Thatgamecompany has made a name for itself in the indie game space for crafting gorgeous, thought-provoking, and mesmerizing adventures that are best experienced rather than described. From the beautifully esoteric Cloud and flOw, to the simple and stunning Flower, and the critically acclaimed and award-winning Journey, the studio only knows how to craft cult classics and beloved experiences. Lantern, a recently released PC game in a similar mold of “calming, relaxing, vague, and meditative” games is not created by Thatgamecompany — and it shows.
When we first caught wind of this beautiful title, we called Storm in a Teacup’s thoughtful and beautiful Asian-fused adventure “VR’s beautiful answer to Flower“. While that wasn’t inaccurate, Lantern lacks that special ‘something’ needed to ultimately claim that crown.
In Lantern, you’ll find a game that’s light on details and heavy on atmosphere, as expected. The opening moments set you in a small shack, seemingly near the ocean, as you can see the breeze lightly fluttering the tapestries around you. There are four total worlds adhering to each of the seasons to choose from — Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring — unlocked in sequential order. Picking Summer, you begin the game as a single, red lantern, hovering over the water bank, near a small oceanside village.
Controlling the lantern is simple: hold down the A button to accelerate, tilt the left analog stick to steer, and once charged, you can boost with L2 or emit a burst with R2. Playing with a controller is highly recommended, as the analog stick is a much more fluid control scheme. No motion controllers are supported at this time. As you move across the world, every area that you fly over is regenerated with bold and bright colors. Your role as the lantern is not only to light the way, igniting the lights along paths, but to bring back the life, warmth, and love to the land. It’s a beautifully poetic premise that’s both mesmerizing and soothing to experience.
Lantern features VR support for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and OSVR platforms — this review was conducted using an HTC Vive. The reason I state this so clearly is that, other than supporting these headsets and letting you look around the world in 360-degrees while playing, no other work has gone into accommodating VR platforms.
This is a major issue for the game because, as you can tell from the footage, you spend the entire experience flying around large Asian-inspired environments. Constantly. Every time you tilt the stick, the camera moves fluidly across the Y-axis, banking and turning as your lantern flows through the air. I’ve never experiences real motion sickness before, but even this game made me feel a bit light-headed after an hour or so.
Implementing an Eagle Flight-esque control method for VR that allowed you to tilt your head for turning instead of moving the control stick would have been greatly preferable. Or at the very least coning the field-of-view to limit the motion sickness.
Optimization for VR games is also incredibly important, but even though I greatly outpace the recommended specs, I still dropped frames and noticed jitter when turning in the air. That issue disappeared outside the headset.
These shortcomings as a VR title are disappointing because, as a game in and of itself, Lantern is well-made. Fans of meditative adventures such as Flower and Journey will find a lot to love here, as the addictive nature of slowly returning life and color to a black and white world is infectious and rewarding on a purely visual basis, although simplistic and boring if the genre isn’t for you. Ultimately though, the gameplay when wearing a VR headset comes off as lackluster and borderline nauseating — even for those with sturdy VR legs.