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What is Lunaform?

I’m going to go ahead and say it: I didn’t expect Lunaform, the first game coming out of small, indie gaming studio Chronobit, to be what it is. I didn’t expect to get excited when I saw the colorful, hexagonal planets orbiting around the small yellow sun. I didn’t even expect the music to drum up in me some hard to stamp out nostalgic feelings that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But it did. And now I can’t stop playing this crazy game.

What is Lunaform?

As per the app’s Google Play description, Lunaform is a “Puzzle/arcade game about filling up a hex grid with energy from star collisions”. Ok. Sure. The description admittedly does not sound that exciting. It fails to actually inspire any feelings that express  “wow, I can’t wait to play that game!”. That is, of course, unless you’re really into that kind of obscure stuff.
Truth be told, the description for this as-yet-released Android game does not really give a very good indication of what you’ll be doing in it. Were I to just randomly select it while browsing for a new game to play on my phone, I doubt I’d give it more than a cursory glance.
This is one of those situations where the images and videos on a game’s Play Store page can make all the difference in the world. As someone who’s inexplicably drawn to anything sci-fi like or even remotely dealing with space of any kind, the screenshots on the Play Store page really pull me in (much like a star’s gravitational pull perhaps?). Undoubtedly, there will be players like me who will be influenced by the visuals and choose to download the game. For the laziest among us, those 30 seconds reading the description may result in a pass.

Playing Lunaform: The First Few Moments

I was grateful that Lunaform immediately helps you get the grasp of its gameplay. On the surface, it seems simple. As the “star collision energy” streams toward your blue and yellow hexagons, you need to tap to shift their positions, making sure to match the correct hexagons with the energy fitting their color. As the energy hits each hexagon, it begins to fill up. If you let it get hit by the wrong energy color, it begins to break down, eventually getting destroyed. The goal is to fill up all of your hexagons in order to move on to the next stage, as you can see from the video below:

Seems simple, right? That’s what I thought after the first stage. Not quite a fair assessment. It’s easy to jump to conclusions with Lunaform, but the game reveals itself much like an onion does. Its layers fall like a ripe onion, easy at first, but soon leaving you wondering why you’re squinting and rubbing your eyes.
The  difficulty begins to ramp up fairly significantly in short order, with notable changes in physics and a demand for you to have your eyes in 20 different places at once. Lunaform starts throwing new types of energy into the mix. The energy starts coming in at different angles. You have more hexagons you need to fill up in order to actually keep them from getting destroyed. As you can see from the next video, I got lucky. And that was just Stage 2:
All of this works together to create a pleasing level of difficulty progression. Lunaform feels fun, unique and interesting, without making me feel like I want to throw my phone against the wall from frustration. At first, I felt that perhaps it was too easy. Then I looked at the “Upgrades” section. Yikes. The upgrades are unique and interesting in and of themselves, but the short video clips displaying what each upgrade actually does made me realize that I’d barely touched the multifarious surface this game.
So of course, I purchased one of the  (a Shield, which was free) and dove back in. You get credits to purchase upgrades from your score for each level. Points are awarded based on how many hexagons you have left at the end of the stage. With my newfound shield, I loaded up a new level:
Stages like this one reveal why the upgrades are necessary for the gameplay. They’re integral to actually win some of the stages. In this case, it was pretty simple. No shield, no victory. It gets increasingly complex to survive Lunaform’s deceptively simple gameplay. As the stages progress, the game simply demands increasingly more levels of concentration and brain power, which, at 9 AM on a Saturday sans coffee, I have very little to give.
Each planet has its own levels. Once you finish a planet, the next set of levels is on the next, slightly larger planet further out in the planet’s rings. As the largest planets are currently unavailable, I’m not sure how many levels are actually available in the game yet, although there’s hopefully a good many of them to keep the puzzle lovers actively engaged.

Biggest Concern: Replayability

Lunaform’s biggest flaw, perhaps, is going to be its replayability. The game is fun, but progression feels a bit too quick. Levels can easily take 30-40 seconds to complete. It also feels a bit too easy to get good at the game, even after the level difficulty increases. After only a few playthroughs of even the highest levels available, I was getting perfect scores without fail. And quite frankly, I never failed to pass any level with a perfect score, even from the start. It just took me longer to do earlier on. Either I’m just an MVP, or the game is too forgiving. Seeing as I’m not that good at puzzle games, I’m tending to think it’s the latter.
Another concern is with level variability. There seems to be very little of that in the any of the levels. I can play Level 1 over and over and it doesn’t change. At least from my testing, it did not seem that there was any change in the way energy came at my hexagons. It ultimately becomes predictable, which is a bad word for any game.
Additionally, and much to my surprise, some of the higher stages actually feel easier than the lower ones. Level 7, for example, was so easy that it didn’t seem to fit in:
There are certainly ways to fix this issue. Increasing the energy speed, for example, or making the energy come less in groups or more sporadically would be a good idea, even if this was added as an option to make each level more difficult. The predictability is overall harmful to the long-term prospects for the game. Then again, it’s still in testing, so there’s a good chance that this will change before a full release.

A Look Behind Lunaform

As the game is still in testing, you can’t play anything but the demo for now. That said, development is undoubtedly in the later stages, although there is certainly more work to be done before we see a full version hit Android or iOS.
I had a fairly extensive interview with Chronobit Studios developer Justin Lindsey back in May while working on a piece about indie gaming. At the time, Lindsey didn’t say too much about Lunaform, and to my own discredit, I didn’t ask him any follow-up questions about it when he brought it up. Now that the game is getting closer to a release, it’s interesting to see how much of his philosophy on gaming shines through in Lunaform.
In our May interview, when asked about where he developed the name “Chronobit” for his indie game studio, Lindsey explained:
“When I was coming up with a name for our game company, I originally wanted something that calls back to our childhood, when games were this very new and exciting medium. I think games are a timeless art, and I wanted something that was an intersection between that childhood fun and their timeless quality.”
That expression shines through in Lunaform. The delightfully crafted interface and the level progression feels, in many ways, like a love song to gaming in its earlier years, while some of the core concepts included in the game feel remarkably modern and fresh. Lunaform has a lot of potential. For me, it could draw me in as strongly as one of my favorite games, Vector Tower Defense, which for some odd reason I can’t stop thinking about when I play Lunaform.
Keep your eye on Lunaform, and Chronobit Studios. The developer has a strategy/RPG game in the works as well. Given the kind of design and attention given to Lunaform, there’s a good chance that one will drum up some nice feelings of nostalgia as well.
by samuel-cook