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Mega Man and Doom collide in slick new indie platformer

Of all the games I tried at PAX East, this stunning new platformer stands out from the crowsd with flashy movement and stunning visuals.

A blue, bald boy wearing a red cloak with fur lining holding a sword as wind whips around him

I played 40 games during my time at PAX East and GDC, and none of them were even close to rivaling Lucid. I walked into my demo feeling haggard and road-weary; late nights and over a week on the road working videogame conventions is fun, but it also takes a toll – and this was my last demo of the trip. But speaking with Eric Manahan, the founder of Matte Black Studio and solo developer behind Lucid, was restorative. His excitement to show off his first game was infectious, and Lucid easily lived up to the high expectations he set for me.

Drawing inspiration from Celeste, Mega Man, Super Metroid, Dark Souls, DOOM 2016, and classic Zelda titles, Lucid just sounds too good to be true. But if my demo is any indication of the final product, Matte Black Studio is going to have a serious hit on its hands when the platform game eventually lands.

Now, I know I just listed a lot of varied influences, but you can see flashes of Mega Man and Super Metroid – even Ninja Gaiden – in Lucid’s intricate level design. That’s not to say it’s just a collage or homage, though; each point where one of those inspirations shines through is unique, rather than something that’s been lifted from elsewhere and plopped in haphazardly.

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Lucid presents you with clever, challenging level design while balancing out the difficulty with versatile and forgiving movement systems. Something I appreciated about the section I played was that, if you want to, you don’t even need to touch the ground as you blaze through levels – it’s all a matter of chaining together aerial dashes and regaining your double jump with each slash from your sword. But, if you’re still finding your sea legs with its admittedly complex controls, you can go slow and take on each section one by one. Nailing this kind of versatile level design is imperative to building a game that both champions traversal and encourages you to do fancy platforming.

Once you get the hang of your dash, double jump, and a few environmental tools (patches of bright blue crystals extend your dash, for instance), you’re let loose in a platforming playground. There are vines to slash through to regain your aerial dash and enemies to blast with your Mega Man-like gun.

Mega Man and Doom collide in slick new indie platformer: A blue pixel character dashes upwards in a dark dungeon area

I didn’t get far enough into the demo to see everything Lucid offers, but Manahan told me about his approach to designing genre staples, like fast travel and save points. The latter, for example, function more like a Dark Souls bonfire than a Metroid save room. In addition to saving your game, save points let you modify and power up your character’s abilities by equipping talismans that unlock new abilities.

Manahan also mentioned that he was taking a unique approach to fast travel, one that acts as a double-edged sword. While he didn’t go too in-depth about it, it seems you’ll need to pick and choose your desired travel points, making backtracking a more delicate dance that capitalizes on savvy resource management. His stance on fast travel is laser-focused on making the traversal itself fun, restricting fast travel to moments where it’s absolutely necessary. “If traversal is 50% of the game and your traversal isn’t fun, you’re leaving money on the table,” he tells me. This no-holds-barred approach to traversal points to an unabashed confidence and belief in his vision that has me excited.

Mega Man and Doom collide in slick new indie platformer: A blue pixel videogame character stands in a green forest area as an enemy that looks like a mix of bee and bear looks down at him

But beyond the pure joy of Lucid’s movement, nearly every supplemental aspect of the game added the icing on top of an already delicious cake. High-fidelity, flashy pixel graphics make every slash, dash, and jump feel responsive and weighty. They also allow each environment to pop with gorgeous art and small, bespoke animations, making the world of Lucid feel alive and vibrant.

Ever since I put it down, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Lucid. If my hands-on time with the first half hour or so is any indication, this could be a must-play platformer that will stand alongside the best Metroidvania games in defining what the genre can and should be.