The saying goes that one should never judge a book by its cover. Sometimes that’s because the cover looks boring while the actual content within is really good. Other times a really eye-catching cover is only there to try and get you to pick it up without knowing that the actual content isn’t good. This saying pretty much sums up my experience with D3 Publisher and developer DICO’s new game Gleamlight. It’s a game that got my attention with its stained-glass art style and visual similarities to games like Hollow Knight but after playing it I was left feeling mostly disappointed.
Gleamlight is a 2D action platformer that works but doesn’t do a whole lot more than that. One of the big problems with it is that it’s entirely too simple and doesn’t explain much. It features no UI at all so everything is left up to the player to figure out. This isn’t a bad thing as there have been plenty of games that have done this and done it well. Journey is one of my favorite games of all time and it features no UI and tells its story entirely through the world. Gleamlight on the other hand never really gave me much of a clue as to what was going on in its world. You play as a red robed figure called Gleam and you are armed with a sword that you pick up as the game starts. As you play, you’ll obtain memories tied to your sword but they are very short text bits that basically tell you nothing. I should also mention that this is around a one hour long game that is meant to be played through several times with some changes happening each time you go again. No matter how many times I finished it though I still really had no idea on what was going on in the story.
So the story is basically non-existent but what about the gameplay? Well It isn’t much better as it’s largely kind of boring. You move through these maze-like areas that give you no real reason to explore them at all. At times you’ll run into a locked door that you’ll have to find a red switch somewhere and hit to unlock it and move on to the next room. At any given time you can’t really see too much around you as you only have a small circle of light that illuminates things. This means that I was frequently running into spikes or other hazards that would damage me because I had no idea they were there before I fell onto them.
Enemies are also scattered about but quite a few of them can just be passed right by. There is no real reason to engage any of them if you don’t have to. Their designs are largely boring and unimaginative as well. When you do fight them, you’ll find the combat is very basic although there is one interesting mechanic here. Any time you take damage the color from your character fades. You can then regain your health by landing attacks on enemies and they can regain theirs by doing the same to you. That’s all there is to the gameplay though as you really just swing your sword to attack them while trying to move and not get hit by them. You do gain some new abilities later like the ability to perform a quick dash to move through obstacles or enemy attacks but they don’t help to make the combat any more interesting. The boss fights you run into aren’t much better as I found them to be easy and simple. The first boss I just ran in and kept attacking until it was dead. I kept taking damage but because every hit I delivered kept restoring my health I could just sit there and whack away until it died meaning there was no skill or strategy required at all.
The best thing about Gleamlight is the stained-glass art style look it has going for it which is what drew me to the game in the first place. Being able to break certain areas of the rooms was strangely satisfying as well as it crumbled away. The music during boss fights and while moving about was also solid. Those who are interested in the trophies will find 30 of them here including a Platinum. It’s a very easy list too so if you’re looking for one of those easy completions it does have that going for it.
Out of all the indie games I’ve played this year Gleamlight is one of the most disappointing. It isn’t broken or anything but it just doesn’t present much to make playing it worth it. It’s got a great art style but it tells you nothing about what is going on and the combat and level design is too basic and boring. Fans of Hollow Knight who are looking for a similar experience won’t find it in this cheap imitation.
*Gleamlight is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Reviewed on a PS4 Pro. Review copy provided by the publisher for this review.