We’re going to do something a little different today. Ordinarily, as the title of our column implies, we cover games available on Steam, but this time, we’re going to take a look at a game available on XBox Live. We assure you, we will return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly.
We here at The Pile believe that, sometimes, you stumble upon a game so well-made and so profound that you just know as soon as you fire it up that it has to be immortalized in some way. Indeed, such is the case with the subject of today’s column, No Luca No for XBox 360, released in 2011.
The premise of No Luca No is simple on the surface. You’re a man sitting down for a nutritious breakfast, when your cat Luca decides he wants to help himself to your cereal. When Luca pops up on-screen, you push him away with the right analog stick. Wait too long or jump the gun, and your game comes to an end and your score goes on the high score table. Truly, the simplicity of the gameplay is a godsend, as over the course of your adventure you’ll be wrestling with the bigger questions the game poses and won’t have time to worry about which button does what.
The storytelling here is nothing short of masterful. You’re the last defender of the Alamo that is your breakfast table here; no help is coming for you. This sense of isolation definitely comes through in the increasing exasperation in your character’s voice as he scolds Luca after every successful defense. Luca, your formidable adversary, changes up the intervals in which he makes his attack, further deteriorating both you and your character’s mental state, as there is no consistent pattern to lull you into complacency; you never know when your rival is going to launch another offensive, and this forces you to remain alert, even knowing that Luca will never be stopped until he reaches his objective, and as I said, attempting to push him away too early loses the game, so you don’t even have the comforting option of launching a preemptive strike. You’re running a race against inevitability, and it’s a race you can prolong, but never actually win.
The symbolism here is amazing. Luca’s fur is black, potentially personifying many different concepts. Does Luca represent death? Misfortune? The dark side of human nature, the drive to take that which does not belong to them that people revert to without the counterbalance of government as described in Hobbes’s Leviathan? The deep philosophical dilemmas posed by this game extend even further than that. Does mankind truly have dominion over the animals? Ostensibly, you are Luca’s owner, but here you are, having to react to Luca’s moves instead of being proactive; indeed, your feline rival holds the initiative here, and any illusion you have of control is just that, a false notion punctured every time your opponent bursts onto the screen. Perhaps Luca is not the true antagonist here. Your character could have forgotten to feed him, and such cavalier indifference to the well being of another living thing could be what drove the spike into this entente cordiale between man and beast.
Whoever directed this game should definitely be commended, as this is a piece of work on par with anything churned out by Hitchcock or Eisenstein. The cinematography is breathtaking, No Luca No doesn’t fall into the trap like so many other games of cluttering up the screen with fluff like health meters or inventory counters or arrows telling you which way to go, no, here, all you have is a score counter and a prompt telling you to push right, wait, or release the analog stick, and this minimalist style allowed the creator to take bold chances elsewhere, like the animation style, which may appear rudimentary at first, but given that this game is about the need for sustenance, the most basic of needs, the rough animation fits in quite well.
The lighting is sublime, pointing down on your cereal, drawing the eye to it and making it the focus of the screen, silently imploring you to defend it. Combined with the fact your cereal sits in an ivory white bowl, it definitely gives off the impression of purity and wholesomeness that has to be defended from the stealthy raider off to the right. The bright sunny tablecloth and nice, clean spoons also portray an orderly life for your character that’s being disrupted by the constant intrusions, and the blurry fruit in the background suggests that your character’s personality may be even more multifaceted than this game shows you, but you never get to unlock that part of his psyche because Luca must feed.
The acting here is superb, also. This isn’t some hackneyed AAA shooter game where the characters ratchet up the cheesiness factor to 10, or some Japanese RPG where everyone emotes wildly like a community theater washout. Your character treats his dialogue with the subtlety and nuance it deserves, and definitely gives you the sense that he is indeed a man who is fed up with his cat trying to bogart his breakfast, his frustration mounting at every turn. And what can be said about the actor who portrays Luca? Just look at his eyes, focused and intent on his mission, with one of his feet moving forward and his ears swept ahead, always pressing onward like waves breaking on the beach, determined to finally crush your resistance once and for all like the Persians finally breaking through at Thermopylae. This should be his breakout role, and after witnessing such a powerful piece of method acting, I can only hope we see more opportunities for Luca moving forward.
After a few rounds in the crucible of your breakfast nook, it’s understandable you might need to decompress from such tension. In that case, you and your real-life feline friend can jump into the Cat Toy mode (only available in the full-price version), where you can move a colorful dot around your screen like a laser pointer on a wall and pop up images of Luca for your cat to interact with. Again, I have to commend the designers for their vision here, very rarely does a game studio have the foresight to create an experience that can be enjoyed equally by humans and cats, and such a considerate decision really puts No Luca No over the top when it comes to value for your gaming dollar, not to mention increasing the replayability; it ensures that you’ll be popping this one in for years to come.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that No Luca No is a pantheon title, and is certainly a reason to go pick up an XBox if you don’t have one already. It is a textbook example of the old line “simple to learn, impossible to master”, a timeless game of wits along the lines of chess, but with a much greater sense of urgency in a much more relatable setting. Not to mention that this fantastic gameplay is masterfully surrounded by a thought-provoking storyline acted out spectacularly by the entire cast, which sets it apart from other games, both of its time and even today. I am proud to endorse No Luca No, it is certainly worth playing, and it may very well raise the bar for what you expect from the medium of video games in the future.
Current Price – $1.00
Is It Worth It? – Is air worth breathing? Is food worth eating? What a foolish question.