There isn’t a notable shortage of retro styled platform games on the big shiny black box that we use as a gaming home, but that hasn’t stopped Fat Gem and No Gravity Games from having a crack at the genre nonetheless. Games like Vampire Survivors have shown that there is a market for these older looking games, so can we add Primal Light to the pantheon of retro goodies, or should it have stayed in the creative heads of those behind it?
Let’s have a look at the narrative found in Primal Light first, as this seems like a reasonable place to start. We are Krog, a mysterious blue creature in a red loincloth. This is lifted directly from the developer’s own description of the game, not me being vague, you understand. One day, our village is destroyed and Krog is left as the only survivor, and so, obviously, we set out on a path for vengeance. So far, so video game, right? Well, that’s all the set up that we get, as the scene is set for the rest of the game.
Presentation is very retro, but more from the 16-Bit, Super Nintendo kind of era than the more usual 8-Bit style. Krog is well drawn and animated, and the monsters that you face through the various levels, while a tad on the unimaginative side, all look nice enough. The world of Primal Light is viewed from a side on perspective, and while it isn’t going to stretch the capabilities of the Xbox Series X that I played it on, it does exude a certain appeal, a strong kind of aesthetic style. The various bosses that you have to fight as you progress is where the majority of the design work seems to have gone into the game, as they range from screen filling monstrosities through a giant worm; all have very challenging attack patterns to figure out.
Sound is pretty good as well, with various swipes and squishy noises as we attack, and quite pleasant music to listen to. The developers call the soundtrack “hypnotic” and while I wouldn’t go that far, it equally won’t make you want to pull your own ears off. Small victories and all that…
But let us get onto the meat and drink of the game, the actual platforming and combat. There’s no easy way to say this, but Primal Light is far too hard, even on “Relaxed” difficulty. In what is effectively Easy mode, Krog can take three hits before dying, and has limited lives in which to attempt to reach the next bonfire, which acts as a checkpoint. Hmm, I’ve seen this mechanic somewhere before… Anyway, what we are faced with is a screen, with platforms and baddies to get through, and that is pretty much the whole of the game: Spawn at the left of the screen, and attempt to get off the right, without dying, falling and then dying. Or perhaps without throwing your controller through the TV screen.
Jumping is pretty fundamental, and honestly, it isn’t implemented well at all. It is imprecise, and that is the kiss of death in a game that requires pixel perfect placing, particularly when you combine that jumping with fighting. With some helpful tips such as “Try a late jump!” appearing as you progress, it doesn’t seem to matter how late you leave the jump, that pit of spikes is still too big to clear. So, not off to a great start then.
Combat is another area where it all feels a little bit harder than it needs to be. As an example, the enemies can walk straight through Krog’s increasingly desperate swipes and hit you. Getting hit by an enemy, especially on a small platform, is also the end of your run, as the knockback is completely ridiculous. The slightest touch from a foe sees Krog fly backward like he was hit by a bus; usually straight down into a pit between two small platforms. This is unbelievably annoying, and given how the enemies all appear to be psychic and know when you are going to jump, adjusting the trajectory of their projectiles to hit you still, Primal Light is pretty daunting when you first begin to play.
That said, play more and things do begin to flow a little better. Still, it never becomes what I would describe as fun; just a bit more tolerable. However, I don’t play games to be tolerant, I want to play a game to enjoy myself and Primal Light will happily give something like Dark Souls a run for its money in the frustration stakes.
All in all, what we have in Primal Light is a retro-styled platformer that should only really be considered by serious masochists. You may like a challenge – hell, I like a challenge – but this can often feel like a step too far. If you want a game that will make you chew your pad in anger, welcome in Primal Light. If you want to have fun, I suggest you look elsewhere.
Primal Light is on the Xbox Store