Light Tracer had a lot of promise. Playing as a faceless, nameless, and voiceless guardian angel of sorts, you use a magic wand to guide a diminutive princess as she climbs the mystical Tower of Bellbatis to commune with the gods. With its colorful, Crossy Road-like visuals, wonderful background music, and platforming gameplay that’s trickier than it looks, Light Tracer had all the ingredients for a smash hit. To my dismay, my thoughts of praise didn’t last particularly long. I found myself awash in frustration over the terribly unfun boss battles. It wasn’t long until the game I had thought so fondly of at the start became something I wanted to throw out the window.
Armed with a Sailor Moon-style wand and the ability to manipulate platforms and gadgets, the goal of each level is to guide the princess to a portal at the top of each structure. Holding down the trigger of your wand hand emits a bright, pinpoint yellow light. When pointed to any area of the ground below you, the princess will move to the spot. This method of control is useful in positioning the young woman to conquer obstacles including, but not limited to, pitfalls, moving platforms, environmental hazards, and crazed monkey statues throwing boulders down your path. Using your other hand, you’ll manipulate platforms to go up and down or left and right, taking her further up the tower or towards special areas to collect a stash of coins (with which to purchase cute costumes). The princess is disappointingly fragile and can only take one hit before she’s killed, so you’ll need to keep her safe from obstructions and away from the edges. The game’s first chapter does a great job of introducing all these concepts and offers levels that put them into practice, allowing you to learn by doing.
That said, Light Tracer seems to have a sadistic delight in throwing curveballs. I found that the game’s second chapter introduces traps that represent a firm and somewhat unfair escalation in difficulty that made me more and more frustrated each time I had to repeat a sequence. It’s the princess’ inability to withstand damage that makes things so needlessly aggravating. This is one of those platformers where you’ll truck along fine for awhile until you have to restart a section over again (speaking tangentially, some of the respawn locations can be quite inconvenient). You think, “I see where I made a mistake. It’s easy enough, so I’ll just speed through it!” only to make more mistakes because you’re so impatient to move on. Before long, I’m bashing my head against the wall. Honestly, it’s best to take things slow and easy--after all, you’re not judged on time. But the time spent waiting for platforms or redoing whole sections, only to be killed again at the same spot wore my patience down to the nub.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, were the bosses. Light Tracer is a surprisingly difficult game and yet, the best hard games make you feel that defeat was entirely your fault. Here, death is mostly unfair. Each chapter includes a boss encounter that must be completed before moving on. The first chapter boss is easy enough: the trick is to trigger a mirror moments before the boss unleashes an energy attack, the idea being that the projectiles will bounce off the surface and hit him. It took me a few tries but I managed to defeat the enemy once I figured out his movement and attack patterns. The second boss was a whole different experience entirely. Because the princess cannot attack directly, she must rely on a series of boulders that roll along the arena towards ramps. When the rolling rock reaches the end of the stone mechanism, you’re supposed to walk onto the opposite end to launch the rock onto the boss above. What complicates this process is floor spikes that pop up directly in your path and the only alert you get is a dust cloud that appears just before the spike comes out of the ground.
All this is so pointlessly confusing. Having to dodge boulders that are too big to jump over, while avoiding floor spikes complicates the battle, proving that this game does not do with arena stages as it does with tower levels. What makes the encounter more terrible is how you essentially have to restart the fight after you die. There’s no way the game tells you this, of course, which left me confused with why I spent nearly an hour on a boss that simply wouldn’t die. There are no health meters, special animations, or other cues to let you know how many hits it takes to finish the encounter. Out of frustration, I rage quit the game and decided to put some distance between us. After a couple weeks, I returned to see if the encounter had gotten easier over time. It didn’t. My time now is too valuable to be stuck in a frustrating gaming limbo, so I had qualms parting with the game not long after.
This is an utter shame because there are things I really liked about Light Tracer. Standing tall above all else is a soundtrack that’s way better than I ever anticipated. It offers a collection of different genres, from light and breezy acoustic guitar tracks to boisterous and catchy as hell big band standards. The game’s boss encounters are a major detractor to the experience and I would have loved the option to skip them. The game would be much better for it, in my opinion. The VR nature of the game is pretty great, offering a control scheme that works perfectly for this style of platformer. By giving the player control over the environment instead of the player character, the amount of freedom you get from manipulating the world with two hands is substantial. Light Tracer wins you over with a sweet smile and cute demeanor but it hides a dark alter ego, one that has no qualms with putting you through a physical and emotional ringer.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.