At first glance, it’s easier to compare Light Fall to other games than to see what sets it apart. Its gameplay, level design, and visuals owe a lot from both Super Meat Boy and Ori and the Blind Forest. But once you get into it, Light Fall is much more interesting for how it forges its own path than for how it sticks to any formula.
Light Fall is a hardcore platformer, challenging you to traverse its levels while dodging spike-lined corridors, lasers, and the occasional enemy. It has plenty of difficult moments, but it’s much easier and more accessible than the games that defined that genre, or even recent entries such as Celeste. Light Fall’s stand-out feature is a set of abilities based on conjuring boxes. For reasons explained early in the game, you’re able to place cubes that hang in mid-air below you or beside you, launch them to damage enemies, or remote control them for a few clever puzzles. You can then use them as platforms or wall-jump off their sides to navigate the game’s environments.
These abilities introduce a welcome twist to the genre, and I was impressed by how easy they are to use. You’re often dashing at Sonic-like speeds through levels, and if these abilities were implemented awkwardly, they could have easily dragged the game to a halt as you tried to position boxes correctly. Fortunately, the developers clearly put a lot of work into making sure they feel just right. If you’re hurtling through the air when you summon a box below you, it’ll appear just far enough ahead to ensure you land on it. If you’re falling and create a box beside you to grab onto, it takes your trajectory into account, placing it at just the right height for you to stick the landing. At first, I felt like the game’s speed would become uncontrollable, but within a few levels, I had adjusted to its breakneck pace. Once you’re in tune with it, you’ll be bouncing from block to block as you scale to otherwise impossible heights or catch yourself from a lethal fall.
Even aside from this mechanical difference, Light Fall plays much differently from the more punishing hardcore platformers such as Super Meat Boy. Where that game is all about finding the safest route through its deathtrap levels and pulling off perfect inputs, Light Fall is about using the tools at your disposal creatively and recovering from errors. If you misjudge a jump, for example, you can summon a box to land on and get a second chance.
But your power isn’t a get out of jail free card. Once you jump into the air, you can only use your power four times before touching solid ground again (landing on your own boxes doesn’t count). The challenge becomes about finding the right time to use your powers as you leap through tight caverns full of deadly crystals. Deciding exactly when and where to place these platforms to get the most distance out of each jump means the difference between life and death.
Stages often cram you into tight, winding corridors that force you into a more deliberate pace, while others allow you to just zip through the sky on a bridge of summoned boxes. They don’t always lean into the acrobatic freedom that your powers enable, but they’re still immensely satisfying. I had dozens of moments of breathless excitement as levels demanded nearly flawless sequences of split-second decisions to survive. You’ll often use your powers to catch yourself just before falling to your death or carve a winding path through brambles of instantly fatal obstacles.
Unfortunately, it feels like Light Fall ends before it really explores all the possibilities of its premise. Its dozen stages can be completed in just a handful of hours, culminating in an extremely lackluster final boss fight. The game is absolutely designed to be replayed, however. It includes a speed run mode where you try to top your own best times and climb a leaderboard, and each level is packed with collectibles that you’re highly unlikely to find on your first playthrough. I had a good time going back through these modes, but they’re not quite as thrilling as making your way through the game for the first time.
Light Fall puts an odd amount of emphasis on the story for a platformer of its type. You’re guided through the game by a narrating owl with his own ties to the world’s history. I found it all pretty skippable, to be honest. There’s nothing particularly bad about it, it just doesn’t do much to earn the forefront position it gets. The game’s music was similarly middle of the road. Its tone is wildly different from stage to stage, swinging from strangely somber tracks to casual, loungey beats. As far as presentation goes, art is the standout. Each of the game’s stages has a gorgeous backdrop painted with a neon color palette.
I was ultimately left wanting more from Light Fall, which I suppose is halfway between a complaint and a compliment. I had a blast performing in its precision dance across platforms that I built as I ran. It struck the right balance between being challenging and never stalling progress, but came to an ended much earlier than I expected. The game’s core mechanic is interesting, but it rarely feels like it’s used to its fullest. All in all, Light Fall is a brief but inventive revitalization of a staid genre.