STAFF REVIEW of Gleamlight (Xbox One)

Thursday, October 15, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Gleamlight Box art I’m a sucker for games with a gorgeous or unique visual aesthetics, which is what initially intrigued me with Gleamlight. Immersed in a beautiful stained glass world, Gleamlight will certainly impress you with its visuals and its opening moments, but it’s not often that I start to dislike a game the more I play it.

You play as an unnamed protagonist who doesn’t talk or emote in any way. Your adventure starts out with taking a sword in the ground for yourself, seemingly turning you from a colorless being to full of vibrant and stained glass with a glowing light inside. I’d love to explain what the narrative is, but there is none, at all. There’s no dialogue, no text or even interactions with other characters other than some mysterious being you’re trying to follow from the opening moments, aside from all the ones you swipe at and destroy with your sword. There’s also no UI either, the game simply starts and goes from there without any indication of where to go or why.

Normally I wouldn’t spoil the ending, or in this case, lack thereof, but it’s an important factor in deciding if you want to purchase Gleamlight or not. The game is short, as in your first playthrough should only take thirty to sixty minutes, tops. When you do finally reach the end and defeat the final ‘boss’, credits just roll out of nowhere. That’s it. I normally don’t start games over once I’m finished with them, but I was in disbelief that the game could be that short. There’s no indication telling you you’re supposed to start the game again, and it’s more than a simple New Game+.

Starting again has you begin where you just finished the final battle, working all your way back to the original start point, though with much harder and denser enemies this time. I suffered through this backtracking, complete with repeated bosses, only to be met with a completely unfair and unbalanced ‘final’ boss. I persevered and beat it, again, just to be met with a short ending and then credits. Again, I thought this was it, and with just over an hour of gameplay and two different endings, it wouldn’t let me start my game for another New Game+, that is until I read online that I actually had to delete my game save to start again and continue progress. That’s right, with zero indication anywhere telling you this, you’re instinctively supposed to know to delete your game save once you’ve gone through twice already to progress even further.

Again, the world you’re put into is gorgeous, and the lack of any UI elements at all also further this, but at the same time it makes the final product feel rushed or unfinished. A clever mechanic that wasn’t explained in any way (nothing is) is that your health is actually indicated with how bright your character is. If you appear very colorful and bright, you have an abundance of health, though if you’re basically purely grey in color, you’re most likely a hit or two from dying. Cool mechanic, but it would have been nice to have had that explained, among other things, like how the enemies have the same health indicator. The same goes for the combat, as you gain health for hits you land on enemies. This means that most fights you can simple spam your way through, especially some of the bosses, making for a shallow experience.

It’s no secret that developers Dico took inspiration from games like Hollow Knight, which is all well and good, but don’t expect an experience anywhere near that caliber. Truth be told, the controls are kind of a mess and not nearly as responsive as they should be. Combat sometimes registers your hits, though you can sometimes hit enemies through walls, as they can do the same as well, so be prepared for a lot of cheap deaths. The same goes for the platforming, as more often than not the game tends to decide which way you want to face, regardless of what way you were aiming beforehand. Countless times I would land a jump, but be facing the wrong way for some unexplained reason when I landed.

Level design is another aspect that frustrates quite often as well. The camera is fixed on your character, which is all well and good, but there are times where you need to traverse downwards, or into a pit, and you’re unable to see the spikes and enemies below. There’s no way to pan the camera either, so you have to go into many areas blindly, usually resulting in a few hits or getting ping-ponged until you land. While the level design is very linear, each room acts as its own checkpoint, so when you die you begin at the start of that room to try again. There’s no secret paths, no branching areas to explore, simply get from one end of a room to the other and ultimately a boss fight. Eventually room exits become locked until you find a red orb hidden somewhere and smash it first. Usually this is guarded by a few annoying enemies or nearby some spikes though, naturally.

Speaking of boss fights. These weren’t terribly difficult aside from the flying jet-like one and the horribly unfair “final” one that took me about twenty tries to finish. When you do finally defeat a boss, you gain a new ability. You know how I know that? The achievement that pops up says so. Yup, that’s right, the game itself doesn’t tell you or inform you at all that you just learned a new ability. This also means that you have no idea what it does or how to even perform it. I by chance went and looked at the control mapping screen and each new ability I gained was shown there, like double jumping, dashing and more. This is simply poor design, not letting the player know they now have to use a new ability to progress nor showing them how to do so.

If I was simply basing Gleamlight on its visual aesthetic it would pass with flying colours. The stained glass effect is gorgeous, and even though the level design is quite basic and bland, with it all being so colorful and bright, it’s always pretty to look at. As for the audio, the basic sounds like slashing enemies is passable, and the ambient music fits the dark yet colorful tonality of the gameplay, but there’s nothing memorable with no dialogue or anything else to note.

While not a terrible game, Gleamlight simply has way too many flaws to overlook, not even including the $21.99 CAD price tag for one to two hours of gameplay that frustrates more than it gives enjoyment. At half the price it would still be a hard sell, but bearable for those that wanted a quick game to finish on a lazy weekend, but even with its colorful aesthetic, there’s little to see here.

Overall: 4.0 / 10
Gameplay: 3.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 4.0 / 10


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