Lucid Path – an indie game with promise

I’m always very excited when I get an email from a game developer. I love getting the opportunity to have a go at games that I wouldn’t have found otherwise, or that try to do something new or interesting.

Today we’re looking at one such game: Lucid Path, which is available on Steam for just a couple of quid. I received a review key from Michał Kędzierski (from what I can tell, Lucid Path was made solo by Michał under the studio name ‘Grevicor’) along with the following description:

Lucid Path is a combination of RPG and arcade game which focuses on progressing in a dungeon and upgrading your character. The game is divided into two parts: dungeon exploration and preparations. During the first part you battle monsters in semi-automatic turn-based battles and try to get as far as possible. In the second part you can regain your health and earn gold by playing mini-games, buy and equip new weapons and armors and increase your stats.

Alright, but what makes Lucid Path really interesting?
Well, the idea for this game is to present the player with a simple and pleasant game mechanics and let him enjoy it for first 1.5-2h of the game. And then, when the player thinks that he already knows everything about the game, let him experience more and more unexpected and twisted situations.

I don’t think that’s an inaccurate description, as fate would have it, but of course there’s more to be said – or else why bother doing a review at all?

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The game begins with you, the unnamed-as-far-as-I-can-tell unlikely hero, deciding that your life is kind of stale and that you’re gonna wander off in search of adventure. That’s it. It’s a refreshingly simple start, actually, and I think a lot of the choices made in designing Lucid Path were intended to capture the same kind of feeling of throwback simplicity; the visuals have been created in retro-fashioned pixel art, and I really like the visual presentation for the most part. Pixel art isn’t easy to do while also creating something that looks both pleasing and distinctive, and Lucid Path‘s main screens and characters are generally pretty well-done!

Whaddya Gotta Do?

The game unfolds much as Michał describes above: there are two primary stages to the gameplay, as you alternate between hanging out in the hub village and delving down into the dungeon. In the village, you can visit the town hall to pick up chores (which are the thing you’ll probably spend most of your time doing, and more on that later), head to the shop to buy better gear, or go to the arena to train up your skills or fight for rewards of Good Equipment.

Down in the dungeons, things are perhaps best described in Michał’s own words: ‘semi-automatic turn-based battles’. What this means is that you’ll face groups of monsters in each room, advancing to the next as you clear them out, and you have very limited control over what happens here. It’s mostly just the player character making one attack, then each of the enemies getting an attack, rinse and repeat; you do have four ‘spell tomes’ which you can use mid-battle to do things like raise your attack, inflict AoE damage on your foes, or lower enemies’ defences, but other than that everything just happens merrily on its own.

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The dungeon battles continue until you’re defeated, at which point you return to the town with no health and, hopefully, a bit of gold and maybe some phat lewt. You’ll then head to the town hall to do some of those aforementioned chores, which grant you your health back as well as MOAR GOLDZ and some different-coloured coins which act as experience points (they’re what can be spent at the arena to raise your stats). So it’s mostly a case of:

  1. Dungeon Battles
  2. Do Chores until health restored (and then probably do some more so you can get more money)
  3. Increase Stats, maybe Buy Better Stuff
  4. Head back to Dungeon Battles

… and this cycle forms the bulk of what you’ll be spending your time doing.

As we’ve covered, the Dungeon Battles require very little input, which means that most of the time the player spends interacting with the game is dedicated to the Chores. They consist of a limited selection of simple minigames, with the game awarding a certain amount of gold or health as you gain ‘progress points’ from either completing enough actions or surviving long enough.

The games go something like this:

  1. ‘Planetoids’ fall from above; you move left and right, and shoot them. It’s Space Invader with Asteroids graphics.
  2. You fall through a tube and try not to hit the walls.
  3. You walk around and hit little squares (robots, apparently) while trying not to get hit yourself.
  4. You move a shield up, down, left, or right in order to avoid flying spears. (It’s the Undyne battle in Undertale, for those who’ve played it.)
  5. You hold space to jump higher, and must jump over pillars. (It’s the Papyrus battle in Undertale.)

They’re not bad, but… you’re gonna be spending a lot of time playing them on repeat, for solid 5- or 10-minute stretches if you want to build up gold quickly. Each individual game doesn’t last more than a few seconds, as they quickly build up speed to the point that no human could possibly hope to keep up, but you’ll need to grind them out pretty heftily.

