THE WASHINGTON POST – During the early 1990s, point-and-click adventures made by companies such as LucasArts and Sierra Entertainment were among the most visually arresting games available. I used to persevere through their (sometimes obscure) puzzles because I wanted to see what sights lay beyond the next bend. (Back then, I used my uncle’s CompuServe account to check message boards for tips.)
Developed by a small team of four people, Luna The Shadow Dust is an enchanting point-and click adventure that reminded me of the old “let me just get to the next screen” impulse. From the start, its beautiful hand-drawn visuals, dreamlike puzzles, and mysterious story line – which unfolds without a word of dialogue – drew me in and held my interest until the credits. Perhaps not since Forgotton Anne has a game so skillfully adopted the texture of animated films in its moment-to-moment gameplay.
Luna opens with a boy plunging through the air from a great height as a ghostly entity tries to catch up with him.
Closing the distance between them, the entity transforms into a bubble that encapsulates the boy and slows the velocity of his fall before depositing him gently on the ground amid a desolate, nocturnal landscape.
The bubble reverts into a small, glowing light that follows the boy as he gets to his feet and moves about. Players are introduced to the game’s shadow mechanics when the boy approaches a rock on the ground. Its surface bears the shadow of the gnarled plant that’s next to it on which rests the shadow of an otherwise unseen bird. When the boy tries to walk past the rock, the shadow bird squawks causing the luminous entity to shrink back.
The boy swiftly fixes the situation by kicking over the plant, ridding the rock of the offending shadow. A few paces away the boy comes upon a door that’s not attached to any building. Opening it, one sees nothing but the nearby area beyond its frame.
Seizing the initiative, the entity flies over to a lantern that hangs from a branch of a leafless tree. Lighting the lantern causes a sprawling tower to rise up around the door. It’s only at the end of the game, when the boy reaches the top of the tower, that the simple but carefully obscured story becomes clear.
Entering the building, the boy comes to a room where a faded mural runs the length of a wall. Standing in front of the mural’s various sections causes them to effloresce with color which in turn unlocks a door at the end of the chamber. It struck me as fitting that a game so distinguished by its art style should incorporate a mechanic of looking. Thus, in another close-by room, adorned with framed paintings along its walls, the boy must stand before four different paintings then exit the room, either to the left or the right, in a manner specific to each paining, to unlock another portion of the tower.
On a balcony, the boy encounters a magical catlike creature buried beneath the debris from a collapsed shelf. Upon freeing the creature, players can click back and forth between the boy and the animal. The animal can dive into the shadows and become a living shadow itself.
As such, a number of the game’s puzzles require players to manipulate the shadows along a wall so that the critter can get around to different places. In shadow form, the animal can only move where other shadows exist.
The puzzles in the game are cleverly conceived. I liked, for example, sending the furry critter into the pages of an illuminated manuscript. There, it meets people who make requests for specific texts which the boy must then retrieve from a cavernous library by hopping on a small track cart.
Although in the interest of time, I looked up a couple of puzzle solutions online, I never felt the solutions to be unduly unfair. This is not a game inflated by needless filler to inflate its running time. Luna The Shadow Dust belongs in the spotlight.