Playing a platformer in the dark sounds like a special kind of torture. It’s a genre that demands precision, and trial-and-erroring through a sequence of jumps isn’t anybody’s idea of fun. It was a premise that put us off playing it, rather than tugging us in.
We should have given Light Up the Room more credit, as it has spotted that pitfall and already has an answer for it. While the levels are in the dark, the obstacles aren’t. From the off, you can see all the lasers and spinning blades that will likely kill you, meaning that no death is a surprise. It also gives you an indication of the direction that you’ll need to travel. Hats off to Light Up the Room: it’s a clever compromise.
The next clever step is that every step you take, every move you make, will ‘light up the room’. If you manage to reach a safe, new platform, it will be illuminated on the screen forevermore. It creates a safe path to follow, a ball of string unravelling through the labyrinth. In combination with the visible enemies, the lack of visibility becomes less and less of a problem.
That’s not to say that Light Up the Room isn’t challenging. The exact opposite, in fact. By making the darkness less of a focus, it allows the level designers to get more fiendish with the platforming difficulty. This is precision-platforming on a Super Meat Boy level: you will find few platforming games more difficult than Light Up the Room, so take that as a recommendation or a caveat, depending on your taste.
As someone who would probably give themselves a seven-out-of-ten in terms of platforming skills, it teetered on too much. There is a point, roughly one-third of the way in, when Light Up the Room introduces a new mechanic: the dash. It’s a tap of the X button, but you need to have hit a dash power-up to pull it off. It’s simple, but Light Up the Room takes it to an extreme: you have to dash from one power-up to the next, chaining them without missing a single one, otherwise you become spike-trap decoration.
Chaining dashes through tunnels lined with spikes, without a single platform or checkpoint between them, pushes skill to the extreme. You have to time your dash, get the direction right, and tap the X button in the exact rhythm needed to grab the next dash and use it. It was too much for us, and the difficulty hit an extreme spike, when it was a gradual increase before that point. Suddenly we were wading through Light Up the Room like it was a tarpit, and we were having much more fun previously.
It also becomes less a platformer, and more a devious rhythm action game. The sudden shift in game mechanics is, in our opinion, not for the better. The dash feels overly sensitive and inconsistent. The game lurches to a place where success is unreliable, and we lost a little bit of love for it.
We suspect that not everyone will hit the same speed bump. If you take pride in your platforming skills, and lap up challenges like this for breakfast, then we have no reservations in recommending Light Up the Room.
Because there IS plenty to recommend here. The fifty levels that Light Up the Room has to offer is generous, particularly as you can spend ten minutes in each of them, desperately triggering checkpoints on the way to the end goal. There’s an adequate amount of variation in the levels too, with the darkness hiding all sorts of quirks and curveballs.
The presentation is spartan, which is perhaps expected for a £4.19 game. There wasn’t going to be much call for lavish, beautifully realised pixel art in a game that flourishes in the dark, either. It does a job, and we didn’t have that much of a problem with it.
Ultimately, Light Up the Room takes a potentially infuriating premise – platforming in the dark – and finds a way to make it work. Nailing a jump and landing, Indiana Jones-like, on an invisible platform has a special kind of satisfaction. It allows the designers to up the platforming difficulty elsewhere, which admittedly moves the potential frustration to there, instead.
If you like your platformers covered in spikes, tightly wound and ready to pounce at the slightest mistake, then Light Up the Room will be your jam. If you like a little more leeway, then you might want to look elsewhere.
You can buy Light Up the Room from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S