Video game stories have grown up in the last few generations. Every year more developers are creating games with mature and dark themes that television and movie cinema have embraced for decades. It’s not the violence or graphic nature of these kind of stories that draws me in but the realistic representation of real world problems.
Lithium: Inmate 39 doesn’t shy away from the issue of mental health and in fact the game is based on that exact topic. I was excited to jump in and see what developer CanuArts had created after reading about their creative process during development. Lithium lets you control a lemur-like creature that represents the game narrator, a psychiatric patient in a mental health facility.
Unfortunately, CanuArts may have been too ambitious with the gameplay and design of Lithium as I found it hard to look beyond the myriad of technical and design issues that hinder the potentially interesting story. I usually enjoy a good puzzle platformer whether it be 2D or 3D but Lithium manages to be frustrating at both aspects of the game.
Platformers require tight mechanics and smooth game play particularly in a 3D environment with puzzles. I found myself repeatedly dying not because I couldn’t solve the puzzle rather I never had good control over my character while running, crouching, or jumping through the levels. Several animations in the game are slow and cumbersome making it difficult to solve puzzles quickly when under pressure. Adding to my frustration is the fixed camera angle that the game defaults to anytime you load your most recent checkpoint. I would be shocked if the developers weren’t inspired by the original Resident Evil as the camera is very much the same except the fixed angle is not executed well in Lithium. I will note that the developers patched in settings to change the camera to a traditional rotating view but that setting resulted in game crashes when used in any small environment.
I like indie games and I understand the limitations that small independent studios run into while developing new games. Lithium was never going to be a polished graphical powerhouse so I expected lower quality textures, less detail, and maybe even sparse environments. With that said, I still felt the look of Lithium felt low quality. Art direction could be greatly improved as well as enemy design, some enemies feel bland and un-interesting while others are encountered so often that any interesting design or visuals wore out their welcome too fast.
CanuArts doesn’t knock it out of the park with their first game but Lithium does have some creative puzzles and an intriguing story. With over 200 puzzles spread throughout a series of chapters, many of them feel like obligatory obstacles between the few cleverly designed puzzles. Every chapter is bookmarked by an intricate battle against a monstrous creature. These boss battles are one of the highlights of my time spent with Lithium. Outsmarting some of these grotesque monsters involved using a series of mechanical traps, switches, and maneuvers. It’s frustrating that the well-designed areas of the game are limited to a handful of chapter endings.
The story of Lithium: Inmate 39 is minimal with the only narrative coming at the beginning of every chapter. What Lithium is lacking in a narrative story and dialog it makes up for with a good atmosphere and not so subtle documents found before the boss battles. Each chapter boss is the representation of an inmate that you can read about in said documents. I found the premise of Lithium to be intriguing but would have liked to see some more creative story telling.
Lithium: Inmate 39 could be a good indie title but it is hampered by camera issues, frustrating puzzle design, and a lack of overall polish. Despite the shortcomings of this horror/puzzler, there is something to enjoy about the premise and ambiance of Lithium. I can’t recommend purchasing this game but with a few well developed patches CanuArts could showcase some of Lithium’s good aspects and remove some miscellaneous issues.
Lithium: Inmate 39 was reviewed using an Playstation 4 code provided by the publisher. You can read additional information about PSVG’s review policy on our disclaimer page here.