Light Fantastik

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Hayali for PC, originally released in 2018.
Light Fantastik begins with the tale of a village that is suddenly stricken with a sickness, but instead of becoming ill, the people of the land are transformed into little squares with eyes. The introductory cutscene plays out with stylish 2D artwork in a pre-Renaissance style, showing people collapsed into square shapes in a somewhat disturbing manner, until the hero of the tale holds up a sword and a square chunk of his face pulls itself loose and scrolls off the side of the screen. The game is an unusual platformer with light puzzle-platforming elements, featuring a world split in two, with one side awash in light and the other covered in darkness, and players must pass from one side to the other to navigate the environment.

The game’s primary mechanic centers around passing between the two sides of the world. On the light side, the player has average platforming abilities and is able to hop about to mount platforms that are clearly visible around him. On the dark side, the player’s view is narrowed to his immediate surroundings, but he is able to jump incredibly high. The light side of the world appears on the left side of the screen, and the dark side is on the right, with wavy white lines sometimes appearing between the two worlds – and warp points later on – to indicate places where the player can cross over.

Technically, the player character doesn’t really transfer from one side of the world to the other; instead, touching the divider in the center of the screen reveals a shadow world with a shadowy copy of the orange player character on the other side. When the shadow character is revealed, control switches over to it, with the orange player character still present on the light side, moving in tandem with his darker counterpart, but their movements are mirrored.

When controlling the character on the dark side, controls are reversed, and pressing RIGHT sends the character to the left, while pressing LEFT sends him to the right. This requires a bit of mental gymnastics on the part of the player, particularly when performing multiple world swaps in quick succession. On the light side, players press to the RIGHT to touch the center divider, and then must press to the LEFT to move away from the divider on the other side. Later in the game, there are challenges where the player must jump really high in the shadow world, then touch the divider, and quickly press in the opposite direction to land on a platform in the light world.

The light and dark worlds are mirror versions of each other, but they are not identical. The player may find his path blocked or otherwise inaccessible in one world, and transition to the other world where the pathway is open. Some puzzles require the player to pay attention to the level layout in the light world in order to understand how to navigate the mirrored version with limited visibility in the dark world. Level designs grow more complex as the game goes on, with later levels featuring mazes, along with lots of spike traps and enemies that kill the player instantly and send him back to the start of the level.

Early level designs are quite simple and players will find themselves making progress quickly through the opening areas. There are 10 levels unlocked at the start, out of a total of 60 available, with 10 more bonus levels awaiting once the player has completed 30 of the main levels. The 10 unlocked levels may be played in any order, so players are free to skip ahead and return later if they get stuck. Each time a level is completed, another is unlocked, giving the player quite a bit of freedom to skip around as needed.

Each level has a timer that counts down, and players must reach the end of the level before time runs out, lest they are killed and returned to the start point. Players generally have about 60 seconds to complete a level, and there are also pickups in some levels that add 10 seconds to the clock. Usually, the player has plenty of time to get through a level in the given time limit, although there are few cases where grabbing the 10-second timer pickups is required, and many of these pickups are along the main path through the level. The timer serves no other gameplay function other than to hurry the player along; there is no reward for reaching the exit of a level with lots of time remaining on the clock.

In addition to transitioning between worlds using the center divider, there are also occasions where the player uses warp points to move from one side to the other. In the early going, warp points simply act as ways to add some depth to the environment, but later, there are portals that change the player’s form when he transfers to the shadow world. These appearance of these strange forms is attributed to the player character’s growing sickness.

The first nonstandard portal turns the player into a multi-legged box that is constantly jumping. Moving upward is pretty easy in this form, but it becomes more difficult to dodge enemies, particularly when your limited view means that foes are scrolled beyond your vision while you are in the air. As expected, moving downward is a challenge, as players need to time their lateral direction changes properly to slide under overhangs instead of hopping over them.

The second nonstandard portal turns the player from a square into a circle and prevents him from coming to a stop. Moving to the right means the character will keep going in that direction until he hits a wall or the player presses in the opposite direction. Again, this makes it harder to dodge enemies, but it makes jumping between tiny platforms much more difficult. Often, players must jump on a small platform, then quickly reverse direction to keep from sliding off, and then reverse direction again to make the next jump… bearing in mind that controls are reversed in the dark world.

The third nonstandard portal is particularly odd, as it transforms you into a largely transparent block that sits to the left, right, above, or below the player character. Controls are the same as they usually are, but you have to bear in mind that the character you see on the screen is not what you are controlling, so it’s easy to miss platforms if you’re not paying attention. Even stranger, when the box is above the player, the character itself seems to pass through solid platforms. This state adds additional mental trickery in the reverse-controlled dark world.

There’s a late game portal that also has no control effect – nor any effect on the player’s form – but instead adds a wavy graphical effect that makes it hard to focus on the action, and even harder to line up platform landings. These portals only appear in the final few levels.

There isn’t much in the way of a narrative, aside from other square people occasionally giving some quips about the level designs, or simply assuring you that you are making progress, although there is an ending (such as it is) should you make it all the way through to the end of the final level. The game also features a level editor if you’d like to toy around more with the mechanics and share custom levels.

Graphically, the game is very simple, with levels comprised entirely of solid-colored rectangles of varying sizes, and enemies appear as squares that follow simple left-to-right patrol paths. However, the background art is reflective of that found in the opening cutscene, with some neat-looking boxy trees, a number of floating rectangles, and the occasional structure. The soundtrack is light and relaxing, never rising to the frantic action that sometimes appears onscreen, which may help to alleviate frustration in some of the tougher levels.

Light Fantastik was developed by Hayali, a 3-person studio based in Turkey, and this was their first game. Visuals and level design are credited to Orhan Umut Gokcek, game design and marketing are credited to Seyma Kavak Gokcek, and the game’s original concept, music, and sound design are credited to Ugurcan Orcun, with programming by Yasir Yazıcı.