Say what you will about LucasArts - the company that fired its best game designers in the late '90s, milked the Star Wars franchise until its udders went dry and to this day refuses to re-release Grim Fandango on Steam - but at least they're taking some risks. Alongside their resurrection of the beloved Monkey Island series, they've just released a game that drastically departs from their previous output. Lucidity is gorgeous, surreal, contemplative - everything that The Force Unleashed was not. Unfortunately, it's just not very good.
Developed by the same team that re-imagined The Secret of Monkey Island earlier this year, Lucidity is neither a point-and-click adventure nor an excuse to slap a Star Wars logo on a box and ship it to the nearest GameStop. Instead, it offers its own unique take on the puzzle-platformer genre, previously the purview of indie designers like Jonathan Blow and Edmund McMillen. In Lucidity, you have no direct control over your character; instead, you must place a random selection of items (like stairs, platforms, bombs and fans) along her path to avoid enemies and overcome obstacles. It's a bit like a combination of Lemmings (if there was only one lemming, and it was a 10-year-old girl) and Tetris (if your blocks were actually magical objects, and they didn't fall so much as sit there until you snap them into place).
Lucidity starts out gently enough: After protagonist Sofi drifts off while reading herself bedtime stories, she's guided from her grandma's house into a fairy-tale dreamscape full of fireflies, thorns and construction paper terrain. The first levels feature few enemies and easily surmountable obstacles - you mostly just let Sofi wander and lay down an item when she gets stuck. It's not particularly challenging or even fun, but with so little input necessary, you're free to soak in the game's ethereal atmosphere.
Sadly, after a handful of levels, Lucidity decides that it's not making you work hard enough for the aesthetic experience you were leisurely enjoying. Soon, you'll have to guide Sofi across pits of bramble, unpredictable enemies that move faster than she does and obstacles that require a specific piece for Sofi to move onward. Then, as if it weren't already frustrating enough, the game adds a hard time limit in the form of a "creeping sorrow" that gradually envelops the screen if Sofi stays still for too long. If you decide to keep playing after the first time Sofi gets stuck in a corner while you wait for the game to queue up the right piece, only to watch the darkness slowly engulf her, then I hope you're at least getting paid for it.
Aside from the main objective of simply surviving each stage, Lucidity also lets you collect fireflies to unlock bonus levels. But it's likely that you won't feel too tempted to revisit stages you've already beaten when success and failure feel so arbitrary. One moment Sofi could be inches away from the level exit; the next she could trot headlong into an enemy or get caught on a piece of bramble, sending her all the way back to the start. You want to help Sofi on her quest, but when the the game conspires to make it this difficult, it's far more tempting to put down the controller and let her scamper off by herself.
Bottom Line: It's rare for a game that is as visually arresting as Lucidity to be such a chore to play.
Recommendation: Leave it. Lucidity's presentation may be beguiling, but you shouldn't have to suffer through broken gameplay to enjoy it.
Jordan Deam never thought he'd ragequit from a game about a 10-year-old girl's sleepytime adventure.