Game Review: The Red Lantern

The Red Lantern
Developer: Timberline Studios
Publisher: Timberline Studios
Release Date: 22 October 2020
Genre: Adventure
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC
RRP: $37.99 AUS

The Red Lantern is a story-driven, rogue-lite, survival game where you and your team of 5 sled dogs, lost in the wilderness, must navigate the ever-changing encounters of the Alaskan bush to find your way home.

There will be some stylized depictions of violence against animals and the player character. These acts could include animals being shot, attacked by other animals, and the player being attacked by animals.

This is a game where you need to fail to succeed.

I’ve never played a rouge-lite game before: it’s a game where you learn from your failures, and you’re expected to die.

On my first run, I didn’t even hunt the first two caribou I came across. I didn’t want to hurt another creature, even if it was pixelated.

But then I starved to death.

So on my second run, when my character decided to pack more supplies, I bravely hunted game and fed my dogs, only to die in a bear attack.

And so on.

The main aim of the game is for the main character, only know as the Musher, to use her adopted sled dog team (which you hand pick, by the way) to reach a friend’s cabin in the Alaskan wilderness, after deciding to drastically change her life.

I had this game on my wishlist for over a year and I was always checking for when it went on sale, and the first time it did, I snapped it up. I was so excited to play it, but I was also really nervous about playing a survival game, since I’m not generally drawn to games where I have to fight or my character can die. However this game has sled dogs, each with an individual personality! And you can pat them! (Adopt Iggy/Igloo, you won’t regret it!)

The voice acting is phenomenal. It’s narrated by Ashly Burch, also known as Chloe in Life is Strange, and she phenomenal! Warm, friendly, and soothing, with the appropriate amount of talking-to-doggos voice and emotional when needed – like when facing off against a hungry bear, desperate to save the lives of your pups. The soundtrack is also gorgeous and fits in well with the game, providing a neo-classical soundtrack led by a piano – it’s just gorgeous and relaxing, despite the sometimes tense situations that can leap out at you.

I am really drawn to visually aesthetic games (because why wouldn’t you be?) and I love running through the slightly stylised Alaskan wilderness just taking it all in – at night there is a majestically beautiful aurora, and the dawn is breathtaking with shades of red and purple. You never see the Musher’s face, but you can see the edges of her hood framing the camera, which I think is a nice touch. The doggos are each designed differently, as they come in different breeds and colours, which makes it an interesting mix.

You are destined to fail your first few runs, and it’s laughable how dramatically unprepared the Musher is. The game seems pretty hard to begin with because of this – I didn’t actually know what a rouge-lite was, and I told my husband, “It’s really hard! I keep dying and starting over.” Then he explained what a rouge-lite is, and I understood it better and felt better about going on my next run, especially since I got more resources. I didn’t even mind dying – you just wake up thinking it was all a bad dream.

Pretty much the only thing I don’t like about this game is that when you decide to hunt, but can’t get a good shot, you shoot anyway, wasting the bullet. It’s hugely annoying:  by my logic if you don’t take a shot because you can’t line it up, you shouldn’t have to waste the precious bullet.

When you’re being successful, it’s incredibly relaxing to run through this beautiful wilderness following your floofy doggo tails. In fact, after you ‘finish’ the game by reaching the cabin, you have the ability to go on ‘zen runs’ with the team (which are not survival), adopt the doggos you initially didn’t, and complete their individual story arcs. Because of this, the game is hugely replayable: you can collect all the doggos you initially had to skip, or you can start a save file with a different starting team of dogs and face different challenges. It can be really difficult to trigger the dog’s individual quests: I’ve had Barkley on my team since the beginning and never completed his quest, but my next 3 adopted pups all had their quests triggered and I was able to complete them, unlocking cute accessories.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that this game is ‘cozy’ because of the hunting and surviving the dangerous wilderness, but it definitely fits in with my specific taste preference for animal-based, story-driven, aesthetic exploration games with a chill soundtrack.

All video games are purchased by myself or gifted from a friend.


About Nemo

A lover of kittens and all things sparkly, Nemo has a degree in English Literature and specialises in reviewing contemporary, paranormal, mystery/thriller, historical, sci-fi and fantasy Young Adult fiction. She is especially drawn to novels about princesses, strong female friendships, magical powers, and assassins.

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