For fear of repeating ourselves, one thing that the PlayStation 4 certainly isn't short of is creative, unique, and sometimes downright bizarre indie titles. Just when we think that we've seen it all, along comes developer Lichthund with its arcade javelin-em-up Lichtspeer to prove us wrong. Ported to Sony's system by Crunching Koalas, this simple title sees you hurling spears of light at hordes of enemies and notching up high scores in – get this – an ancient Germanic future. Wait, what?
The tongue is clearly wedged in cheek from the offset, with the game's silly sense of humour standing front and centre. The Lichtgod, an almighty deity, is bored, and so bestows the power to wield lichtspeers unto you. You're tasked with, essentially, keeping him amused by killing a lot, and dying a lot. To do this is easy: simply hold down X to charge your throw, aim at an encroaching baddy with the left stick, and let it fly. There isn't a whole lot more, really.
Thankfully, that's not a huge problem, as the simple act of chucking deadly spears across the screen is surprisingly compelling. The thud of the impact when a spear makes contact with an enemy is pleasingly satisfying, and you'll find yourself addicted immediately. What's interesting is that this simple act is more nuanced than it sounds. Headshots increase your score multiplier, encouraging you to aim more carefully. You can't mindlessly spam the throws, as missing your foes too many times in a row will anger the Lichtgod, causing you to lose your abilities for a few seconds, which can easily result in death. An enemy needs only to reach you to kill you.
There are also a wide range of enemy types slowly introduced as you progress, all requiring slightly different approaches. For example, there are giants which can take more spears before they die, and speedy zombies that rush towards you, commanding your attention. Fighting back the horde becomes a more methodical task of prioritising certain varieties in order of how immediate a threat they are. You'll need to be able to make these decisions in a heartbeat, especially in the later levels when the challenge really ramps up.
For when things do get a little too busy, though, you do have access to three extra abilities, unlocked with the points you earn while you play. These come in offensive, defensive, and special flavours, and are attributed to square, circle, and triangle respectively. You start off with the power to turn a single spear into three, useful for eliminating some of the smaller baddies, but are soon able to purchase others. We found the shield very useful for tight spots, and the special ability we preferred was a screen-clearing blast. There are a fair amount to try and each is upgradeable, so there's plenty of room for experimenting to find your favourite combination.
Unfortunately, these abilities are taken away when fighting bosses, which crop up every couple of levels, and are generally less fun to fight than a screen full of penguins and walruses on skateboards. There are some creative designs and some of the fights are quite good, but sometimes winning feels as much down to luck as it does skill.
While the regular levels fare better, as the game goes on, we noticed some severe difficulty spikes. Some sections place you in the centre of the screen rather than the left or right, forcing you to manage both sides. When this happens, it's all too easy to miss a crucial throw amidst the chaos or fail to spot an enemy at all, which can be incredibly frustrating. Later stages also include other hazards, such as intermittent lasers that need to be switched off or an orb that speeds up all enemies that pass through it. When everything is combined, it can become too hard to read the screen, again resulting in some patience-testing deaths.
To counter this, restarts are immediate and you don't have to play the entire level again, meaning that you can jump straight back into the action without having lost too much progress. Enemy placements don't change either, so you will eventually get through a tricky section once you get an idea of the pattern.
Graphically, Lichtspeer isn't anything spectacular – especially in terms of animation – but its use of basic geometry and blocky colours has its own simple charm. The music, while generally fairly good, can become very repetitive if you get stuck, though – an all too regular occurrence in later levels.
Lichtspeer's saving grace is its exceedingly satisfying aim-and-throw gameplay. Simple and yet devilishly compelling, it's the one trick up the game's sleeve that'll keep you coming back for more, despite some very challenging sections and so-so bosses. Arcade gamers that are looking for something new will have a ball with the flinger's fast-paced action, but for most, this will likely only entertain for a short while. It's not the best arcade game around, then, but it's also by no means the wurst.