The wave-particle duality of light has been something of a fascination for scientists and, oddly enough, some iOS developers. Light is like a puzzle-box waiting to be solved that holds untold secrets and uses. Creating puzzles from light has been a part of gaming for a long time, but it never seems to be used as a part of core gameplay. The creators of Penumbear think they may have found the key to harnessing light. Will Penumbear overshadow other puzzle platformers or fade into its own shadow? Let’s look and see.
Penumbear is quite a simple game. You have to get a teddy bear that has been brought to life by a firefly to the exit of each labyrinthine level. Standing in your way are an assortment of creepy crawlies obstructing your path, dead ends, and a sea of writhing tentacles grasping up for your cuddly bear’s stuffing. It is how you get to the end of each level where Penumbear really shines.
Your teddy bear has a firefly companion that has the ability to turn certain lights in the level on and off. Once a light is shining, you can then traverse the divide between light and shadow like a bridge. The mechanic is really quite brilliant and forces you to think strategically whenever you’re trying to move about a level.
Of course there are many variations to gameplay that are introduced like blinking lights, switches, and photophobic baddies. Each one adds a new layer to the already ingenious platforming and can sometimes make the levels deviously difficult to figure out. Add in having to collect a certain number of fireflies from throughout the level in order to unlock the doorway out, and you have very deep platformer that looks deceptively simple.
The presentation of the game is very dreamlike and the music stands out as some of the best I’ve heard for a game in a long while. It is completely befitting the dreamy creepiness pervading the entire game. At times the sounds and sight pulled me closer and closer into this little world full of fireflies, moths, and colored lights that you can walk on. It makes you forget that you’re lying on your bed while staring at a little screen.
You sometimes get the eerie feeling that this game is a result of Limbo being made by Build - A - Bear. Poor controls are a death sentence for any platformer and thankfully Penumbear doesn’t disappoint in this department.The controls are very simple and self explanatory. Thankfully they are perfectly responsive and allow you to make daring leaps across shadowy chasms without those tentacles rising up and tearing your stuffing out.
All of that praise aside, Penumbear isn’t perfect. There are entirely too many tutorial levels lined up right at the beginning of the game highlighting each and every minute of gameplay. They happen much too quickly and never give you a chance to explore the possibilities for each mechanic. It would do much better to introduce the basic mechanics and let you sort out a few levels before introducing a new one needed for the next set of levels.
Also, the game is lacking in the story and motivation department. Even the most simple of games gives you some sort of motivation to do what it asks of you. Penumbear would do well hashing out a little more story and giving the newly alive teddy bear a reason for his journey. It would make the game so much more satisfying.
Should you play Penumbear? Absolutely. It is well worth a couple hours of enjoyment. The puzzling levels are clever and require skill to traverse. It is a nice workout for your brain wrapped up in the tinsel of an artsy indie game. It more than overshadows its competitors, it outshines them.