Strayed Lights Demo
The biggest gaming event on the East Coast, PAX East 2023, is a little over two weeks away and there are hundreds of games that will be featured during this four-day event. One of the featured developers of the show, Embers, had reached out to me in trying out their latest game, Strayed Lights. They will also be featured in the PAX East Showcase, which made me excited to go hands-on with a game days before the big show. It would also leave me with fresh first impressions before I play the PAX East build, making this demo an extra special treat.
What drew me in was its comparisons to games I've featured in the past, including Thymesia's "dance-like" combat structure and Ikaruga's color-matching. The protagonist has the ability to harness both light and dark energy, identified by orange and blue respectively. The enemies can also use the same powers as the hero, most of which are stronger than the hero themselves. Fortunately, the player can deflect attacks of the same color, meaning if the enemy is using a light attack, the player can deflect it while under their light form. There's also a third energy that's corrupted energy that cannot be parried, only avoided.
After the player absorbs enough of the enemy's energy, they can become purified, absorbing their essence and earning an ability point. These can then be redeemed to learn powerful abilities, including a charge attack, a counterattack, and three spells that were already unlocked in the demo. Spells include a dash attack that interrupts an opponent, absorbing their spirit, a stun that allows the player to attack enemies uninterrupted, and the ability to parry all attacks regardless of color. In Strayed Lights, you cannot defeat enemies the normal way by simply "attacking them to death," but rather once the player absorbs enough of their energy. The developers wanted to emphasize this point which was why the tutorial only teaches you how to attack once the player gets familiar with deflecting attacks.
While the story is open-ended, the characters themselves tell the narrative of Strayed Lights as there is no spoken dialogue, at least not in the demo build. The level featured a central enemy, a shadowy ape-like creature, who appears to have a bone to pick with the protagonist. However, it's revealed very quickly that all the creature wants to do is befriend the player...by playfully picking them up and tossing them around. This sort of rough-housing is also killing the wildlife, which means the player needs to stop the creature from accidentally "playing with the wildlife to death," while also making sure the player doesn't kill the relatively innocent creature as well.
Eventually, the player purifies the creature to its normal size, which prompts the wildlife to approach the creature cautiously, yet not fearful of their lives anymore. The demo was roughly fifteen minutes, yet it was enough to make me care for the environment. The graphics are soft, conveying the story enough through its atmosphere. The music composed by Austin Wintory of Journey and ABZÛ fame also helps. The gameplay is very "touch-and-go," waiting for the opponent to attack and building enough energy to effectively exorcise them. While the player can attack back, Strayed Lights establishes itself as a "pacifist" game, "attacking" enemies back with passive defense and peaceful purification.
With the full version over a month away as well as the public build being available for the first time at PAX East, there's a lot to look forward to with Strayed Lights and if the demo is anything to go by, 2023 may have another contender for a potentially great action-adventure platformer to enter the arena.
Strayed Lights releases on Steam on April 25th, 2023.