The Themes & Sounds of Funomena’s Luna Had Me Over the Moon

With its themes of togetherness, creation and rejuvenation commingled with brilliant sound design, Luna is a quick, impactful indie game that transitioned well to console play from its virtual reality roots.

(Plus, and I know you noticed, it gives me a great opportunity to use an amazing pun that I couldn’t if I didn’t enjoy it!)

Funomena, a team of 30 folks based in San Francisco led by noted indie talent Robin Hunicke, originally released the esoteric, interactive story Luna in 2017 on virtual reality and PC platforms. Today marks its PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR debut, and it’s certainly worth trying. Likely via either medium, though this review is of the PS4 version.

It’s a game that’s relaxing without descending into boredom. Slight overtones of loneliness, albeit not dark, that transition into hopefulness. More an experience than a traditional video game. Which seems to be the exact intention. If someone is arguing whether games are art, Luna attempts to prove that no one should even be questioning it.

The tale centers on Bird, a little feathered friend that boasts a mighty song, trying to recover bits of the Moon by uplifting other critters. The other main character is Owl, ever foreboding and mysterious. Funomena’s presentation here is like a virtual picture book, with hand-crafted art and a soothing vocal narrator. The simple yet effective story is told through its environments and player interactions, with bits of narration interspersed that act more as guidance than exposition.

Luna packs a decent variety into its two to three hour playtime, as there are a handful of main “phases” that form its framework. Two of them revolve around light puzzle elements. One that’s semi-rhythmic in nature, as Bird sings to open nuts growing on a tree, while the other has the player forming constellations of different shapes or animals.

It’s necessary to complete these puzzles in order to open each of its level. What I like about the puzzles is they aren’t stagnant. They evolve each time, presenting slightly different challenges. One introduces a rotation element, the next takes away certain visual clues. It’s never too hard, and I appreciate the feeling of progression.

Speaking of its levels, they are mini-worlds each with a distinct animal inhabitant. And these are the true highlight of the game. Each of these spaces is effectively a dreary spot in need of enlightening, both literally and figuratively. Bird is fly enough to help! This is where player choice comes in, though there isn’t a strict set of goals or guidelines. It’s really a sort of free-flowing activity, which offers the player a chance to “cultivate” the scene with different plants, trees or flowers.

The player has to coax out each animal by planting those objects throughout this defined play space. Brighten it all up. Change the size. Sprinkle in color. As the player places trees or bushes, life awakens. Even though it’s simplistic and guided by context clues, it’s still satisfying. Plus, this allows for a level of creative expression. It’s especially fun to see one’s handiwork come to life in the background of the cut scene that ends each segment.

More an experience than a traditional video game. Which seems to be the exact intention. If someone is arguing whether games are art, Luna attempts to prove that no one should even be questioning it.

It’s almost a cliche these days to compare something to thatgamecompany’s Journey, though it’s natural here based on the team’s background of working on the 2012 independent classic. Luna dabbles in similar themes, as Bird tries to communicate using bits of song, though I’d actually align it more with recent titles like Fe and Gris from Zoink Games and Nomada Studio, respectively. Both of which I quite enjoyed, though this here is a much more swift adventure.

Sound plays a major role, especially in the puzzle areas. Since the player interacts with the game using a type of cursor controlled by the joystick, interacting with many of the game’s visual elements will spark a unique sound. Trying to connect a star chart to form a constellation? Guitar strings twang when the cursor crosses over any connections that already exist. It’s a subtle touch, and I found myself messing around to see how many different notes the team programmed.

Expanding on the game’s auditory direction, part of why it works so well is its free form design combined with a smooth, natural soundtrack from Grammy-nominated composer Austin Wintory (Journey, Abzu). His incorporation of chimes and piano chords amidst sounds of flowing water or ambient tones were great on console, and I’d imagine even better when immersed in VR.

The simple yet effective story is told through its environments and player interactions, with bits of narration interspersed that act more as guidance than exposition.

As much as I enjoyed Luna, I have to admit there were small moments of frustration. I think it’s equal parts the game’s fault and my own. Within the first space, as I was planting trees and changing their colors to my heart’s desire, I started to question how I was going to progress. The world seemed complete, or at least my version of it was, which meant I felt stuck. I rotated the camera, poked and prodded though couldn’t complete the instance. It wasn’t readily apparent that I had to keep adding flora until a visual cue popped up and I could conclude the level.

This is a case where the game’s abstract nature works against it. Especially for me, as I tend to be goal-oriented. Luna nudges in directions, lets the player create rather than enforcing strict guidelines. Which started as a confusion, then became much appreciated after I learned I had to form my own path. Perhaps this is the intent.

The other downside is that it ended way too abruptly! It’s not that I assume a game like this would be grandiose in its finale, it’s that I hoped it would be more interactive. Especially after giving the player tools throughout to express individuality. Just when I expected to create my digital masterpiece, Luna took the reigns and ended its story on its own terms. It’s not my ideal conclusion, though it certainly didn’t ruin the overall experience.

