on the brink of extinction, and I have to wonder if it’s because they, like the game, never bothered to evolve.