Review: A Wave of Lights

From Tabby Wright and bitter_aishin, A Wave of Lights is a short yuri kinetic novel developed for Shoot for the Stars Jam 2020. Walking her usual path along the beach at night, Hannah is surprised by the unexpected: an alien spacecraft falling in the water! Emerging from the craft is Angeluxia (Angie for short), a cute alien being from another planet. From here, her life changes forever.

Overwhelmingly Cute

It’s impossible to miss how wonderfully adorable the whole game is, from backgrounds to sprites to UI. It’s full of dark pastels and brush-like edges with a lovely watercolor texture washed over the whole thing. While the backgrounds aren’t scenically complex, the detailed attention to color and shadow creates a painterly feeling of depth. The ocean and sky at the beach are dark and deep, going on forever into the unknown. Angie isn’t a particularly new or different alien design, but she’s very fun and spirited. When she tells Hannah about her home planet of Oceanocte, the influence of one can be seen in the other clearly. She feels like she belongs to the planet she describes.

While there’s the expected imperfection of a jam game in some of the posing and smaller aspects of design, the overall aesthetic feels like a warm hug from a new friend.

Wonderful Character Chemistry

Hannah has a simultaneously refreshing and relatable inner monologue. You can feel her anxiety and uncertainty, all capped with a veneer of deadpan snark. Finding an alien at the beach is the least of her concerns, and you’re happy to go along with her on this very peculiar ride.

Even more fun than that is the interplay between Angie and Hannah. They have a sparkling chemistry that plays with the border between platonic and romantic but never confuses their intentions. Angie’s constant stream of questions and assumptions about human life keep Hannah on her toes in a way that’s not only fun to watch, but also makes you reconsider your own concept of the Earth. Where do you find calcium?

The implication of the spaceship as an additional side character elevates the whole dynamic into something just a little different than the average alien encounter.

Doesn’t Finish as Much as It Starts

Even for such a small game with a presumably quick development cycle, A Wave of Lights tries to do a lot narratively. There’s a reveal of surprisingly deep lore and a lot of thought put into the mechanics of first contact.
With only so much space to work with, though, they sacrifice some character development for backstory and to make room to squeeze in some xeno-science that only gets touched upon. Hannah’s arc doesn’t feel quite done at the end. We’re presented with a very specific barrier that could have worked as a perfect, concrete representation of moving past some of her struggles, and they just flit right past it. At the end, it doesn’t feel like she’s resolved anything and has just picked another way of running from her problems. While Angie plays the selectively brilliant, more intelligent lifeform well, it’s really only at the very end that we get a hint at something a little more.

An Interesting Approach to “Weirdness”

In the end, where this game comes together and brings something new is its use of “weirdness” almost as its own character. It’s the one thing Hannah fears more than anything else, and the one thing that Angie never makes her feel. Weirdness becomes something she has to overcome and get a grip on while she learns to understand it differently at the same time. Angie’s relative weirdness helps her understand her own and see it in a new, less scary light. Something that haunted her becomes something she not only embraces, she leaps into with both feet.

A Wave of Lights is equal parts soft romance and an exploration of anxiety and mental illness. It doesn’t aim to presume our main character is cured, but she learns to give herself some slack and find a world she can learn to live in. It’s a lot of love packed in a little game and, despite its small imperfections, a delight to play.

A Wave of Lights can be downloaded from itch.io.