Review: Lichtspeer

We tend to fascinated at times by indie games created by rather small teams or even single developers, especially those that look highly professional and have yet absurd yet intriguing concepts. There’s just something so uplifting about seeing these underdogs craft something of a high caliber…assuming it actually turns out well, that is. Enter the two-man development team of Lichthund and their new game Lichtspeer, entirely about impaling hordes of oncoming antagonists with neon spears in what is described as an “ancient Germanic future.” At the very least, it has the quirk factor down and looks impressive, but can one duo alone create an impressive game beneath that’s just as striking as its slick surface? Well, the fact that I kept coming back to it over and over suggests that they can indeed.

The story of Lichtspeer is a classic one. In the time of ancient German legends, the gods have summoned one lone warrior to battle for their amusement, fending off hordes of monstrous enemies with nothing but their legendary weapon, the titular Lichtspeer. Thrown with sheer power and accuracy, our hero fights their way through several strange lands on a journey set by higher powers. It truly is a story for the ages…one that just happens to involve hipster frost giants. And uber-fast zombies with handlebar mustaches. And the massacre of dozens of skateboarding walruses traveling along the disco express. Those walruses deserve it, though, because man, those things will rip you new one. I never thought I would say this, but skateboarding walruses are now my Vietnam.

The best way to describe Lichtspeer’s gameplay is something similar to an arcade-style tower defense game, with a touch of Angry Birds thrown in. You stand on one end of the screen, monsters advance towards you, and you aim with analog stick or mouse and fire the titular lichtspeers at them. You start out with the zombies and giants, but eventually you’re dealing with shielded enemies that require timing to hit their weak spot, sorcerers who can stun you, penguins running above that drop man-eating fish on your head, and may more that keep you on your toes, trying to manage the ever-growing chaos before reaching the boss of each level. And much like traditional arcade games, it is indeed the kind of gameplay that is easily simple yet addictive, and easy to control and learn quickly.

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It also helps that careful throwing is rewarded nicely. The more accurate you are with scoring headshots, killing chains of enemies quickly, and other ways of showing off stylish kills, the greater the combos and end-of-level bonuses are, with the points converted into the game’s currency, LSD (not exactly a shocking revelation there). LSD is then used to purchase new attacks and skills from the store for both offense and defense, like summoning a series of giant light columns in front of you to blast enemies away, a temporary shield for protection if they get too close, and the ability to slow down time and allow you to focus, to name a few options. It definitely helps out greatly in the later levels, and each skill is fun to experiment with. Plus, there’s just something truly satisfying about seeing the game reward you for nailing ten headshots in a row. On the flip side, Lichtspeer also punishes those who throw recklessly, as you become stunned for a couple of seconds should you miss three times in a row, leaving you vulnerable. It’s a gameplay mechanic that may not gel with everyone, but I found it to be rather fair, setting up a nice challenge.

The graphics are absolutely superb, with the lineless, vibrant, and cartoonish style perfectly working here, adding to the lighthearted tone. The backgrounds find that perfect balance between minimalist and having several cool details that help shape the world of Lichtspeer, elevating even standard ice and desert levels into something beautiful to look at. There is also a nice variety in the different enemies and their absurdity when it come to humor, not to mention little touches like your character’s name in the save file having a Roman numeral attached to it to highlight how many times you’ve died so far. And also contributing to the atmosphere of a vibrant world filled with hipster monsters is a truly perfect indietronica soundtrack, which is nice and lively with some fun synth beats playing throughout everything, sounding light and breezy yet also greatly contributing to all of the chaos in everything.

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All that said, if there’s one complaint to be had about Lichtspeer, it’s that – and yes, this may sound odd – I wish it were a shorter game. Largely because the difficulty really begins to ramp up later on, and while the level design and enemy variety still manifests in ways that challenge you nicely, from darkened rooms to occasional death beams that you need to switch off in the heat of battle, it really does feel like after you’ve finished a level and felt like you’ve fully prepared for the final test of skill, you learn you still have at least two worlds to go and have yourself an “Oh, come on” moment. And really, there are more than a few parts that feel downright sadistic in their difficulty. For the most part, the game is fair in expecting you to balance sharp reflexes and accurate aiming skills, but it does indeed have moments where it falls prey to the spamming of really annoying enemies.

There are a few other minor issues as well. For one, the game won’t let you use special attacks against any bosses. I get not being able to use offensive attacks, considering that the whole point is to provide a test of your skills by hitting their weak points and/or openings, and that special attacks wouldn’t do much to harm to them anyway. But not allowing for items such as the shield to be used in order to evade an insta-kill attack is a bit of a dick move. Aside from that, the bosses are nice, large, and provide well-designed fights. The only other issue is an odd one that may have only affected me, but for some reason the screen in the PS4 version stretched out just beyond the widescreen borders of the television display a bit, effectively clipping things slightly. This only affected gameplay once, when I couldn’t see if two rocket launchers in towers on each side were manned or not, but darned if it didn’t get annoying at times nonetheless.

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Closing Comments:

The difficulty in the later levels may be a turnoff for some, but that aside, Lichtspeer is highly enjoyable, action packed and a perfect blend of old-school action and new-school design. It hits the sweet spots of those that enjoy both fast-paced arcade gameplay and a cute sense of humor and is the type of game that can easily suck you in for lengthy periods of time. Granted, part of that is because you’re going to attempt a level at least a dozen times before you’ve finally figured out how to kill a walrus and then react in time to strike an advancing eyeball just as its armor is down, but it’s still addictive nonetheless and a solid, fun outing that is indeed an impressive piece of work from a two-person team.

Summary
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Lichtspeer
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