I got a little excited in the first few levels of Glo when my little black square illuminated some cryptic text as it moved through the darkness. The minimalist graphics combined with the unexpected intensity of storytelling, reminded me inexorably of Thomas Was Alone, the incredibly popular minimalist puzzle platformer from 2012 which told a rich story using only colorful, four sided shapes. As the levels progressed, they required reflexes that began pushing the game’s genre more solidly to platformer that puzzle. And my mood quickly deteriorated from excitement to whatever you call that feeling that makes you want to throw your computer against the nearest concrete surface.
As several of the reviewers on Steam have noted, Glo is a novelty among platformers for two aspects:
- Every level is completely dark, except for a faint glow coming from the black square controlled by the player, the small square bullets that the player can fire, and the square exit that the player is trying to reach.
- It offers an extreme degree of difficulty that isn’t “opt-in” (i.e. the “extreme”, “impossible”, or “hardcore” modes), not only due to the low visibility but the frankly diabolical design of each level.
The challenge of the hundred levels + four boss levels will definitely please platformer purists, and the speedrun mode will add a significant amount of replay value.
On the aesthetic side, Glo’s look is fantastic. The player’s black square is only a fraction larger than those that make up the game environment, though the game environment blocks are outlined in various neon colors, creating a striking effect. Apart from the three main light sources (player, bullets, and exit), the player can also obtain special ammunition on some levels. While these special bullets can have some additional functionality, such as sticking to a far point temporarily for improved vision, my main observation is that the levels can be beaten without them. However, some of them are particularly spectacular, like the Glo Bomb. I also enjoyed how the players death resulted in tiny glowing debris falling across the screen even after the player had respawned.
The one big downside for me is that although the story seems promising in the beginning, it really doesn’t go anywhere. For one thing, developer Chronik Spartan’s press indicates that your adversary- the entity leaving the messages, setting up the traps, and keeping you in darkness, is the darkness itself. Environment as the enemy isn’t anything new, nor is the enemy taunting you as you pass through increasingly difficult challenges- that’s very Portal-esque actually. The problem is that unless the player is at least a little bit of a completionist, they’re not going to get the whole story. The messages aren’t necessarily directly in the path between the player’s starting point and the exit, and neither are the collectible “memories” that reveal the game’s backstory.
I feel like there are different choices Chronik Spartan could have made to make the story feel like a more organic part of the game experience rather than an afterthought. There are lots of creative choices they made with the light mechanics that really set Glo apart, and I feel that if the storytelling had been a bit more polished this game would be getting a lot more attention. And that’s a shame, because Glo really does have a lot to offer.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.