The things I read about Lumini when I first heard about this "flow adventure" had me expecting an experience that was visually and audibly beautiful, mesmerizing and relaxing. I was imagining an experience like Katamari Damacy or the underwater level in Donkey Kong Country that had amazing parallax depth to it to the point that my wife would often let poor Diddy Kong die because she was just staring off into the relaxing and hypnotic sea off into the distance.
Well, Lumini is beautiful and features a delightful soundtrack and overly cute bird-like creatures who make charming chirping sounds, but the relaxation factor goes promptly to zero when some terrifying creature decides to have them for dinner.
However, the depth of the "background" elements is amazing in Lumini. It seems to go off in the distance for miles, at times, with the things in the distance slowly moving by, as they would if you were watching them from a passing car. The special effect of parallax scrolling seems to be unnecessary and feels like a parlor trick when compared to simply building geometry that goes off quite a way into the distance, merely to see it as you're scrolling by in what is simply a modern side-scroller under the covers.
One thing I found a bit discomforting is the fact that when something dies, it falls to the ground and remains fully interactive via the physics engine. Kill an enemy when it's above your flock and watch as your flock slows its descent or even bears it aloft momentarily. Explore down at the bottom of the environment and discover a collection of previously dispatched baddies, slowly rocking in place, perhaps. Swarm over them and watch as your flock rolls them up the hill. Yeah. That can be a bit disturbing.
While the sounds in the game are generally pleasant, later in the game you encounter a nasty little jumping enemy that looks similar to your Lumini, to some degree, but isn't capable of flight. The reason I mention them is because you can tell you're nearing some when you start hearing their heavy breathing and pig-like snorting. The sound is actually a bit unnerving. And, when I tried my hand at the second difficulty level, this snarling grunting sound effect was ever-present. Yeah. That's not relaxing or comforting.
Welcome to Lumini. Your job is to guide some adorable bird-fish-like creatures across a dystopian landscape to a special artifact. Only their arrival can reactivate the artifact and breathe new life into the ailing countryside. Or something like that... there's bound to be something lost in translation, given that this history is only recorded in cave paintings and diagrams left by a now-dead civilization...
So, you use the analog stick to move your flock of Lumini around, looking for what appears to be a flower akin to a sparkling dandelion. As you near the puffs of these flowers, you will absorb them. This is the "collection" element of the game and, much like Sonic's rings, these collectibles will translate into your longevity. Before they offer any protection to you, however, you have to make it to one of the ubiquitous cubes that can be found in various places along your adventure. When you near one of these, the sparkly puffs will leave your flock and rush into the cube, which will, in return, produce additional Lumini that join your growing fleet. Now, you have more cuddly soldiers in your rebellion as you quest to recapture the land for all Lumini-kind.
While it's true that there is strength in numbers, it's also true that the bigger they are, the harder they fall... or, to put it more accurately, the longer the stream of birdfish, the more difficult it is to get them out of harm's way quickly. (Think of the increasing difficulty brought about by success in games such as Snake and The Last Guy and you've got the idea.) The result is you're more likely to lose a few of the slower guys from the end of the line. There's a cost to success. In this case, the exchange for more resilience is less agility.
All Lumini are not created equal, it seems, with the four different colored specimens - a base, which is Purple, and three which possess unique abilities and who are basically "unlocked" by how you play. The Red ones are the warriors, able to dish out more damage than the others, which really merely stun enemies, while the Reds can hit them with three successive hits (once upgraded a bit), which was enough to kill any enemy that I encountered in the easiest difficulty level. These are unlocked by stunning enemies. Yellows make up for their lack of muscle by their magnetic personalities... they can exert some sort of attraction field which allows them to pick up tasty fluffy flowers from a distance... which can include pulling them through walls, which can come in handy. To even get these, you have to find special orbs that are tucked away in hard to find areas of the environment... and some of them are only reachable using... you guessed it... Yellow Lumini. Blues can take off in a burst with their dash ability, bringing the flock with them. This can prove useful when you have to go against strong winds or get out of sticky situations quickly. These are unlocked by avoiding enemies, instead of attacking all of them. Despite what it might sound like, you can actually get Reds and Blues in your flock at the same time; I, personally, had all four colors... and primarily used Reds the whole way through the game.
In addition to watching out for baddies who think your Lumini are so cute they could just gobble you up... and will, if given the chance... there are also some places that require you to split up into two groups (sub-flocks?) in order to work through some cooperative puzzles, with one group activating a pressure plate, which opens a door and allows the second group to go through the door and activate the next pressure plate... that sort of thing. (If you're familiar with The Adventures of Cookie and Cream, like that.) This can be a bit difficult to control, as it's basically multiplayer where you're both players. You control one half of the flock with one analog stick and the other half with the other analog stick. Puzzles that require one group to move somewhere and then sit there until the other has moved into a different position are relatively easy to work through, but puzzles that involve two gears that have to be turned at the same time, on the other hand, can be darn near impossible. Luckily, that one was the only one I found too difficult to make it past and it wasn't required to finish the game. (And I was able to swipe some of the rewards from the room while it was still locked, thanks to the amazing powers of Yellow. Thanks, Yellow.)
Luminihas multiple difficulty levels... but they're not all available (or visible) out of the gate. As you complete the game on one difficulty level, more challenging difficulty levels become unlocked.
I played all the way through my first game on the default difficulty level and found it to be fun, but not overly challenging. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it removed a bit of the stress of playing, but the sad sound of one of your flock dying makes you want to get as many of your Lumini to the end safely as you can. But, you don't "lose" the game unless you lose every last one of your Lumini and, as the game progresses, you can amass a large flock of the creatures. Mind you, before you run out of all of them, you could run out of all of a certain type and, as mentioned above, the different types offer different special abilities, the loss of which could hinder your options and increase the difficulty.
Personally, I found that I rarely changed to anything other than the red Lumini, since I most often really needed to be able to more forcibly and effectively attack enemies when they suddenly showed up. If you don't often change between the different types of Lumini, then you will probably have your chosen type available until your last guy, since death more frequently tends to occur due to a danger that you discover and attempt to run away from, which makes your selected Lumini type more likely to live and the other types, which trail behind you, more likely to get eaten.
Lumini's use of an aggregate protagonist is interesting; as the player, you are in control of the flock of Lumini, but even though you can switch between different types of Lumini, you are never specifically controlling a single character. Most of the time, this isn't noticeable, as the adorable creatures flow around rocks and crags reasonably well. Sure, a few of them might get hung up on some corner, requiring that you go back to collect them, but it's rare that all of them get left behind. Rare, but it can happen. I once whipped around a corner and started off down a corridor to find that not one of my Lumini were following my control. They were all back at the last sharp turn, flapping frantically in a desperate, yet fruitless, attempt to reach the center of the screen. Apparently, what you are actually controlling in Lumini is the "camera" or what part of the map is in the center of the screen... and the Lumini flock to that location as directly as they can. I've only had them get hung up once and it didn't detract from the gameplay, but I did find it interesting and one of those "under-the-hood" things that might appeal to the more technical readers who read all the way to the end of reviews, including the underpinning mechanics of the games.