Gleamlight is something that caught my eye a while back while it was still under Steam’s Early Access label. Here was a 2D “soulslike” inspired adventure built in a world of gorgeous stained glass which has you platforming your way with nothing short of your own intuition. Gleamlight has no tutorials, no HUDs and ZERO help. It honestly had everything that it needed to raise the bar on the style, however like the stained glass it looks like, there’s a fragile balance to its features and unfortunately the glass couldn’t quite hold up to the heat of the oven.
Going in I knew several things. The first, is that there were zero instructions and I would need to figure everything out which was fine as most of the buttons do what you think they should do. Attack. Jump. Move left or right. As you progress you’ll learn new abilities that simply require poking at every button on the controller to see what was unlocked and then figure out how to best use it. Dodging, double jumping, rocket boosting higher or increased attack power with a second sword that is picked up. The second thing that I knew was that I had to play past the credits as there was “more” to the adventure. “Several” times actually.
The adventure, or adventures if you consider that each portion has a beginning and an end, are not very long. Less than an hour per segment, finding myself at the first set of credits I had to wonder if that could really be it? Even if not very long, Gleamlight, while gorgeous to look at, feels rather bland which is very unfortunate because it has different enemy types trying to kill you. It has some interesting elements such as the zero help, no head’s up displays for health or minimaps. Where it falls short is that the platforming puzzles are just too easy and you literally just have to walk from one area to the other and hit anything in sight because what could have been one Gleamlight’s greatest features, was perhaps its biggest detriment.
Instead of having “health”, you instead have light behind the glass that makes up your character. If you get hit, you lose light and the enemy absorbs it. If you hit the enemy, you take that light back. It basically ends once there’s no more light inside and either you or them will crumble to the ground. Having a life leeching ability like that from the very beginning just made everything way too easy as it even turns most boss fights into a twenty second slugfest as there’s no fear of dying once you take out their protective crystals. They hit you, you lose light, you become invincible, you swing three times faster than they do and grab back what was lost and more and then the boss crumbles to the ground. Totalling only a few bosses between the start and the first credits? There had to be more.
And there is. Once you’ve gone down the path of the first adventure, you’ll be making your way back up for the second with new abilities and harder enemies to fight against. This second path had the difficulty that I had expected to encounter from the beginning. The platforming was more challenging, the enemies were more dangerous because of where they were placed, and some bosses couldn’t exactly be tanked because of how they moved around the map. That said, because of the life leeching on both sides, some fights just went on and on as the boss wouldn’t stay put and by the time you made it over to them, they were already back on the other side of the map and had spawned even more minions.
It lacked a sense of balance and I found myself at the second set of credits wondering… what awaits the third, and, already feeling a bit annoyed at the slugfests, how’s it going to play out? That, I’ll let you find out on your own!
There are a lot of good ideas, but just with the life leeching ability alone, a lot of the danger is removed because “who cares if I get hit, I’ll just take it back”. There are more enemies than you often know what to do with or want to even bother with by this point. Most of them are just in the way from points A to B. The puzzle solving is too basic as it requires only hitting one or three switches and then moving through the doorway into the next zone to do the same all over again.
Now everything all said and done, I’ve sunk a lot of time into this to try for the real endings and full gamerscore. As it stands now I’m just missing dying 100 times and some secret boss that I cannot seem to find. There’s a hidden charm for sure, but it’s never enough to get past the issues listed above.