The Land of Lamia: World of Monsters review
While many adventure games offer multiple protagonists, very few involve controlling more than one simultaneously. Following the success of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Nathan Sisler’s The Land of Lamia: World of Monsters similarly gives you control of two characters at once. A treat for both the eyes and mind, this endearing little title deftly weaves fantasy with a bit of horror across a spooky maze, ancient ruins, and a city of robots, but requires mastering its unique controls to progress. Bookworms will enjoy the storybook mechanic, wherein puzzle clues are found along with beautiful illustrations. A short play time leaves you with just a taste of this fascinating world, but the obstacles are difficult enough to challenge even experienced adventurers while it lasts.
The Land of Lamia begins with a sweeping view of an otherworldly vista, shrouded by mist and populated by mysterious creatures. Haunting piano music soars as the camera zooms in to a child’s bedroom, which appears as though it’s been cut out of its house and dropped into this surreal place. Inside the room, two children in a bunk bed open their bleary eyes. Lily and Thomas are siblings, and are amazed to find that the world they’ve awoken to looks eerily similar to the one described in their book of fairy tales. Lily grabs the tome from their shelf of toys and carries it safely in her arms, as it is now their only hope of successfully traversing this strange place. The pair step out of their room onto a spiraling cobblestone path, leaving the familiar comfort of home behind. While the scenery looks beautiful, something seems off about both the world and the kids, and a sense of unease pervades the atmosphere from the beginning. The creepy ambiance was a welcome surprise. Right off the bat, I couldn’t wait to explore.
Before you begin your journey, the controls are explained via a cute sketch that looks like it could have been drawn by a child. Using either the arrow keys or WASD, you move both Lily and Thomas at the same time. The tricky part is that Lily automatically walks faster than Thomas; getting the two in sync can be a challenge. Holding down the shift key makes Thomas run faster, but he’ll overtake Lily if you’re not careful. The space bar makes the kids jump in unison, while holding shift before jumping makes Thomas take a larger leap ahead of Lily. If Thomas wanders too far ahead, Lily will yell his name and he’ll stop long enough for her to catch up to him.
This wouldn’t be so daunting if you had all the time and space in the world to roam around. Instead, while you’re still trying to adjust to the controls, you get about three minutes before a poisonous mist starts chasing you. That’s not all, though—wander too far off the path and the kids will turn to stone. If you don’t adapt and move quickly, you’re out of luck, and luck is a rare commodity in the land of Lamia. I don’t even want to admit how many attempts it took me to get through this first level. I had to grow accustomed to moving both kids in a way that would keep one or both from dying, and just when I thought I had a handle on it, I’d make one tiny mistake and find myself staring at creepy kid-shaped statues with giant hands. Then I'd be right back at the beginning of the area, forced to replay the entire sequence all over again.
The camera pans through this 3D world as you explore, but you can’t control its movements, which can be slightly disorienting. Once I got the controls down, I still had trouble with the camera at times and had to wait for it to finish swinging slowly into place before I could continue. Getting the right camera angle actually plays a part in one of the puzzles, though. You have to move the kids into just the right spot for the camera to show you clues, which adds an interesting aspect to the challenge. I found that pretty cool, so I’m torn between whether the game should have allowed more player control of the camera or not. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough of a distraction to negatively affect my experience, so no major complaints here.
Perhaps the most important element is the book you’re carrying, which you can open and review at any time. A unique, engaging asset, its lovely storybook illustrations and lettering are accompanied by hints written in what looks like red marker. The book acts as a sort of key and grimoire, guiding the children on their journey and providing vital clues for navigating the unusual world around them. Early on the book is turned to a page that corresponds with the current area called "Gimbel’s Maze." It gives a short description of the various groups of monsters that inhabit Lamia and then mentions the eponymous overlord of sorts, who built the maze as a test to anyone who tries to enter Lamia. Along with a warning not to step off the path, scribbled in the margins is a note that reads: “THOMAS AND LILY WE CAN HELP U.” You have no idea who the mysterious, grammatically challenged “we” are, but your only option is to rely on their assistance to move through each realm unscathed. I’m the type of gamer who reads every bit of lore a game throws at me, so I very much enjoyed the concept here. Consulting it and reading each page thoroughly delighted me. I found the puzzles and their connections to the book’s stories a cerebral treat, and I wanted more—more pages, more stories, more puzzles.
