When a game starts with the dismembered head of a God bestowing a magical spear onto you (all the while babbling out a mix of English and German), you know you’re in for a unique experience. Lichtspeer provides exactly that – an arcade-inspired, high-score chasing, neon-drenched, spear-throwing game that’s both familiar in its premise yet different enough in its execution to make it supremely compelling.

So after taking your deity-given weapon and being given your motivation (you must fight and die because the Licht-Gods demand it), the game shoves you on a path of numerous levels packed with foes to dispatch. This is the only real story you’re given throughout, but the title is no worse off for this – instead, it builds a fantastical world through the use of brilliantly inventive locations and amusing German references. Nearly every level is named “das” something, and if you miss three times in a row the Licht Gods will scorn you with a gigantic “NEIN!” across the screen. Lichtspeer oozes character, which is more than enough to fill any gaps in plot – especially for a more arcade-y style title.

This character even spills over to the enemy and environmental design. Foes range from hipster ice giants to poorly-flying winged horses – and rather than going for realism, the developer opts for trippy fantasy (highlighted perhaps best of all by the fact that in-game currency is abbreviated to ‘LSD’) which means it was fun to anticipate what kind of adversary would be thrown at me next. Sadly, enemy variety isn’t the game’s strong point, but new designs are introduced at a steady enough pace to ensure things don’t get stale.

The game adopts a stylized 2D look, with blocky pieces mixed together to make objects. It’s rather unlike many other titles I’ve seen, and as such manages to stand out as unique among indie contemporaries (although at times it does resemble a flash game). Its trippy nature is best demonstrated in Lichtspeer‘s environments, which create things like pyramids with beams of neon light shooting out of them in one area and icebergs and boats full of Vikings in the next – all animated well, making them a joy to look at.

When you’re not admiring the scenery, you’ll be throwing spears. At its core Lichtspeer is a very simple arcade-y experience which requires only a couple of buttons to play, but hides a few more layers of complexity under this. At the start of a level your character will move to a stationary part of the screen, and hordes of enemies will begin to pour from the other end. To take them out, you will then have to aim and then throw your spear (and of course hit them). The mechanics for this are simple; you can adjust up and down with the analog stick, and throw with x. A handy trajectory is even shown for the first part of your shot.

It’s very easy to get a hold of once you get started, and early levels provide a nice gateway in. You’ll learn to aim for headshots as these provide extra points – as well as which enemies move quicker than others, and how to take down certain objects in the environment. It’s easy to get into a rhythm of shooting at just the right angle and taking out lines of foes in quick succession, something that makes the game truly shine. You’ll have a lot of fun racking up big scores like this, taking out area after area of enemies as you progress through the levels.

The difficulty quickly cranks up with this progression however, and I can imagine this putting off a lot of people. Death is instant if you’re hit, and you’ll be sent back to the last checkpoint once downed – leading to some frustrating replaying if one particular enemy is bothering you. Thankfully, levels are dividing into five or six sections so you never have to go too far back, but it is an annoyance worth mentioning (particularly when penguins rolling down hills on skateboards are in the mix).

To help with the challenge, you can spend LSD (the currency – not the drug) to buy various upgrades which really do help turn the tide in battle. Ranging from a simple shield around your character, to bolts of energy shooting out of the ground, they all help in a pinch. Their only flaw is that they all rely on manual activation, meaning you’ll have to get used to how they work to make the most of them. For example, you can upgrade your spear to split into five (which really helps if you’re a good but not great aim), but the action is on a cool-down and must be activated in air – meaning you really have to get the timing down to make full use of it.

The game’s difficulty is also highlighted in its bosses, which are incredibly challenging encounters testing all the skills you’ll have picked up from playing that far. They use pattern recognition to force you to adapt strategies, and they strip you of your upgrades so you have to rely on aiming skill alone. I found the first few quite fun, but later bosses have far too many rapid-kill mechanics; and often require you to aim at a very tiny, specific part to take them down. This makes them much more frustrating than rewarding to take on, and although I did manage to best all of them eventually, it soon became tedious to do so.

Once you’re done with the game you unlock new game +, which allows you to go through all of again with a few tweaks to make the journey worthwhile. There’s also a higher difficulty, which I didn’t attempt because – quite frankly – the game was challenging enough on the difficulty I played. That said, it’s there if you’re up to the task. Content-wise, Lichtspeer can probably be beaten in an afternoon, but there’s plenty of incentive to come back and chase new high scores and unlock new skills.

While the game’s difficulty spikes certainly do detract from the experience, in the end Lichtspeer takes a basic premise and makes it very enjoyable thanks to some lovely visuals, an addictive gameplay loop, and some trippy German-inspired design. Your mileage may vary in terms of how long it’ll keep you engaged – but if it hooks you, it provides the kind of high-score chasing arcade-y experience that’s perfect for short bursts (or even longer play sessions) on Vita.

  • The Atom

    Thanks for the review! Looks worse than I was hoping…

    At the same time, it seems Lichtspeer means Light Spear in both German and Dutch… well, that sucks.

    This game is SO FULL of Polish people making fun of Germans though. It’s curious how their Germany jokes are similar to the ones from the Netherlands though. Interesting anthropological finds, but the game seems… well… meh.

  • Joep

    Similar jokes from the ones from the Netherlands??? I don’t expect this game is about digging holes in beaches? And Poland is a bit short of those right? They can’t make fun about that.

    On topic, no. I don’t think I ever will play this game. There is a reason why I game with a Vita and not with my Phone.
    (For those who don’t have a clue about what’s going on, we (dutch people) tend to believe that all german people dig holes in our beaches when they are on holiday).