Indie Game of the Month – Lenna’s Inception is a randomizer built from the ground up

A few years ago I became obsessed with randomizers. My first exposure was a randomizer for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and I have been randomizing my favorite games ever since, all the way up to more recent releases of the Super Metroid/ Zelda Crossover Randomizer and even the Fire Emblem: Three Houses randomizer. I remember thinking as I picked up the Golden Sword in a chest in a random house in Kakariko “man this is fun! Why hasn’t anyone made a randomized game from scratch!”

Well now someone has, and it’s paying more than a little homage to ALTTP randomizers as well. This is Lenna’s Inception, a brand new indie game released by Bytten Studio.

The legendary hero is dead…. Wait that wasn’t supposed to happen! Now everything is screwed up, the world is glitching out, and if someone doesn’t step up to take his place we may all be doomed.

This is the conceit that Lenna’s Inception uses to justify its gameplay. Why is the world random? Glitches. Why are enemies shuffled around? Glitches.

And it’s a genius idea. Glitch aesthetic is really in right now, ever since games like Undertale made it big. Lenna’s Inception has a similar tone. On its surface it’s a cartoony sprite based Zelda alike. Underneath it all, there’s something quite a bit darker and more sinister going on. Indie buffs just eat stuff like this up.

As far as how the game plays, it’s almost exactly like a Legend of Zelda randomizer. In fact, it’s randomized to the extent that it almost feels like a rogue-lite, though you don’t quite go on “runs” with some variety of permadeath the same way you would in a rogue-lite. Worlds, dungeons, items, and enemies are all randomized. There is still a Zelda-like progression to the game. You’ll need to obtain certain items to overcome certain obstacles to unlock more of the map to explore. However, you may not see all the items, enemies, dungeon, or bosses on one run through the game. Basically, every new seed is a completely new Zelda game.

And if there was any doubt that this game was primarily inspired by Zelda randomizers, its multiple challenge modes would make it clear. You can tackle the game without ever getting access to a sword. You can do a playthrough with three hearts or one hit kills. You can even play a specific mode with a built in timer meant for speedrunners, SPECIFICALLY randomizer speedrunners.

Yet with all this randomness, Lenna’s Inception still manages to pack in a ton of story. That’s another thing that makes it feel different from a rogue-lite. There are still NPCs to talk to and cutscenes to watch. There are important events that flesh out the narrative, and while the places where you experience these events may be randomized, that doesn’t make them any less important. Rogue-lites tend to stick to minimalist stories told between runs, but Lenna’s Inception does its best to feel like a complete game, even when it’s shuffled around.

In a way Lenna’s Inception feels like a love letter to both traditional Zeldas and their randomizer communities. There are a lot of in-jokes here poking fun at tropes from the genre. Many enemies are clear parodies of Zelda enemies. There are a few speedrunning jokes splattered here and there as well. You don’t need to be a member of these communities to get the most out of Lenna’s Inception but you certainly do feel catered to if you’ve watched a GDQ or two. If you understand why “that’s never happened before” is funny, you’ll certainly get a laugh or two out of your playthroughs of this game.

Lenna’s Inception is also unique in that it offers you two completely different presentations to choose from. You can play the game in 32-bit mode, and it will look something like The Legend of Zelda: The Minnish Cap. Its soundtrack will be made of rich and complex instrumentations, sprites will be detailed, and text boxes will have these neat graphical flourishes. However, you can also put the game into 8-bit mode, taking it back to NES era Zeldas. This turns the soundtrack into chiptunes, the color palette into something less complex, and so on. Despite these graphical differences, the game plays exactly the same in either style.

All of this comes to you at an incredibly affordable price of $10. There is certainly enough content here to warrant charging a bit more than that. I’d probably purchase it at a $20 price point, but at $10 it’s an impulse buy, and it’s an impulse you should probably give into. Even after you complete the story, there are a bunch of other modes to play with. You can complete daily challenges, take on recommended seeds, and even play the game in local two player co-op. There’s just a lot of replay value here, way more than $10 worth.

So if you are looking to scratch that Zelda itch, give Lenna’s Inception a shot. It might just turn you on to the great wide world of randomizers the way A Link to the Past did for me so many years ago.