I just love a game that is a feast on the senses. When it mixes wonderful visuals, audio and satisfying gameplay. Strayed Lights ticks all those boxes exceptionally well.
You likely won’t have had Strayed Lights rammed down your throat like the latest AAA bit of garbage, not got caught up in the buzz surrounding the next major Indie title, because Strayed Lights has sort of just appeared. Well for me anyway.
This is a debut title from Embers, who have developed and self-published Strayed Lights. But whilst there are definitely improvements that can be made to the game, it is a very, very strong outing for such a new team.
Strayed Lights on first impressions looks like it was born out of the developers things that most Souls-borne games are too dark and too slow, so decided to make their own version, full of colour, inertia and fluidity.
The thing that hits you first is just how beautiful the game looks. The art direction is sublime, showing off amazing landscapes that vary from the wide outdoors of vast valleys, to claustrophobic feeling caves. There is a somewhat hand crafted, although not quite painted feel to the environments, which feel alive in such a natural way.
The character designs too are wonderful. There is influence from other games, films, animation, whatever here, but I can’t quite put my finger on what though. The character you play as feels familiar in some ways, but unique in others. This design is important because it plays a big part in the game’s core mechanics. Where the use of colour is really well implemented.
Then you have some lovely sound design to tie everything together atmospherically. There is no dialogue, or even text to tell a story, instead a musical score and visuals allow you to interpret what is happening throughout. But this isn’t just the developers trying to avoid having to write, because there is a narrative here and it is an intriguing one. I don’t often say this, but I would recommend picking up the soundtrack if you can. It’s lovely.
The gameplay itself is fun. You have a central hub of sorts and from there you go and explore various areas eventually leading to boss battles. On route you’ll come across various enemies which act as fodder more than anything and is the one part I feel could have had more attention given to it. But I’ll come to that briefly.
It is the boss battles where the game shines. Each one felt like an event and so well balanced that I actively looked forward to the next. Compare that with other action titles and Soulsborne type affairs, where I felt like the game wanted me to feel weak and pathetic. This gave a challenge but one where I felt I could defeat what was before me, even if it wouldn’t be easy. It just felt so satisfying.
That satisfaction comes from the how the game uses colour. Orange and blue is used alongside a parry mechanic that determines how you block and retaliate against enemies. Match enemy colours and you can parry and deal damage. Be the opposite colour and that parry will only block. Which whilst we’ve seen this kind of elemental switching before, it still feel fresh in Strayed Lights.
A lot of this comes from how enemies telegraph their attacks, giving you a small window to quickly change your colour when needed. That mixed with the fluid combat and movement, means that most fights feel extremely natural and satisfying.
The main issue though is that I’d like a little bit more challenge on my journey to the bosses. We aren’t talking Musou style fodder here. You can’t just switch off and smash everything in sight. However even I found the challenge and variety wasn’t there in the second half of the game. I would have liked some new enemy types introduced, or the odd enemy that gave me something different to think about.
That is a minor quibble though, as overall I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Strayed Lights. For a studio’s first effort, this is a fine game and I would love to see Embers develop this style and even world itself further.
Definitely one to keep an eye on for the future. But don’t let that stop you from experiencing this wonderful debut title right now.