Glum Buster is a special game, in more ways than one. The core gameplay mechanic might be simple enough – a side scrolling platformer with puzzle elements – but the presentation of the game and the world of Glum is where the magic lies. The game utilises the concept of “charityware” – a certain percentage of donations to the developer will make their way to a charitable cause. Glum Buster developer Justin “CosMind” Leingang has chosen the worthy cause of the Starlight Children’s Foundation.
Cheer Up Dear Friend…
There is very little information about the world of Glum Buster on the official site, but having played through the game, it becomes apparent that this is intentional. It seems that CosMind wanted to create a mysterious game, set in a world that defies conventional logic and begs an explanation, even if that explanation has to be discovered for oneself. Glum Buster is the product of four years of detailed work from CosMind, with enchanting musical scores created by a mysterious character known only as Lonekiewie. The amount of time spent refining this game during its development is evident – common pitfalls such as sloppy controls or glitchy graphics are non-existent and no bugs were encountered in v1.0 used for this review. CosMind has been diligently ironing out small creases in the fabric of this game, and it is currently on v1.2.
The game begins with a caveat: “Cheer up dear friend, or they may come and take you where the glum is from…”. With that in mind, it should have been obvious to our nameless protagonist that taking a walk in particularly dour rainy weather is a sure way to put one in a glum mood… A shadowy figure appears and tears open a door in the fabric of reality, through which the protagonist is inevitably drawn, plunged into the alternate reality of the world of glum.
Still without explanation, and with no guidance forthcoming (apart from basic control tutorials), the player begins to explore their new environment – and what an intriguing environment it is. The game spans five areas, each with a unique style and control dynamic. For example, the game will have you traversing through strange graveyards, windmill powered irrigation systems, and vast grasslands. Some levels are so surreal that they defy description; often reminiscent of a Salvador Dali painting. Every level is lovingly crafted; the pixel art is detailed and intricate, and one can spend much time searching every nook hoping to find more ‘grins’ – the basis of the point system in the game. The player is given a target of 275 points to accumulate, but it is hinted that there may be a way to collect more…
Alongside the eerily glum monsters which need to be busted in order to collect grins, interactive environment elements comprise part of the puzzle that has to be solved before the player can move on to the next level. Dispatched enemies are often worn as a gruesome trophy, and double as armour. As in any puzzle game worth its salt, there are secret areas and items to be discovered. The sound effects compliment the strange environment perfectly, making good use of stereo effects to create a strange aural experience.
CosMind has delivered a masterfully crafted puzzle game – as soon as the player thinks they have come to grips with their strange environment and conquered an abstract puzzle, the game presents a new twist. “Eureka!” moments are often followed by prolonged periods of head scratching, and when the solution is inevitably figured out (or stumbled upon) the player is left slapping their palm against their forehead because it all seems so obvious in retrospect. Each stage of the game should take about an hour to complete, giving around five hours of total game time. Although you can become stuck on a particularly devilish puzzle from time to time, figuring out the solution is extremely rewarding as it takes you to yet another layer of the fantastical world of Glum that CosMind has created.