When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that people are still making platformers feel fresh and relevant after 30+ years of innovative, fun games across every platform. Even mobile ones. The feeling of moving across a screen and jumping to avoid an ever-changing array of obstacles somehow never gets old when built correctly.
Yet even with the piles of awesome games we’ve received where you get to have lots of fun running and jumping, you have to comb through mountains of derivative, boring works and utter garbage. So in order to really stand out from the crowd, a game needs to offer something innovative, brilliant, or some combination of the two. What we have with Oscura: Second Shadow is a game that very much aspires to be a classic thanks to its general mood and artistry, but fails in its basic understanding of what makes a platformer fun.
Oscura certainly makes a fantastic first impression. You play as a guardian of light in a world of shadow, and the levels reflect this. Everything is bathed in blackness much like similarly stylized platformer Limbo as you carry one of the few light sources. Checkpoints are lamp posts that light up as you pass by. Nearly abstract creatures that resemble faceless ogres and bouncing beholders sport claws, spikes, and glowing, colored eyes, upping the general menace of the world. And the soundtrack is an upbeat horror score similar to a dourer Nightmare Before Christmas. You certainly can’t say that no care went into the making of Oscura, because everything about it oozes style.
The same, sadly, can’t be said for the game itself. The twenty levels you’re tasked with completing all unfold in pretty much the same way. You must make it to the end of each level as you avoid enemies, grinding gears, and spikes on your way. If you want, you can grab some stray gears or light shards, some of which are enclosed in mini-levels you get to by entering pipes – a mechanic suspiciously similar to one everyone’s favorite plumber already uses.
If this sounds really uninspired, it’s because it is. All of the levels feel the same, with no real sense of difficulty ramp or anything truly new to sink your teeth on as you progress, inducing a level of monotony that’s simply unforgivable.
Worse still is how it plays, The control input of choice for Oscura is with virtual buttons, which is almost always a recipe of disaster with games on mobile devices. Here is no different: Way too often, you think you’re hitting the jump “button” when, in fact, you miss it by a couple of centimeters, sending titular character Oscura tumbling into a pit.
The floaty physics and inexact-feeling platforms serve only to compound the awkwardness of the platforming. Levels that would normally be pretty simple to overcome (which really is most of them) are made more needlessly difficult. In this case, that’s not a good thing. And the only atypical mechanic the game uses, a button that lets you slow down time, is both derivative and unnecessary. Most obstacles you face don’t even require it, making it feel like a waste.
It’s no great loss that yet another platformer fails to light the world on fire, as we’re spoiled for choices that match any range of different tastes. But it’s truly a shame that a game with such artistry and heart as Oscura: Second Shadow is crafted in such a boring, clumsy way.