Nothing ruins the prospect of a relaxing weekend like coming home from work, only to find your tribal village ablaze. Apparently, our people were cursed by an old god, a survivor tells us. So now it falls on the player as Krog, a blue sacramental bread on steroids, to avenge the fallen and lift the curse by beating the snot out of a divine being.
But first, we need to get to that devious miscreant. There’s always something, isn’t there? But moaning isn’t going to uncurse our village, and so we travel through forests, weird caves and sewers on our way to committing deicide. Primal Light doesn’t boast the most imaginative range of scenery, but its sprites perfectly capture that Mega Drive aesthetic. It’s not as impressive as other retro pixel adventures, its animations not as fluid, but it certainly could have been released back in the day with its authentic look. If you grew up with a Mega Drive, you’ll feel right at home.
Straight out of the 90s as well is the gameplay. Jumping across chasms and maneuvering across spike-filled pits is precise, yet it never goes beyond this basic platforming premise. While we eventually find upgrades, like a dash or a double jump, that definitely improve the jumping and running aspects, there are no surprises, nothing to set it apart from its modern day competition or even from its inspirations. The same holds true for its level design: alright but unspectacular, with optional paths and the odd illusory wall. The latter two hide perks we equip at checkpoints, e.g. decreasing our knockback upon hits or making us stronger when our health is low.
Unfortunately, the simple fighting mechanics don’t reach that same standard. A swing/punch is our main method of enemy disposal, with a crouched and upward variant in our arsenal too. The problem is that our regular attack takes quite a while to finish. Once we commit to attacking, we stand still for what feels like an eternity. What’s worse is that it can’t be cancelled, which results in the occasional hit, as well as combat feeling stiff. Most perplexing is that the upward attack can be cut short by jumping. Whether or not that’s intended, I do not know, but at least it shows that it’s possible to implement.
A few other annoyances add to combat feeling rigid and unrewarding. Rolling, for example, is completely useless. Similar to attacking, it takes far too long to complete, and rigorous testing has led Gaming Respawn’s renowned science department to the conclusion that it also doesn’t have any iframes, further adding to its uselessness. The dash found in a later level adds much needed and appreciated mobility to fights, however. Given how much that ability improves both combat and platforming, perhaps it should have been handed to us a few levels earlier.
Enemies are sometimes obnoxiously placed, such that it’s almost impossible to fight or avoid them without taking damage. And I don’t know whose task it was to balance enemy health, but basic skeletons should never, never, take so many hits to die. Neither should they then be put on small platforms surrounded by spikes where space is highly limited, when one’s main attack takes longer to finish than the average male porn star.
Speaking of which, be ready to have a finger on the mute button. Within the first minutes of the game, we come across fire-breathing statues. When there are two on-screen, their sounds overlap, resulting in a nasty distortion. This happens whenever more than one environmental hazard at a time is active, which doesn’t happen a lot but more often than my poor eardrums liked. But at least the developers fixed the bug that caused audio settings to reset when the game was closed, so lowered SFX volumes actually persist. As of the writing of this review, however, video settings still suffer from this issue and always need to be changed upon starting the game.
I’ve never had a terrible time with Primal Light, but I’ve also never had a great time. Developers Fat Gem crafted a competently made action-platformer whose annoyances and shortcomings never ruin it, but they do prevent it from being truly good. Forgettable music, uninspired boss battles and lacklustre combat in general drag down an otherwise alright, at times even pretty good, jump’n’run that’s challenging but never frustrating. Is it worth your time? Well, I saw the credits after around 2.5 hours. What felt like the right amount of time before the mechanics at hand became stale and tired is arguably very short for its cost. Then again, weren’t many of its inspirations of similar length? A true blast from the past, indeed.
Developer: Fat Gem
Publisher: Fat Gem
Release Date: 9th July 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Primal Light was provided by the publisher.