My thoughts on the ending are not too damning really, since the real treat is the time spent in the game’s melodic, inspiring world. The puzzles are never too difficult, and ultimately a means to open levels where the player is way more free to tinker. Nothing is overly complex, nor does it need to be.

Funomena achieves a status of interactive art with Luna, in multiple respects. It’s a visual story about unification, overcoming feelings of desertion or guilt and a sense that planting seeds can grow fruitful relationships. This all means that, in the time it takes to watch a film, I’d recommend instead taking a quick virtual trip over the Moon.

Title: Luna

Release Date: October 17, 2017 (VR), November 22, 2017 (PC), June 18, 2019 (PS4, PS VR)

Developer: Funomena

Publisher: Funomena

Platforms: Windows Mixed Reality, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR

Recommendation: If you made it this far, you already know I think it’s worth a shot! Really thinking that virtual reality version might be even better, too.

Sources: Funomena, Screenshots from PlayStation 4 Pro.

Disclaimer: Review code provided by Funomena.

-Dom

Companies of E3: Sony PlayStation Media Showcase

 

It’s Monday night. E3 proper is set to begin tomorrow morning in Los Angeles. However, right now, it’s all about Sony Corp $SNE and its PlayStation Media Showcase. The current console market leader is known for having lots and lots of games in its shows, with little regard for release window of said games, and tonight’s show was no different.

 

Was a decent show, with highs and lows, but overall I definitely think you’ll be able to find a game that appeals to you on this list. Below are those featured at the media showcase, including details on my most-anticipated game.. Destiny 2!

 

 

Grand Turismo Sport: During Sony’s pre-show, it revealed that the latest installment in the GT racing franchise is out this fall.

 

 

Knack 2: Yes. Sony is actually releasing a sequel to the launch game that turned into an ongoing internet joke and meme. And it’s out September 5th. Honestly, it looks MUCH improved!

 

 

PlayLink for PS4 collection: Two games in this collection were announced: Hidden Agenda, where you use a smart phone as a controller, and That’s You, which looks like a social party game.

 

 

Matterfall: Housemarq indie game, releasing on August 15th.

 

 

Everybody’s Golf: Arcade golf game.

 

 

PlayStation VR Games: Super Hot, Summer 2017. Sparc. Tropico. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Star Child by Playful and published by GameTrust. The Inpatient. Final Fantasy XV fishing. Bravo Team. Moss.

 

 

Undertale: Popular indie PC hit coming to PS4 this summer.

 

 

Ni No Kuni II: Japanese RPG by Bandai Namco now has a release date of November 10th.

 

 

Uncharted The Lost Legacy: This standalone story in the Uncharted series started the show proper with a new trailer, it’s out August 22nd.

 

 

Horizon The Frozen Wilds: Summer 2017 for the first expansion of Guerilla Games’ excellent open world game that released in February.

 

 

Days Gone: We see more from this post-apocalyptic zombie game from Sony Bend where you fight hordes of undead and survivors. Never seen that before. (Sorry, it’s just not doing it for me. I’d rather play The Last of Us.)

 

 

Monster Hunter World: We heard rumblings of this title recently, looks like Capcom is finally officially bringing its beloved franchise to PS4 and Xbox One in the form of an open world game this time. Out in early 2018.

 

 

Shadow of the Colossus: Early 2018. Looks like an HD remake of the 2005 game from Team Ico.

 

 

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite: Out September 19th, story demo is actually available today.

 

 

Call of Duty WWII: This game again looks like a Call of Duty game set in World War II. And it’s out in early November.

 

 

God of War: I admit, every time I see this new God of War game, I care more about playing it despite not playing any of the earlier games. Releasing early 2018. No exact release date.

 

 

Detroit: Become Human: Quantic Dream’s futuristic, narrative adventure game featuring androids in an uprising looks very intriguing again as it did last year. Though, no release window revealed.

 

 

Destiny 2: Finally! My favorite franchise of this generation is getting a sequel, and Sony has a marketing deal with Activision/Bungie so (better or worse) it has access to exclusive content: missions and gear, plus a multiplayer map. But the good news is that the release date is now moved up to Wednesday, September 6th on consoles. And October 24th on PC. Bungie will host a beta testing period that begins on July 19th on PS4 and July 19th on Xbox One (for those that pre-ordered) and then July 21st for everyone.

 

Can you tell I’m excited?

 

 

Spider-Man: Insomniac’s take on the  Marvel superhero franchise is out next year. I know lots are excited for it!

 

What It Didn’t Show (Yet): The Last of Us 2, which feels odd because it’s the biggest game Sony has. But it’s also nowhere near done and I guess not ready to show just yet. Media Molecule’s Dreams, Michel Ancel’s WiLD (especially now that he showed Beyond Good & Evil 2 at the Ubisoft show I wrote about earlier). Oh, and Bloodborne 2. I guess none of my long shots are panning out.

 

That’s okay, we still are seeing some really cool games! What did you think of Sony’s briefing? Will you be buying any of these games when they release? Why aren’t you as exicted about Destiny 2 as I am?!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

-Dom