Like many of you, I grew up with both a computer and a console. I would struggle to list the games I played as a kid, but one thing is for sure: if I had to keep just a handful, Flashback would be included. By the way, I still have the Megadrive cartridge! I am really happy to hear that a true sequel is finally in the works, despite the spin-off (Fade to Black) and the 2013 remake, which were not up to par. Additionally, I am thrilled to have discovered Lunark, a new game strongly inspired by this masterpiece. I will tell you more about it.
Initially, Johan Vinet created a demake as an exercise in style, which involves recreating a modern game using older technology, such as creating the next Zelda on GameBoy Color or Elden Ring on SuperNes. However, his pixelated animations received positive feedback, leading to a crowdfunding campaign to create an original title, and after a lot of hard work, Lunark was born!
While it may have started as a demake, the game has developed its own universe. However, it still retains the look and feel of an old game, with gameplay modeled after Flashback and other platformers of this style, such as Another World, Abe’s Odyssey, and Prince of Persia. The game features levels divided into screens, precise and fluid controls, combat, dialogue, and, most importantly, puzzles, all interspersed with high-quality “rotoscopic” cutscenes
The storyline in Lunark is quite basic, but it quickly engages players in the game without neglecting the world-building essential to any respectable work of science fiction. The levels are well-constructed, and the platforming is demanding, leading to occasional frustration after a failed jump, but overall, the game is enjoyable and clever. The music is understated yet sets the mood perfectly. In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and highly recommend it.
However, I must note that it is a trip down memory lane. To be frank, one may not fully appreciate the effort put into Lunark if they have not played the games that inspired it. Although everyone will find the game fun, some aspects of it are “old fashioned,” such as the gameplay and save system. Additionally, the graphics’ resolution is even lower than that of Flashback, which is an inherent aspect of the demake concept. While this is part of the game’s design, it may discourage some players from enjoying it.
Overall, I had a fantastic time exploring the world of Lunark for four hours straight. If you’re a fan of science-fiction video games, I highly recommend checking it out. The game has a solid storyline and immersive gameplay that kept me engaged throughout. I would give it a 4/5 rating.
Lunark is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Playstation & Xbox
Johan Vinet is a graphic designer, animator, and 2D pixel artist known for his work in the video game industry. He is originally from Lyon, France, where he started his career as a graphic designer before moving to Canada in 2014. In Canada, he worked as an animator and pixel artist on various indie games, including Adventure Time (Wayforward), Halfway (Robotality), Rivals Of Aether (Dan Fornace), and Shovel Knight Showdown (Yacht Club Games).
In Montreal, he worked at Tribute Games on Flinthook and Mercenary Kings Reloaded, where the idea of creating a cinematic platformer began to take shape around 2016/2017.
Johan Vinet’s love for retro-style video games, especially those from the 90s on portable consoles, was the main inspiration for creating a game like LUNARK in pixel art. The project pays homage to classic games such as Flashback, Prince of Persia, and Another World, which were known for their immersive storytelling and cinematic platforming gameplay.
Vinet’s passion for Pico-8, a virtual game engine that imposes strict limitations on resolution and color, also played a role in the project’s inception. He enjoyed imagining what his favorite games would look like on this platform, and when he started animating a small 15-pixel character, the idea for LUNARK started taking shape.
As he shared his progress on social media, he found an audience interested in his project, which motivated him to turn it into his full-time job. Ultimately, his love for retro-style games and his desire to create a cinematic platformer in pixel art led him to make LUNARK.
In terms of technical constraints, Johan Vinet faced some challenges when creating LUNARK in pixel art. The game’s pixel density is roughly equivalent to that of a GameGear, but Vinet had to adapt the proportions for a 16:9 format. He also started with a reduced color palette, which he then expanded as needed. While he wanted to suggest a retro aesthetic, he wasn’t necessarily bound to the constraints of the time and used transparency and particle effects to enhance the game’s visuals.
When it comes to sound, LUNARK doesn’t have a retro soundtrack. Instead, the game’s tracks were composed using modern tools, and the sound effects were created in a similar way. While the game’s visuals have a retro feel, the sound design is more modern and adds a contemporary touch to the overall experience.
One of the things that gave him the courage to embark on this adventure was the type of game. LUNARK is a game that combines the skills he has acquired over the years. Artistically, he felt comfortable enough to work in this style. In terms of programming, it’s a relatively “basic” game in the sense that there is very little physics. Everything is very deterministic, based mainly on animations. The consequences of each action are very predictable. However, he did seek help for much more technical aspects, such as the save system, or to make the game easier to port to consoles. For the music, he would have loved to be able to afford the services of a renowned professional, but the Kickstarter campaign did not reach the necessary levels. Being a musician himself, he tried to put his imposter syndrome aside as much as possible and set to the task. In the end, it was one of the aspects of the game that he enjoyed working on the most, that and the rotoscoping.
Finally, it is impossible not to mention the game’s publisher, WayForward, whom he accompanied throughout the end of development and greatly helped to release the game by managing – among other things – all the marketing.