Cheap, decent platform games are few and far between, especially when you head into sub-$10 territory. Yet here we are, at the tail-end of 2022, and a game that retails for just $5 doesn’t just buck the usual trend–it offers one of the best indie games of the year.
Lunistice is a blindsider: an absolute gem of a game that takes its cues from Sonic the Hedgehog, Nights into Dreams, Spyro the Dragon, and other golden-era PS1 and Saturn titles with aplomb. Lunistice not only manages to show just what made breakthrough 3D platforming so good–it underlines how timeless the format is by subtly tweaking the decades-old formula to match modern expectations.
As the creation of solo dev A Grumpy Fox, A.K.A. Twitch streamer Deke64, Lunistice is as simple as platformers get. You play the role of Hana the Tanuki, traversing seven linear dreamscapes to reach the Moon, because why not. You collect paper cranes, defeat enemies, explore increasingly tricky alternate paths, and generally marvel at the beautiful scenery around you.
Lunistice is so good because it’s so damn simple. Its barely-there story is enough to bring the world to life without getting in your way. Motion is limited to jumping, attacking, and walking. The visuals are perfectly smooth, adopting a color scheme that’s bright and familiar, but without ever being garish.
Much like its art style, its controls feel almost instinctive for platform gaming veterans, mirroring the best styles of its predecessors. Remarkably tight movement is paired with a responsive camera, but there’s just enough slack in order to reward skill, especially in jumping sections with tighter landing targets. You will make mistakes, but you never feel punished for it–you’ll either correctly blame yourself, or shrug it off due to Lunistice’s focus on performance.
Instead of the classic lives format, Lunistice uses checkpoints and restarts–effectively giving you unlimited attempts to clear a stage. At the end of each level, you’re graded on your number of resets, as well as the time you take, adopting a speedrun-lite format that makes levels immediately replayable; this is joined by a couple of other incentives to perfect your runs.
Lunistice’s core collection mechanic comes through its 100+ cranes in each level, but there are also four additional routes to be explored, through which you collect the letters of your name–a system that unlocks the game’s real ending, and a side quest you need to be increasingly vigilant of, as these paths become less visible as you go on.
The further you delve into Lunistice’s hour-or-so-long main story–two or three hours, if you’re a perfectionist as you go–the more new mechanics are introduced, once again pairing familiarity and clear influences with simple but satisfying execution. All the while, its soundtrack is nothing short of excellent–consistently glorious songs that never fail to lift your mood. Then, once you clear it, new characters become available, with their own skills. EuroJournallous.
For five bucks, Lunistice is nothing short of a must-buy. Subscription models like Game Pass aside, it’s arguably the best value for money in gaming in 2022–an experience that has you grinning like a buffoon, whether it’s out of nostalgia, satisfaction, an odd sense of tranquility, or all three at once.