I often find that the little victories experienced throughout each day are the only things keeping me going. I put my shirt on properly, I didn’t burn the toast, and the mailman didn’t steal my shipment of life-saving medication. All of these are little wins that, while on the grand scale of the universe may seem minuscule, motivate me to put one foot in front of the other. Platformer games are famous for providing these negligible triumphs, and Chocolate Liberation Front’s Oscura: Lost Light, an indie-puzzle-platformer for the PC, is no different.
The Reason We Can’t Have Nice Things
Lost Light appears as the third installment in the Oscura franchise, but takes place before the events of the first two games – an origin story, if you will. You play as Oscura (lucky guess), the impish apprentice to the Driftland’s lighthouse keeper. A few still frames boasting the game’s overall gothic tone explain that you must do everything in your power to not touch the Aurora Stone, a mythical gem within the lighthouse that keeps the evil powers of Movro the Lord of Shadows at bay. After doing what anyone with a modicum of sense would do and touching the stupid rock, Oscura and the entire lighthouse go tits up, sending shards of the gem out across the Driftlands. With his hand on fire and his sense knocked out of him, the little imp must now travel to a series of grim worlds to recover each of the gem’s pieces.
When Mario Went Through His Emo Phase
While the simple forward-backward-jump-double jump controls and generic platformer elements mimic just about every one of the game’s predecessors, Lost Light turns down the lights and turns up the Hawthorne Heights, giving off a morbidly gothic tone/sound similar to that of Frogmind’s Badland. The genre’s usual assortment of spike traps and lava pits are amped up with an army of deer-headed demons, floating skulls, laser walls, and spiked boulders.
As with almost every platformer, the goal of each level is to get from point A to point B with the least amount of deaths as possible. The unlimited number of lives and extremely linear nature of each map may sound like a boon, but the game does a fantastic job of ripping off the training wheels after the first five or six levels. There are even certain points throughout each level where it almost feels as if the game gets tired of your success. Too many times did I clear a fast-paced segment of spinning blades and well-timed elevator platforms, only to be impaled on a stake rising from some discreet part of the ground denoted by a skull. There are skulls everywhere, Oscura, do you really expect me to know which ones are going to give me a steel tipped colonoscopy?
Well, My Hand Is Still On Fire…
Though first glances and rash assumptions may lead an outside observer to conclude that this is indeed a run-of-the-mill platformer, I’m here to boldly tell you that’s only about 56% correct. While it’s true that a solid grasp on the concept of jumping and timing and not getting stabbed will almost always lead to success in Oscura, the game throws in a few shiny (literally) toys to shake things up a bit.
Whenever found, the little bits of special rock you set out to collect in the first place offer up a handful of interesting abilities. In no time at all, you suddenly have the power to create platforms and destroy walls (at predesignated areas), reverse gravity, and slow time. While the first two really only exist to pad out levels, reversing gravity and momentarily slowing time are two extremely useful tools, especially when it comes down to the faster-paced segments brimming with massive sawblades and killer demons. The four powers also interact nicely with the environment, forcing players to lift rocks or create barriers to avoid certain death.
It’s a Love/Hate Relationship
More than once it felt as if Oscura and I were part of a rocky high school relationship. One second she/he loved me tenderly, holding my hand through all the tough bits, while seconds later he/she repeatedly smacked me down into a pit of spikes so many times that I ran out of creative expletives. I’m all for an easy game or a difficult challenge, but bipolar inconsistency is something that grates on my very nerves. Sure, the level leading up to the final encounter with Mr. Shadow Bastard may have taken a solid twenty lives to accomplish, but a single, well-placed barrier was all I needed to end his miserable, light-stealing life. The constant switch from white knuckles to deep breaths left me feeling a bit nauseous.
However, when Oscura actually does decide to turn up the heat, the game ramps up and becomes jaw-clenchingly difficult, which is anything but an exaggeration. I actually walked away from my straight playthrough with a sore mandible, a true sign that the game held my attention harder than I hold my parent’s hands while crossing the street. The difficult parts, when conquered, left me with the aforementioned ‘little victories’ I constantly yearn for, making Oscura well worth the screaming and physical discomfort.
You can check out the first three levels of Oscura: Lost Light in my Let’s Play (above), and you can browse through some screenshots below!