Nintendo’s body contorting, limb-swapping, shape-shifting Switch is here to remind us that games don’t need to be serious. The Nintendo library will attract a colorful crop of titles in the coming months, and Lichtspeer, a side-scrolling platformer released to lukewarm reviews on PlayStation 4 last year, is enough to brighten up any day.
Booting up Lichtspeer for the first time, you’re invited to play an “ancient Germanic game from the future”, and possibly from another dimension altogether. Dive into the action proper, and you’re in the shoes of a white-suited ’80s disco singer sporting a Johnny Bravo quiff and a giant pink spear. The lichtspeer!
Cue the music, as the disco soundtrack kicks into gear and the enemies appear, sauntering at first as if in no great hurry to avoid the pink lightning rod arcing through the air. Get the throw spot-on, and skulls roll, limbs splatter. But soon the enemies take the form of galloping, armor-plated fiends that swoop from the heavens and fill the screen like the hordes of soldiers from 300. The going gets tough fast, and your smirk is wiped away in a hurry.
To play, Lichtspeer is simplicity incarnate. You hold down the fire button, take aim, and let the spear go. There’s no option to move your avatar – that automatically happens whenever you clear an area. The objective is to keep enemies off you. If they get within striking range, it’s an instant death. The difficulty gradually increases with each new stage and by level 13, Lichtspeer’s end point, you’re keeping the swarms at bay and grappling environmental challenges.
The good news is that if you’re as competitive as I am, you won’t rest until your forefinger and thumb are inextricably wired, acting in concert, a blur of movement as carnage reigns. The other bit of good news is that you can upgrade your gear. The ‘B’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ buttons on the Switch are mapped to an attack, defense, and uber move respectively. Mastering a well-timed shield or a burst of energy that eviscerates enemies is often the difference between winning a level or being forced to go again, and you’re rewarded with extra points to spend on gear when you replay completed levels.
The one downside is that you can’t use these powers in boss fights. These end-level encounters are designed like elaborate obstacle courses that test your skill – and your wits. One particularly devilish fight takes place on a conveyor belt. In it, you need to change the direction of the conveyor belt to avoid the lasers on either side and perfectly time your spear-throwing to damage the enemy in specific weak points. It’s a juggling act, to say the least, and hugely satisfying when you finally win.
Yup, Lichtspeer can be amazingly addicting. You’d think a couple of repeated trigger taps would wear thin, and yet, this is exactly the type of palate cleanser the Switch is designed for. There’s nothing better than whipping out the machine from your bag while riding the bus and sniping enemies while Marcin Sonnenberg’s original soundtrack blasts through your headphones. The graphics are lovably oddball too: cartoon vistas that give you different looks, from a painterly rendition of Egypt to a glacial forest, and some madcap disco levels towards the end.
The beauty of the Switch is that you can invite a friend to share the action. Detach the Joy-Con and you’re suddenly plunged into co-op mode, offering up mad, chaotic fun. Having a friend along for the ride makes the normal game easier, but can prove a hindrance in boss fights. Here, Lichtspeer cleverly demands that you take turns hurting the boss, which means there’s no room for passengers.
This, the Double Speer edition, comes with a New Game+ mode, giving Lichtspeer more longevity than the base version released on Sony’s console last year. The main game takes about four hours to complete, but you’ll likely revisit areas you enjoyed, even after the credits have rolled. Lichtspeer also makes more sense on the Switch. As a portable diversion, it’s a game you can enjoy in short bursts on-the-go. There’s no long-winded story to digest and no barrier to entry. Simply strap in, enjoy the music and get playing.
Priced at $10, Lichtspeer is the equivalent of two Starbucks cappuccinos, and yet it comes with so much bite, so much color, and such an addicting level of challenge that it’s unlikely to grow cold on you anytime soon. As a diversion before the onslaught of AAA games this holiday season, Lichtspeer will put a smile on your face.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game, which we were provided with by the game’s developer.
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