Lion Quest is a charming platformer by Dracula’s Cave.
Originally titled “Orange Cube,” the game is the developer’s first release, having been in development for two years. It was first slated for a PC and PS Vita release, but the production on the latter platform stalled following the closure of the PlayStation Mobile service. Despite this setback, Dracula’s Cave manages to craft a pleasantly beautiful and a charmingly fun game.
You play as Jethro the Lion, on your way to your swimming lesson when your friend Jefferson the Fox seems to have discovered a new dimension and inadvertently “broken the universe.”
It seems to be a side effect of his recent invention: portals. Not all is well, as Jethro’s cute and colorful cast of friends are trapped throughout levels. You’ll be able to enlist their help in progressing through blocked-off areas. By clearing all eight levels and opening the Red Portal, Jethro will fulfill the prophecy and fix the universe…
And so the story goes. The game opens up to a five-part tutorial that leads you through the basic mechanics of the game: moving around, jumping, environmental and enemy hazards. After the tutorials are completed, you’re dropped into a level select screen. The eight levels are scattered throughout the open area and can be completed non-consecutively, relatively speaking. I finished the first level, then attempted the sixth but was turned away because I didn’t have the Zen powers yet. Instead, I completed the fourth level, received the Zen powers, then went on to completed the second and sixth levels. But with how sparse character interaction is in the story mode, I did tend to forget that there was a universal crisis going on. The few lines of dialogue were nice, but not profound. A lot of plot advancement is done through completing the levels without much exposition.
The inclusion of a local multiplayer mode, arcade challenge mode, and a gift shop for purchasing unlockables help round out the game’s content. Collecting coins in levels buy unlockable characters and versus maps which allow for some replay value as story mode progresses with each new character. Unless you’re someone who goes for 100% completion, repeating levels for coins might get a little tiring.
I wasn’t able to try the versus or co-op modes too much, but the arcade challenge is definitely something scoreboard hunters and speedrunners should check out. Versus is a notably exciting battle royal of players trying to jump on each other in a wide variety of maps, while cooperative play is simply story mode only with two characters on a single screen. Hopefully, an online multiplayer mode can be patched in, but if not, it’s not a big deal.
Small Mechanics Give Way to Big Gameplay
Levels are lined with hazards in line with traditional platformers. Rotating squares and propellers make up the walls while stray animals wander the platforms. The aforementioned portals move you from one area to another, usually just past portals. Underwater sections allow you to jump higher and move further. Switches deactivate doors, drop blocks, and act as finish lines. Some platforms give way, creating a slight sense of urgency as you try to maneuver around hazards mid-descent. Of course, hitting one will just bring you back to a checkpoint without any real consequence or demerit. It might not raise the stakes too much, but there’s still a small sense of thrill there.
Throughout each level, you’ll run into your friends. Trapped in their own boxes as a result of the dimensions merging, they serve as side puzzles for the main level. When you run into a friend, you take control of both Jethro in the main level and your friend in their own closed loop. I have to admit, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad using my friends to move ahead when I couldn’t free them in the first few levels, but later levels have you practically partying with your homies. It was great to hop around with everyone, even if I was controlling how they moved.
Another mechanic that you gain halfway into the game is “Zen” and “Master Zen.” The former power lets you jostle certain individual blocks, having them float through the air. It’s useful for clearing through certain areas and moving large stacks out of your way. Master Zen serves an alternative purpose. When activating a drop block switch, the blocks are usually into a row of rotating hazards. Master Zen allows you to freeze the blocks in mid-air, creating a bridge across the gap.
While the mechanics of the game follow a traditional approach, subtle variations call for adjustments on the player’s end. Jump height is dependent on the level itself, rather than how long you hold the jump button. Checkpoints are unmarked, but usually the last solid platform wider than two blocks you stood on. Unfortunately, the checkpoint only applies to the most recent platform you stand on. If you happen to fall through to an earlier part of the level, jumping into the void won’t bring you back to your furthest checkpoint. I’ve only had to retrace my steps a couple of times, and fortunately, the distance was short, but I can imagine that this might be a point of contention for some.
The Look and Feel of the Ins and Outs
The level design and layout are interesting; the levels are expansive, stretching upwards and outwards. Because of how large the levels are, the game now allows you to save and quit without losing your progress. I’d say that the levels I’ve done took about ten or so minutes each, and that was while I was taking my time. But while I played, I found that some of the block platform placement made progression tedious and a little frustrating. Some blocks were just wide enough for me to fall through, and having played platformers before, the fixed height jump messed me up a bit as I tried to skip a block or two. Again, adjustments were made to accommodate, but I have to admit it was grating at first. Though I did find the occasional bug, scaling down a wall and getting caught on a pixel block I’m sure wasn’t supposed to be a standing surface.
The aesthetic of it all is peculiar in that it can’t be classified as 8-bit. Rather, the modern minimalism of it all brings it forward without any air of retro behind it. Each level has its own theme: rocket launching, underwater, the county fair, outer space. Small details in these thematic areas help give the feel of the world you’re in as well. The music resonates in a murkier, more harmonic fashion when you go underwater and your jump height increases significantly when in outer space. It’s these details that give you a sense of how involved this universe is. Coupled with Falcon Ave.’s ambient downtempo electronic soundtrack, Lion Quest achieves a sense of calm when playing. If you can’t time your jumps right or if you feel stuck, the pastel colors and the simple synths help alleviate some stress.
Lion Quest is a solid platformer with bright colors and interesting mechanics but gets weighed down by its slower pace and somewhat diminished single-player replay value. Despite this, the physics-bending mechanics help keep things fresh and the chaotic mayhem that is multiplayer make this a game you’d want to have in your library.