You’ll need the book’s help, because even by traditional adventure standards, the puzzles are hard. I actually had to keep a pen and paper handy to work them out. The Land of Lamia is rather short, with only the timed maze and another two central puzzles in all, but they provide such a challenge and so much complex thought that it makes the game seem much more substantial. I finished in just over two hours, but I felt like I had really accomplished something by the time I reached the end. The amount of satisfaction you get from solving a puzzle often correlates to its level of difficulty, and with this game I felt as satisfied as I did back when I was first getting into the genre and managed to finally overcome a stumper in Myst. Yes, Lamia’s puzzles brought me back to my Myst days; that’s how rewarding they are.
Each of the three levels is an experience unto its own, preventing them from ever feeling boring or repetitive. You have no inventory; the obstacles require only brainpower and a bit of dexterity. The threat of the poisonous mist makes the first realm time-sensitive, and coupled with the danger of turning to stone if you veer off the path, it is an ingenious way to throw you into the game and basically force you to figure out the controls or fail miserably. In the second area the threat of the deadly mist is gone, but synchronizing Lily and Thomas becomes more difficult, as both memorization and timing come into play in order to solve the puzzle. The last puzzle is where you’ll probably want a pen and paper, as it’s more of a brainteaser at heart with some interesting platforming thrown in for good measure. The reward for completing each puzzle is access to the next area, whether it’s finally reaching the end of Gimbel’s Maze or opening a giant gate, upon which the screen dims to black and loads the next environment. The kids walk a few trepid steps, Lily grasping the book tightly in her arms, before you take control of them once again.
The overarching plot is fairly minimal as you progress. Most of the context is found in the book, and any other exposition comes in the form of small cutscenes punctuated by white text on a black screen, which represents some brief and rather stilted dialogue between Lily and Thomas. We know they’re trapped in Lamia, and we know a mysterious figure is watching them while trying to impede their progress, but very little else. The ending of the game reveals a bit more, but it leaves much more open and implies a possible future continuation.
The Land of Lamia features stylized 3D environments with interesting atmospheric touches. The first area is spooky, filled with the sinister fog and monsters that have been turned to stone. Once you make your way through that, a sunny mountaintop covered in ruins and dominated by a massive gate greets you. The last realm is an even bigger departure, featuring a giant deactivated robot with kanji symbols adorning its body. Each landscape is different, keeping the game feeling fresh and hinting at a big, diverse world outside of what you see.
Character models are just as distinctive: Lily wears a yellow dress and a pair of cat ears while her older brother wears a baseball cap turned backwards. Both have big blue eyes and unusually large, spatula-esque hands. But though the characters are cartoony and the settings fantastical, touches of spookiness and even genuine terror creep into the corners of Lamia. There's one particular moment when Lily discovers something in the book, an anomaly in one of the illustrations. I don't want to spoil anything, but it gave me a legitimate case of the heebie-jeebies. The overall visual design is very creative, and clearly a great deal of thought went into the details.
There is no voice acting and sound effects only occur as needed, when the world would be too quiet otherwise: soft footsteps when the kids walk close to the camera, mechanical noises when operating machinery, or the sound of a door mechanism clicking into place when a puzzle is solved. The score is simple yet beautiful, mostly composed of poignant piano arrangements. When faced with an instance of terror, however, such as veering off the path in the beginning, the music abruptly switches to a cacophony of violin strings like something out of a horror film. It’s an effective cue to let you know when something bad is about to happen—if you hear the scary strings, get back on the path quickly!
Created largely by Sisler alone, The Land of Lamia: World of Monsters is a quiet, contemplative game that focuses on abstract thought. Exploring the world and its book-bound lore are essential for continuing to each new stage. It’s not without minor flaws, but as a one-man project it exceeded all my expectations. I see it as a piece of art, a creative vision brought to life, and my only substantial complaint is that it’s so short it really feels incomplete. The difficulty of the puzzles makes up for the brief length somewhat, but I still felt like something was missing in the end, without the loose ends being neatly tied up. While they don’t always have to be, it’s my sincere hope that the open-endedness here means there are more chapters in the book of Lamia still to be uncovered. This reviewer would certainly welcome a sequel.