Primal Light
Gameplay 7
Graphics 8
Sound 7

Primal Light is a linear 2D platformer with some great pixel art and very punishing gameplay. It is very much an old school title, so you can expect limited lives, checkpoints, and having to redo the entire level with each continue. Most platformers have eased up on these things, which means Primal Light can be enjoyably challenging or frustratingly difficult, depending on your skill level. It’s not a game we would recommend to casual players, but if it is a challenge you want you’ll definitely find it here.

Gameplay: Can be brutal at times, but nothing that can’t be overcome with some patience and perseverance.

Graphics: Captures the 16-bit aesthetic perfectly.

Sound: Moody and eerie

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Primal Light

Developer: Fat Gem | Publisher: Fat Gem | Release Date: 2020 | Genre: Action / Platformer / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Primal Light opens with some menacing ancient god appearing and laying waste to a peaceful village. Apparently, this god has cursed the inhabitants of the village, including the protagonist, Krog. Armed with only his red loincloth and a slash attack, Krog must traverse ten levels that are filled with vicious enemies and deadly traps to save his people. It’s not a terribly original or especially captivating story, but then again it doesn’t really matter as after the brief intro there are no more explanations or revelations. Instead, Primal Light is all about the good old fashioned brutally hard platforming fun.

Primal Light is a 16-bit style platformer through and through, which can be good or bad depending on how fondly you remember the era of limited lives, checkpoints, bottomless pits, and continues that put you right back at the start of the level. If you remember these things fondly, then you’ll feel right at home playing Primal Light. If not, then you might be in for an unpleasant surprise as this game is one of the most challenging titles that we’ve played in quite a while. However, the most amazing thing about Primal Light is that it was made by two people with no game dev experience. They completed the game in their free time across three years and the result is something that looks like it was made for a Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo back in the day.

The visuals of Primal Light immediately caught our eye as it features some scrumptious 2D pixel art. From the parallax scrolling in the backgrounds to the imposing boss battles, Primal Light absolutely nails the 16-bit style. It even has a CRT filter that you can enable if you want to go really old school. The designs for the bosses are a highlight, but the regular enemies look pretty decent too. Each level also introduces a couple of new ones, so you never know what to expect next as you slash your way through skeletons, zombies, flying insects, slimes, and all kinds of other critters. There’s a feeling of anything goes when it comes to the enemy designs, which is similar to what titles such as Altered Beast, Castlevania, and Gods had to offer. Although the game is linear, each of the ten levels has a unique theme and you constantly have to be on the lookout for new tricks and traps that can ruin your day. We also noticed a couple of references to other classic games, which is a nice touch.

The game has a strange, twisted vibe, which is captured quite well by the eerie soundtrack. The music isn’t exactly catchy but can become quite hypnotic as you concentrate on staying alive. The sound effects are decent too and there’s even a 16-bit sounding speech snippet for the sole friendly merchant you encounter one each level.

As with all platform games we played Primal Light using a controller and encountered no issues. Jumping and attacking felt responsive and some additional moves are introduced as you play, such as the obligatory double-jump and dashing. Krog can only attack forward or upwards and any other contact with enemies results in damage, so you won’t be jumping on any heads.

The area that is going to divide most players is the difficulty as Primal Light is not afraid to be punishing. There are three settings, “Easy,” “Normal,” and “Hard” but these only seem to influence the number of lives you get per level. In addition to the limited lives, Primal Light also features checkpoints, so you won’t be able to save when and where you want. To make matters even worse, if you lose all your lives you can continue, but doing so will send you right back to the start of the level. This can be immensely frustrating to players who are used to modern conveniences and ensures that you won’t be breezing through the game on your first try. Instead, Primal Light requires you to become very familiar with every enemy and trap you encounter, so that you know exactly how to deal with them. Trying to rush things almost always ends in disaster thanks to Krog getting knocked back when taking damage and the abundance of instant death pits in the game.

As hard as the game is, it is not impossible, but you are going to need patience and perseverance to get through all the levels. Krog can only take about three hits from enemies, but his health can be replenished by the limited healing items he carries. Both your health bar and the number of healing items can be increased if you take a few risks and explore the levels thoroughly. Wandering off the beaten path increases your odds of meeting a gruesome end, but finding the runes that are hidden about makes it worthwhile. You can only equip two runes at a time and only while standing at the bonfires that serve as checkpoints. However, these runes can bestow advantages such as being able to see enemy health bars or allowing Krog to hit harder when at low health. There are also some destructible objects scattered about that can reward you with either coins or bombs if smashed. The coins can be used to buy up to two extra lives per level from the merchant, but the bombs will explode and must be avoided. This is easier said than done at times, especially when standing on tiny platforms over bottomless pits, but you are going to need every life you can get to complete the game.

Overall Primal Light is a tricky game to recommend as all the things that make it appealing to certain players will scare away many others. We liked the fact that defeating bosses requires some actual pattern recognition instead of simply walking up to them and slashing away while chugging health potions. On the other hand, it’s very frustrating to redo irritating platforming sections over and over because a projectile knocked you down a chasm right before you reached the checkpoint. At least doors that you opened during a previous life will stay open when you continue from a checkpoint, but enemies respawn as soon as you return to a room. Primal Light is somewhat of a novelty in an era where virtually all platformers have turned opted for the rogue-like or Metroidvania style, but unless you put in the effort it will punish you severely. If this sounds like fun, then chances are you’ll love Primal Light, but if you are looking for something a little more casual and more forgiving there are better options out there.

System Requirements

  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • OS: Windows 7, 8, or 10
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU 2.40 GHz, or equivalent
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4600, or equivalent
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Storage: 200 MB available space
  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • OS: MacOS 10.12, or newer
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo CPU 2.40 GHz, or equivalent
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 320M, or equivalent
  • Storage: 200 MB available space
  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • OS: N/A
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU 2.40 GHz, or equivalent
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4600, or equivalent
  • Storage: 200 MB available space
  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system

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