Come with me on a journey through time and space!
We all have that one friend. You know the one, messes with portals, destroys time and space, and leaves you to fix their mistakes. Yeah – that friend.
This is the setup for Lion Quest, a side-scrolling platformer where you play as Jethro the Lion who must navigate a series of collapsing worlds and attempt to prevent the imminent destruction of the universe. Along the way, you solve a series of puzzles to assist your animal friends and collect coins to unlock them as playable characters.
Lion Quest’s most prevalent feature has to be its elegant aesthetic that’s both modern and charming. The minimalist style would be familiar to anyone who spends time playing mobile games. The bright colours and square blocks perfectly capture the look and feel of many apps, although the platforming could never be accurately represented on a smartphone. The humorous text and cute animals would look right at home in a children’s picture book.
The art style leaves Lion Quest appearing simple, yet the platforming is deceptively complex. Like all good platformers, timing and accuracy are the key to success. Most platforms are no wider that Jethro and require perfect accuracy while jumping. The controls are tight so this never becomes a chore. Failing only results in Jethro respawning at the beginning of the particular section of platforms, meaning repeat attempts hardly ever become frustrating. As the game progresses, the platforming can be quite challenging, although it never reaches the extremes of a game like Super Meat Boy.
Jethro also comes equipped with some time-bending features of his own. Referred to as ‘Zen and the Art of Mind Control’ pressing one button allows you to control falling objects to rebuild paths or structures. The other ‘zen’ skill lets you stop objects in their tracks to create pathways that can be used to access new or hidden areas.
But Lion Quest is not as simple as jumping and moving blocks. Touching any rotating blue block or spinning windmill-like blade results in instant death. There are also enemies, jumping on their head removes them easily enough. Basically, they’re the ‘goomba’ of Lion Quest. The air currents and portals add some interesting variety to the gameplay.
Hidden throughout the game are small triangle shaped pickups that slightly askew the world making it look 3-D, similar to the feature of Super Paper Mario, although not to that extreme. I’m not sure what the purpose of this is beyond the developer Dracula’s Cave saying “hey look what we can do”. Well, I saw what you can do and I’m impressed.
Lion Quest has an excellent feature that many games have come to disregard and that’s the hub world. For me, hub worlds have been an important part of world building and exploration in platformers since Super Mario 64. There was always something special about exploring that castle and discovering its secrets. Lion Quest harnesses this and reaching each level is a mission in exploration and platforming which is significantly more interesting that choosing levels from a menu screen. The hub world also features entrances to the store and other modes.
The sound design is the opposite of what you would typically expect from a platformer, but perfectly embodies the game’s atmosphere, particularly its approach to Zen. Dracula’s Cave designed the ambient soundtrack to increase concentration and relaxation. They succeeded and it’s certainly a soundtrack that I would consider listening to outside of the game.
Lion Quest features a significant amount of content. The campaign is set across ten main story levels which take around 2-3 hours to complete. Beyond this, there are plenty of reasons to continue playing. A challenge mode puts you through a series of short difficult levels, while arcade mode lets you play through another 50 that combine all-new levels with remixed content from the main game. Unlock new characters by completing goals or spending coins at the shop. Each character has its own stats and special abilities, which can change the way the game is played. On top of all that, there’s also local co-op and competitive multiplayer.
Overall, Lion Quest is a worthy addition to your indie game library and is my current contender for platformer of the year. The relaxing atmosphere and charming aesthetic contributed to the shaping of a world that I don’t want to leave and thankfully the sheer amount of content means that I won’t have to anytime soon.
Lion Quest is the first game by Dracula’s Cave, an indie studio based in the U.K. You can find Lion Quest and it’s soundtrack on Steam.
Michael Vane is a freelance journalist and co-editor of PN2. Why not say hi on Twitter @DrVane