Back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s it was a treacherous time going to the store to buy a video game. No, it wasn’t dangerous, but often there was woefully very little information to go on other than the pretty illustrations on the front of the box and a few paragraphs of text and screenshots on the back. Sure, there was a smattering of video game magazines to steer you in the right direction and you might get lucky enough to rent a title beforehand to make sure it’s what you wanted, but there was a very real risk of burning $50 only to find out the game was a pile of crap.
These days we have plenty of options to research a game before plunking down our hard-earned cash, including watching people play titles on YouTube, reading a review like this one, or even possibly downloading a demo to try before you buy. Still, sometimes a new game still works its magic on you by presenting pretty screens or tempting previews. In the case of Gleamlight, I was drawn to its idea of an unspoken story (Metroid) with pretty stained glass backgrounds and the lack of UI taking up part of the screen. While all of that sounds good on paper, the game has to be fun to play, and therein lies the rub. Unfortunately, Gleamlight makes the cardinal sin of being boring as all get out. It’s the death knell in this industry.
When Gleamlight was first shown off a lot of comparisons were made to Hollow Knight. This was mostly because visually it seemed to use a similar color scheme and the main character and attacks looked slightly familiar as well. Besides bearing a passing resemblance to one another, this game plays nothing like it. You control Gleam, who at first glance reminded me of Orko, the flying magician who always got himself into trouble on He-Man. Oh, how I wish we were playing as Orko, because at least he has a personality. From the start of the game I was unimpressed with what I was seeing and playing. The game’s visuals, while at first pleasing to the eye, quickly become boring and drab. The whole presentation feels like some sort of fancy Flash game that has absolutely no soul to it. It’s cookie cutter basic and no amount of parallax scrolling is going to help it look any better.
Staying on the graphics for a moment (don’t worry we’ll get to the exceedingly mediocre gameplay in a moment), all of the promotional materials make special mention that everything in the game is made out of stained glass. This conjures up images of beautiful artistry with sunbeams shining through and the world drowned in a cornucopia of color. Why is it then, that this game is drab and filled with dark pastels? It’s just not that pretty and it gets worse when you start to see the animations of the enemies, or lack thereof. Pretty much all of them heavily repeat animation sequences and it doesn’t help matters that they all look generic from an artistic point of view. Nearly the entire lineup of bad guys looks similar with the same reds and grays making up their entire features. When you have games like Ori and the Blind Forest and the aforementioned Hollow Knight showing off spectacular variety in enemies and bosses and featuring amazing vistas that are beautiful to look at, it becomes apparent that Gleamlight didn’t get the same amount of care. I kid you not, after only a few minutes of playing I was already bored with the visuals.
The gameplay doesn’t manage to save the game, and in fact really drives it home that this isn’t a fun experience. You have very few moves (jump and slash) and although you do get some upgrades, like a double jump, there’s not much here to make the platforming entertaining. Each room looks almost identical to the last and it’s often filled with the same enemies you already took out just a few seconds ago. The lack of imagination in the visuals combined with below average gameplay suck any fun that could have been had out of the game.
I was hoping for a massive Metroidvania type game with Gleamlight, and what I got was a rather linear and somewhat short game with only a few bosses to fight. After that’s done you backtrack through the same areas, which haven’t gotten any more fun by the way, and that’s really the extent. This is not some massive adventure game, but by the same token it’s also not a well executed short and sweet action game either. When you have amazing competition with games like Celeste, there’s absolutely zero reason to pick this one up.
The final nail in the coffin for me was that the combat was so lopsided that it made playing the game a chore. Since the designers were obsessed with no UI, you have no idea how much health you have left before dying. Every time you hit an enemy you regain some health from them, but there’s no precise health gauge and that really bothered me. Fighting enemies was the same throughout and it never got any better. Most of them have basic animation loops and would often even get stuck in small places in the environment, making it easy to just sit there and slash them until they died. Bosses were a bit more difficult, but not because they were programmed with intriguing or fun patterns, but because the game just threw more stuff on the screen to screw with you.
Gleamlight had potential and I like the idea of stained glass environments and enemies and an unspoken story. The problem is that it has to be done in a compelling way. At the end of the day I didn’t care about my character in the least and certainly grew to hate the world I was exploring. Everything felt so generic and disconnected that I had to force myself to keep going. This is not a good game no matter which way you slice it. Any of these games are better worth your time: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, Dead Cells, Hollow Knight, Iconoclasts, Yoku’s Island Express, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, The Way Remastered, Mulaka, Celeste, and Dandara, to name a few.
- Graphics - 4.5/104.5/10
- Sound - 5/105/10
- Gameplay - 3/103/10
- Lasting Appeal - 3.5/103.5/10
Final Thoughts: BAD
Gleamlight commits the cardinal sin of gaming by being boring. There’s nothing good to see here, and that’s a shame considering its premise seemed promising. The gameplay is boring, the visuals are generic, the AI is terrible, the core mission is on the short side, and that all adds up to a bad time. This is a very crowded market on the Switch and you can find so many other titles worthy of your time.
Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He’s currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.