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There’s also the fact that the ‘chores’ you’re doing don’t relate to the games. You’re doing your asteroid-shooty thing, or your jumpy thing, but the chores the game tells you you’re doing are things like ‘tame a dragon’, or ‘stop drunken people messing up a graveyard’, or ‘fetch a boy a sword’ (that one seems a bit dubious). Yet, whatever chore you opt to do, the choice is only really between those five games.

How much you actually need to play of these games depends on how much gear you want to buy. I got my best gear, stats-wise, from doing the arena battles or just stumbling across chests in the dungeon, but there were a couple of points where I was struggling and needed to buy something that would give me a bit more of an edge, requiring a fairly lengthy stretch of minigaming. Either way, that’ll be the thing you spend most of your active time actually doing, since you can just sort of leave it while your character ‘semi-automatic turn-based’ battles his way through the dungeon’s rooms, and… well, looking at my play time on Steam, apparently it took me somewhere in the region of four hours to complete the game, but I genuinely feel like I spent a lot longer than that on it, and sadly I don’t think that’s a hugely resounding recommendation.

So that’s the actual meat and potatoes of the thing, but there’s actually quite a big upside I’ve not really touched on, which is that Lucid Path (I just mistyped it as ‘Ludic’ Path, which feels oddly appropriate) is genuinely ambitious. It really wants to do something innovative, so let’s talk about the efforts it makes to that end.

What Lucid Path Does Well

As Michał describes it, the concept for the game revolved around giving the player a peaceful, relaxing sense of knowing-what’s-going-on-iness, then yanking that out from under them just as they’re feeling all safe and whatnot. And, to give credit where credit’s due, it does manage that quite effectively. The story, as we’ve touched on, opens very simply: your character decides to up sticks and head out for adventure. As you progress through the dungeons you’ll uncover more to the tale: a story of a being called PERUN who was once a powerful hero but who fell to evil and wound up sealed inside something called a ‘force vessel’. (The English-language text and dialogue does the job well enough most of the time, but there are some noticeably peculiar quirks.)

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I saw most of the tale coming, I think, with a couple of cleverly-done exceptions, but the points that the game wants to use to shock you are executed quite nicely. I won’t ruin it, because I think those moments are worth experiencing for yourself; suffice to say that the limited amount of control the player has is exploited to its fullest effect to make you feel deeply uncomfortable at times. The game is certainly at its best when the player feels the impact of the actions they’re taking (or choosing not to take) – a much smaller example of this would be the fact that, while most of the dungeons are pretty much automatic, the ‘arena’ battles require some input in timing hits correctly, and I couldn’t help but wonder why the whole thing wasn’t done with that increased (still marginal) level of interactivity.

There’s also a lovely talking cactus, who you only meet for a short time but who’s memorable enough to have an impact in a well-done later scene.

Lucid Path has quite a few really great moments where I thought ‘d’you know what, that’s really a rather good idea’. It does set expectations and then effectively destroy them, which is always fun!

It’s Got Potential

There are some genuinely cool things in Lucid Path, then, and I’ll always have time and respect for any developer – especially a small one – who’s got the ambition to try to achieve something new. I think Lucid Path as an experiment works, delivering on the things it really wants to show off.

Those moments are, unfortunately, fairly few and far-between, but I don’t think it would take too much work to shape it into something more seamless and consistently enjoyable. In its current state, I think Lucid Path would have worked much better as a mobile game, allowing for true idle gameplay rather than the unusual semi-automatic motions that really just force the player to sit and watch much of the action. The RPG elements are pretty neat, though, with a standard enough array of stats to upgrade which get the job done, and upgrading your stats and equipment does provide a fairly well-scaled experience as you make your way through the dungeon. I think I’d probably just make it all somewhat shorter and less grindy in the middle parts, and that would make the whole experience feel a bit smoother.

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And, to be honest, I’d probably overhaul the current minigame system entirely. I did really quite like the fact that the skills you use playing those games do come in handy later on (and it’s another of those good moments that made me wonder why the whole game didn’t have more of this!), but their near-irrelevance to the chores you’re ostensibly completing makes it all feel a bit… like… why am I doing this? Is my character supposed to be hanging out playing arcade games? I dunno. I reckon a simpler, unified set of mechanics in the chore sections – maybe make it a platformer or something, just make it distinct from the dungeon – and the quests actually matching up to what they claim to be would have made things seem neater. Plus then there’d have been a nice mix of playstyles to make the pacing feel a little nicer; the minigames as they are certainly add variety, but they’re so simple that the added value feels limited.

