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Gleamlight (Switch) artwork

Gleamlight (Switch) review

"Heavy on style, light on substance."

Gleamlight (Switch) image

For a game as mediocre as Gleamlight, it sure holds a lot of secrets. Sadly, these well-kept bits of info work more to the piece's detriment than to its betterment...

You embark on this 2D platformer, perhaps expecting another Metroid-style affair. However, it doesn't take long for you to realize this adventure offers a linear romp to a finish line. You begin in a glade somewhere, snatching a sword from a stone like so many other fantasy offerings. From there, you voyage into a room full of apparitions and spike-laden beasts that shatter when defeated. After you've completed several such rooms without obtaining a map sub-screen or any deviating paths, you know this is going to be a cut-and-dry quest.

At least it gives you a little bit to gawk at, all without a HUD. The game's presentation resembles a strained glass window, and even environments and characters respond as if they're made of the material. The pleasant shattering sound we've all come to associate with breaking glass sings with each smashed obstacle or destroyed monster. Even you are made of the stuff, and you even shine as if a ray of sun is glowing through you. With each blow you sustain, your luster fades. You can heal it by damaging foes, but just be aware that they can do the same.

Your first fifteen or so minutes prove to be standard fare. You enter a room, search for a red orb to smash, and destroy it. Doing so unlocks a door, allowing you to advance to another chamber. At first, levels provide maybe a small hallway or an area with tiny alternate paths and cubbies. After you advance a bit, though, the game throws rooms at you with numerous tight tunnels and apparently inaccessible segments. You think to yourself that it's weird that this title eschewed Metroid's conventions, yet it still seems to show you regions you can only reach with special skills. And you just know those goodies are coming...

Gleamlight (Switch) image

Eventually, you comes across a tank-like boss with a rather simple attack pattern. After working out a decent strategy, the construct falls and you gain the ability to dash through enemies and beds of spikes. This is the first hint that things are not as they seem here...

The rest of the campaign goes by in much the same manner, except with slight changes to the environment. Where you start off in a ruined temple lying in a forest clearing, you eventually make your way to an abandoned mine and then to a secret laboratory. There, you battle all manner of robotic nemeses, including chain whip-wielding guards and spidery machines that drill through either the ceiling or the floor to get to you. Of course, you fight off another boss in the interim, soon gaining the obligatory double-jump skill. That eventually leads you to another boss fight that the game telegraphed through dialogue-free cutscenes. You win that scuffle and the credits roll...

You can't help but feel a bit disappointed because what you went through was naught but standard fare, hack 'n slash platforming. Hell, even pieces from the 16-bit era offered more zest and substance. You get the impression this title consist of nothing but a snazzy art style used to prop up a middling adventure. You might be inclined to begrudgingly scratch this one off your list, but the truth is you're not done. Hell, you're far from it...

Gleamlight (Switch) image

There's a bit of a promise as you see the developers' names float up the screen. The game visually glitches out, telling you something isn't quite right and that this isn't the end. It's tricking you, as many modern games do. Something tells you to wait until the credits finish and load your save file.

Or at least you hopefully figured out that's what you're supposed to do. If you gave up at this point, you're already missing about two-thirds of the game. This is something developer DICO should have communicated more blatantly, rather than leaving their players to “just know” they were going to continue.

You load your file and you begin where you left off, snatching a sword this time from the chamber of the “final” boss. Now you play the game in reverse, venturing through the desiccated ruins of the previous campaign. Plus, your foes are more powerful than they were the first time around. Mechanics haven't changed, and neither has the all-around design of the stages. You're just advancing through them backwards and with added gloom.

Gleamlight (Switch) image

One facet of your journey has altered, though: bosses. One old villain re-emerges, this time with red growths sticking out of its shoulders. You can only damage it after you've destroyed them, and even then you're in for a hell of a fight. Still, you earn a new technique that allows you to launch straight upward and press onward/backward through the previous explored set pieces.

New bosses appear, too, each holding a spanking new ability. However, this playthrough reveals a glaring flaw in their patterns, as you notice they're all pretty easy to topple. Most bosses possess phases where they sit still for a few second and allow you to hack away at them. Others cut loose attacks that tie them up for a while, allowing you to slip to their prone, opposite sides and begin wailing away until they're dust.

Eventually, you make your way back to the beginning of the gauntlet, fight another “final” boss, and watch a segment play out. The game this time gives you a huge hint as to what you need to do from here by showing you to delete your save file. If you try to load it prior to deletion, you'll get a glimpse of the world you just left and realize there's a good reason you can't revive there like you could before. So you do as the design tells you and delete your file and start over.

And some small things have changed...

Gleamlight (Switch) image

You might be inclined to play through as you normally would, felling anything in your path. If you do this, you'll just end up in the ruined world again, playing the campaign backwards and finding yourself deleting your save file a second time. Not a soul within the world tells you this, but when you embark on your mission for the third time, after the deletion, you're not supposed to kill anything except bosses and the lackeys they generate. That's the only way to break the cycle.

Once you take the pacifistic route, you reach the first “final” boss again, but this time it doesn't fight you. It disappears and you gain access to another tough gauntlet loaded with mechanized menaces. Get through those challenges and you eventually make it to the true final boss: a giant, spinning, elliptical mess of gadgetry and semi-religious trappings. Let me tell you: you'll be hacking at this one for ages before it finally croaks. Just be patient.

Finally, the game ends in earnest and you can glimpse the conclusion. Since it comes with no dialogue, you kind of have to make up your own story. All you need to know is you won and life flourishes. Still, you can't help feeling unfulfilled by the whole matter, mostly because its mechanics, stage designs, and boss encounters give you merely acceptable moments to pass the time. No, Gleamlight isn't by any means a bad game, but it plays out like an ordinary hack 'n slash platformer with a fantastic art style and too many well-hidden secrets for its own good...

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (April 08, 2024)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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