Review: Lumote: The Mastermote Chronicles
The first time I was properly made aware of the concept of verticality in a video game was around 2016, in a review for that year’s triumphant return to the DOOM franchise. In that instance, TotalBiscuit (RIP) described how Doom 2016 built upon the scrappy, rapid yet meticulous combat of its progenitors by adding platforming – ledges, destructed machinery, floating demon islands – and it made combat more varied. Even if encounters boiled down to “kill the baddies”, where it was once done on a faux-3D plane with boots firmly planted to the ground, we were now flinging ourselves across hell, up and down, killing demons in ways gruesome and satisfying. I then learned of another style of verticality, one which offers less in abetting moment-to-moment gameplay, but more of an abstract euphoria. The Deadly Tower of Monsters, Breath of the Wild and the recent Elden Ring capture this superbly, with the element of climbing playing a clear role gameplay wise, but also demonstrating visual wonder, peering down at the distinct levels we’ve climbed in the former, eyeing up a mountain of tasty mushrooms with Zelda, or thinking you’ve hit the worlds edge in From Software’s latest entry, only to find an entire region of the map hidden in plain sight below you.
Surprisingly for a puzzle platformer, Lumote: The Mastermote Chronicles doesn’t tap into the potential of the former that much, but it certainly draws out the best of the latter. Our protagonist, a squid-like organism, flails around in an airy, discordant world, half robotic, half fungal. It’s a blue creature, relevant as most of the world around them is neon red, and interacting with our environment turns it into the same soothing blue we embody. We meet a few characters on our way – tool, really, as they don’t have character and exist to further our colour-based conquest – again existing as a sort of cyborg creatures. We can control them like a parasite zombifying an ant, moving them to “blossom spots” which when controlled by a blue organism turn the part of the stage they control blue with them. Every few levels we’re offered a means of stepping back, zooming out and having a good, long gander at the weird blue structure we’ve illuminated above us, and the menacing red snake-like platforms still to overcome.
It’s beautiful, really, and not only a piece of eye candy rewarding your progress, but it emanates a sense of grandiosity which is unbecoming of what is really a quaint puzzle game. Lumote employs a clean aesthetic, and the more abstract melding between nature and machinery works well in creating an intriguing world in a game without narrative depth to otherwise bolster worldbuilding. We’re not even afforded a Doom-style intro paragraph to set us on our journey, just the visual language of “blue is nice, red is bad” is enough to have us solve the problems ahead (or rather, below) us. It’s strangely verdant and lush, despite the cold programming of the world’s colour system, devoid of the deep, juicy greens we typically associate with nature. Lumote’s world still breathes despite that, in part due to the vines and flora, even if atypically presented, but also to the credit of the game’s sound design. Our protagonist lets out little more than Link-esque grunts and a cute gasp in those moments of awe, but our other characters almost talk to each other as we move about the stages. It’s in beeps and boops – they are robots after all – but it’s natural and dynamic, recognising their proximity to others and wailing at them in a sing-song fashion. It completely encapsulates the feeling of bizarre exploration without falling so far into the deep end to become irritatingly abstract. You can’t understand the logic behind Lumote’s world, but the signs of life are enough to make it appear warm and inviting to plop around in.
Not that there is a great deal of exploration, for Lumote is ostensibly a linear puzzle game. Lumote’s world is rather big, and completing it the first time round (more on that later) can take a good six or so hours. The grand, sweeping shots of our progress we get intermittently might suggest a more open game, one to conquer in a less analog fashion, but we skip and hop from level to level briskly and, for the most part, a straight line. There are collectibles on the way, hidden in the cracks and crevices of the levels, often needing a good swing of the camera to reveal, but they’re tangential to the core puzzling, of which is well paced, fun, and ultimately challenging in all the right areas. Most puzzles boil down to manipulating the cast of characters in a way to have them sat on the aforementioned blossom spots. Levels are constructed like a piece of meticulous wiring; each stage’s exit remains shut until each connection made to it lights up blue, switches and platforms influence the flow of colour, and the blossom spots control part of the wiring, meaning powering one could require shutting down another. It starts off easy enough, mostly as the game is making sure you’re comfortable with mechanics for several levels until introducing another, and while the difficulty ramps up at a steady pace after the first hour or so, it never becomes so convoluted that figuring out the next action is an exercise in trial and error.
I hate that in puzzle games, and defines precisely why I have a particular distaste for Sokoban. I want to be able to figure out my next move with certainty, and not realise 10 moves after the fact. Lumote’s core puzzle concept is readily understood, and the pacing of each new obstacle is smooth and steady. Just as you come to terms with the standard blocky squid thing, a squid-ier thing is introduced, and rather than acting as an object to climb on, it’s a levitating, squishy organism capable of carrying other objects. The much less squidy floating fish character introduces some light platforming since it’s a moving object, but really emphasises the “puzzle” in Lumote’s “puzzle platformer” branding. Platforming is solid, good even, slow and precise, but thoroughly enjoyable in its silky, responsive execution, but is rarely, if ever, used to actively solve puzzles. Lumote is more about absorbing its awe-striking world – a 3D environment to play around in – and then sit back and think. Think about how you can get our blocky buddy up to the next platform, or how we can light up one part of the level to activate our fishy friend’s travels. Several later game puzzles had me stumped, the type of puzzles which slot right into the front of your mind and bug you through the day, only to come back in the evening with renewed inspiration and push through.
While you can consider the game “complete” once your descent has left the world coloured like the deep ocean depths, “world 2” takes the same concept and flips it on its head, having us play as a red version of the same character, breaking circuits to progress. It notably makes use of more of the platforming a touch more, of which is more than competent, and ramps up the difficulty a fair bit. It’s enjoyable, although playing as “the bad guy” in my mind immediately after playing as the noble hero toyed with my head a little, as you need to reverse all the logic you’ve built up so far.
Lumote: The Mastermote Chronicles not only establishes itself as an accomplished puzzler, but with untapped potential in the platforming aspect and a clear proficiency in visual design and world building, I’m confident in saying it’s a game which has piqued my interest in future instalments to a potential franchise. It’s core mechanic of building circuits matched with 3D platforming gameplay and stellar difficulty pacing makes Lumote an easy recommend for those mildly interested in a game to tease the brain, and it’s one which marks a bright future for developers with a markedly good understanding in what makes a puzzle game fun, accessible and overall charming.
Review by Will.