The Red Lantern review initially wowed me during its reveal.
It looked like it would pan out to be an emotional journey that would make me an ugly crying mess by the end of it.
That first trailer easily made it one of my most anticipated games of the year.
Sadly, the anticipation and hype didn’t always pan out.
In Alaska, there’s a famous dog sledding race called the Iditarod. It’s an event where the bravest competes in this 1000 mile long race for glory.
Most participates aren’t trying to come in first, they just want to finish the race, to be able to take on, and overcome the challenge of just completing it.
The famous prize known as The Red Lantern is given to the last place as a symbol of their bravery and diligence to finish the race.
This game’s story takes place in the snowy tundra of Alaska as you play as the musher.
A young woman down on her luck and fed up with the world.
Growing up she was told that she was destined for great things but sadly for her, she’s also her mistakes and people tend to remember those the most.
Originally she studied to be a doctor and since that career path didn’t work out, she decided to take on the Iditarod challenge.
That’s where our journey starts as we dog-sled our way toward a cabin with a red lantern, our first destination before the big Iditarod race.
The Red Lantern was an endearing story, one of a young mind just trying to do something remarkable for themselves.
Hearing her internal monologues about her life up until this point and how she got here, resonated with me despite not visually seeing it on screen.
Her character felt authentic and that translated immensely well for the story.
Presented as a rogue-lite adventure game, The Red Lantern starts off with the musher selecting her team of sled dogs.
A total of 8 different dogs are available to choose from to make up your team of 5.
Each dog had its own personality and attributes that made them useful in particular situations.
Once your dog selection is made, you continue on to the main part of the campaign, the actual runs.
You see The Red Lantern is a game of trial and error.
Every run presents randomly chosen scenarios to happen from a pool of 100 possible options.
You can encounter different forms of wildlife from bears, wolverines, elk, and so on.
Through these different encounters, opportunities present themselves for new food for example.
However, there are risks as well, the possibility of losing your ammo or enraging an animal to the point of attacking you.
That’s the gameplay loop presented throughout the 4-5 hours it will take to perform a successful run.
You go on these initial runs, encounter various forms of interactions with the wildlife while also maintaining your survival supplies.
Both the musher and the dog team have their own hunger gauge that needs to be maintained by eating the food hunted in the wild.
That food can be a wild animal shot with your rifle, though you start off with a limited amount of bullets.
Should you use your rifle to gather food or hold off in case you run into a bear?
These are the constant questions you have to juggle to better manage each run.
Being a rogue-lite though, some progress is carried over after every run.
For example, any accessories that you find can be carried over to the next run.
I found a flint fire kit that let me continuously start fires at my camp.
Previously I would have needed to collect tree birch instead or I wouldn’t be able to cook my food.
While that risk and reward gameplay loop was fun, I often found myself getting taken out of the experience by odd bugs that would ruin the fun.
For instance, moments where I’d shoot an animal by lining up the shot with the guide on screen, I’d miss shots that were perfectly lined up.
Visual bugs kept popping in, sometimes skipping animations or stopping them altogether.
That was my general experience playing.
I’d be having fun and some sort of glitch or bug would take me out of the immersion.
I think the core concept of a survival dog sledding game with rogue-lite elements is a great idea, I just don’t think it’s executed that well with this title.
As for post-game content, upon completing a successful run, you’re able to start a new run with new dogs or continue with the items you’ve collected so far though.
Now focusing on learning more about your particular dog team and completing their stories.
So fun fact, I’ve been using two capture cards during this review, one is my usual Elgato HD60s+ and the other is my new Clone Alliance Flint 4k card.
I got the letter recently sent to me for testing purposes but rather than give it a whole review, I figured I’d let you all see the performance for yourselves.
Let me know which quality you end up preferring in the comments, maybe the community’s choice will be my new standard go to capture card.
Upon starting The Red Lantern, I felt a warm and cozy embrace.
Perhaps it was the backdrop of a wild Alaska with just the support of my sled dogs at my side.
Whatever it was, I felt at home in this setting, oddly enough ironic for a game about finding your home in the world.
As the musher sled toward her cabin, I got to see a variety of different vistas.
Mountain scapes were all around me, the sun setting over another hard day of commuting, and all the various forms of wildlife around me.
I was engulfed in this setup until the bugs started to hit and sadly there’s quite a bit of them.
Now for transparency’s sake, as noted at the intro of this review, I played this game on Nintendo Switch and so that’s my experience this review is based on.
I didn’t have a copy on PC to cover prior to this game’s release.
Throughout my time playing, I experienced a handful of bugs but thankfully, all the game-breaking ones seemed to have been fixed by the most recent 1.02 patch I got the night before the game’s release date.
However, even after the most recent patch, I still experienced quite a few visual glitches from the random pop-in of assets, entire animations skipping out, and very long loading times.
When it came to performance, of course with those aforementioned bugs I ran into, The Red Lantern ran mostly well on Switch.
In handheld mode, performance hovered around 720p 30 fps though the frame rate did drop down to mid-20s during the heavy forest areas.
In dock mode, I noticed a similar performance though the resolution was bumped up to 1080p.
As mentioned before, I thought its visuals were lovely though hindered frequently but the bugs during gameplay.
Whether that’s attributed to the console played on or the game itself is up in the air to me.
Ashley Burch did a phenomenal job bringing the musher to life.
Her performance was heartfelt, authentic, and genuine.
From the moment I first heard her voice in the reveal trailer to now in the final game, hearing her gather her thoughts and emotions, it felt real.
The level of acting performance her is just something I’d expect from a more expensive or higher production and to see it in an indie like this, it left me astonished.
With that said, being presented in a rogue-lite fashion, that meant that a lot of lines got repeated to me with every run.
Sadly that meant that some of the heartwarming moments started to lose their significance or initial impact on me, after I had heard them the 10th time.
In that sense, I wish some variety could have been added to the lines, at least for similar scenarios.
As for the music, it was tranquil and peaceful.
It mixed together well with the ambient sounds of the forest and wildlife as my team and I sled down the mountains around us.
While the music and sound effects helped create the atmosphere, it ultimately was the voice acting that did get me entrenched in this world.
I really wanted to love The Red Lantern. It was easily one of my most anticipated games of the year but it just didn’t live up to my expectations. In many ways, I think it had interesting ideas that just weren’t executed well.
Its presentation and performance, ultimately hindered a lot of the game while its gameplay design didn’t feel as polished it could have been.
I loved Ashley Burch’s performance and the idea of this game being an adventure of just getting lost in the wilderness with my team of sled dogs.
I just wish the adventure wasn’t riddled with bugs every few minutes.