Luna First Impressions: An Awe-inspiring Journey

Game: Luna

Developer: Funomena

Publisher: Funomena

Reviewed: PC (HTC Vive)

Gazing through the virtual microscope at Luna‘s dark, mystical biomes reveals many things: an interactive fairytale, a creation myth behind an unknown civilisation, a surreal gateway to the wonders of childhood. Like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, we are invited to explore a special, faraway place whose existence is as as fleeting and untouchable as the Omega particle—but that’s what makes it special.

Funomena’s portrait of the cosmos is vivid and engrossing. Exaggerated cartoon lifeforms communicate in chirps and whistles. A tiny, vermilion bird with innocent eyes beguiles us with its strange desire to gobble up the moon. Watching the spectacle is the cunning owl from nursery rhymes, who is quite clearly up to no good. Without so much as a single word, Luna traps us within its narrative fantasy, quickly switching its focus to puzzles so we discover the truth in metered, literary chunks. The salient difference between illustrated books and a virtual playground such as this is of course our role in the story.

No longer are we passive, page-flipping participants; in Luna, we become omniscient conductors of an astral orchestra. Our fingers pluck wayward stars and reassemble them into sensible constellations inside a three dimensional space, different angles suddenly possible in virtual reality. Eager hands tug at miniature saplings, transfiguring them into trees as if by magic. The virtual element invokes another layer of challenge that surprises, at least initially, because reorienting yourself can feel a bit like learning to walk again. Puzzles feel foreign yet familiar, echoing Journey‘s appeal to the unconscious mind whilst making an important stride for experimental use of VR mechanics in the narrative genre. In this instance, clicking and dragging a mouse would create a disconnect. But VR is a passport that grants you entry without triggering the alarm of organic intrusion in a world of fantastical creatures that only know 1s and 0s and music.

Every movement you make is guided by the tranquil, atmospheric delights of BAFTA award winning composer Austin Wintory (Journey, AbzûThe Banner Saga). Its effect is potent, driving the plot forward and suspending reality for just long enough to convince you of your presence in Luna‘s story. It’s a shorter, more mellow affair compared to Journey, and far less complex than the beautiful Samorost 3, but Luna conveys its own peculiar sweetness that lovers of ruminative adventure games may want to acquaint themselves with.  

You can purchase Luna on Steam for $14.99 USD. For anyone who doesn’t own Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, stay tuned for the 2D version which drops on November 22. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how it compares to the virtual version.

Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for purposes of this review.