I think the story beats could have been made even more effective, too, by allowing you to actually get to know the other characters who inhabit the village. You interact very minimally with the shop owner and the… mayor? I forget. Either way, they appear as little sprites talking to you as you buy things or do chores, but you don’t really get to know them as people. There are other characters you’ll meet in the dungeon who you’ll feel you know better, but some of the big moments revolve around things happening to the village cast, so I think they could do with a bit more love.

Finally, a few anti-frustration tweaks would go a long way here. I went through a brief period, while planning this review, during which I was adamant that I would have to give it a scathing ‘avoid this game’ verdict purely because of how frustrating the final boss is. (He’s played a little differently to most of the dungeon gameplay, which I will say I do actually like a lot.) His most basic attack is an axe swing with a ludicrous hitbox covering a good 180 degree radius across a pretty big distance, and the only way to avoid it is to get behind him; sounds alright, but you can’t go far out of your way or you’ll be hit by the absolutely unbelievable (I’m not letting go of this point, I’m afraid, because it doesn’t even look like it’s making contact!) range of his swing, and you can’t touch him or you’ll take just as much damage. So, on the off chance Michał is reading this and considering updates, please make that one attack less ridiculous and I’ll be a happy man!

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Other things to consider might be the fact that at certain points the screen will go a bit greyscale for dramatic reasons. I don’t dislike that at all except for the fact that the shop still functions as usual, and most of the time you can tell which gear is likely to be good because it’s colour-coded and the stat increase or decrease it would grant is highlighted red or green, so it’s near-impossible to tell what’s going on when in grey mode. Plus, there’s a point in the game where (for reasons I’m not entirely certain of) an odd haze effect is put over everything for a while, and it actually made me slightly motion sick to the point that I had to take a quick break!

My Tip for New Players

Before I wrap up, I think I discovered one trick that made things go much easier for me in general, and perhaps this can help you get through the dungeons quicker so you can get to those juicy bits.

You have the ability to equip up to four magical tomes, as we briefly touched on, and some of them only have a one-off effect on a single room of enemies. Two of them, however, will last for your entire time in the dungeon until you’re defeated, so my tip is to pick up (as soon as you can, and keep getting better versions of them) the two tomes that raise your defence and attack stats. Cast the defence spell as the very first thing you do every time you enter the dungeon, then the attack one immediately after, and for the whole time you spend there you’ll be doing significantly more damage and dying significantly less quickly. In fact, a sufficiently large boost to your defence can reduce the damage most enemies do to 1, making survival a breeze.

The other tomes I used were fire (damage to all enemies) and curse (lowers enemies’ attack). I pulled those out when I thought my health was low enough that I wasn’t likely to survive another room without them, and it got me a few extra rooms – or even let me beat a boss with very little health left, since the combo of defence boost and curse could reduce incoming damage massively.

So do I recommend Lucid Path?

I think there are moments in Lucid Path that are well done and worth experiencing for yourself, but I’m not sure I can recommend it in its current form because of how grindy it can be to get to those points. There’s an argument to be made that those moments work as well as they do precisely because you get into the mood of semi-auto grinding and minigaming, so the pace changes throw you off more effectively, but so much of your playtime will be spent on those things that the overall experience may not be entirely enjoyable.

If you’re into indie, experimental things, then I certainly feel comfortable saying Lucid Path is worth picking up for the very low price it’s going for on Steam. If that’s not your bag, though, or if you aren’t willing to spend quite a lot of time just sort of waiting for the good parts, it may not be for you. For me, I do think it was worth experiencing the highs, even if they represent only a small proportion of the time I spent playing. I think that in future and with a bit more polish, Grevicor will be able to create experiences with higher highs and less of the other stuff!

Again, I’m grateful to Michał Kędzierski for supplying a key for Lucid Path on Steam for the purposes of this review.

2 comments

  1. An interesting game, for sure. I liked the story a lot, but agree with some of the issues you had with how the grinding was handled. I wondered the same thing… Is Adventure Dude actually slaying dragons, or sitting at an arcade cabinet? haha

    Without spoiling, I think the shaky screen had to do with the character’s mental state……….. especially since it happens before the… limited control part…. hm…. 😛

    I have to disagree with you on the final boss! While it did sort of come out of nowhere, I really liked it! It was tough, and the spike was a bit unexpected, but I thought it was really well handled and posed the short of tying-together I wanted to see through the rest of the game. That first swing was insane, and like I said, out of nowhere, but I loved the boss fights the best out of everything else in the game.

    ….except perhaps Cacto…

    Liked by 1 person

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