Almost two months ago I had a chance to look at Strayed Lights, an ambitious action platformer emphasizing defensive gameplay over pure offense. What drew me in was its impressive visuals, a world where not a word is spoken, actions are meant to drive the plot, and of course the basic gameplay. Comparing it somewhere between Ikaruga and Soul Reaver, Strayed Lights relied on the player's ability to parry and deflect attacks. The major opponents featured in this game aren't exactly "villains," but "companions" who are each suffering through an inner demon of sorts.
The protagonist has the ability to sort of "purify" whatever may be daunting to their friends, even if it's repelling their target's anger. There are two stances, a blue and an orange color stance, and the enemy will alternate their attacks between these two colors. If the player successfully parries the attack with the right color, they will drain their energy. This continues until they become tired enough to the point where the player lands a "finishing blow" in a QTE sequence. There is a "neutral" color, a bright violet, that cannot be parried and instead must be avoided by dodging.
Everything the game teaches you in the tutorial is everything the player will need to finish the game in its four-hour tenure. There is replayability in Strayed Lights, specifically obtaining all the collectibles to piece together the hidden lore within the game. However, the game can be finished in a quick afternoon's burst, yet that's not a bad thing in the slightest. Strayed Lights' gameplay never gets old or overstays its welcome as each level is fairly linear. There are mini-hub worlds within a greater hub world that doubles as the player's base of operations to learn new skills. Within the mini-hub worlds, there are levels in which the protagonist investigates whatever is disturbing the peace.
I mentioned during the demo build that there was a level involving a monkey-type enemy whose actions didn't appear villainous by nature. It in fact had a playful nature yet it was inconsiderate towards its playmates, outright killing some of them. Once that inner demon is quelled, the creature returns to normal size and is able to win over several new friends after diminishing its frightening aura. Sometimes, it's difficult to convey a narrative without any of the characters speaking in audible language, but this is where Strayed Lights shines.
The world in-game is beautiful and expressive, using visual and audio cues to convey a story outside of cutscenes. One of the later fights involves a location that's bright, vibrant, and filled with lush foliage that exists nowhere else in the game. Compared to the rest of the game's mellowed atmosphere, the level reveals itself to be a dream based on one of the trapped companions. As the facade fades, the level's atmosphere returns to the game's normal aesthetic. What this also shows the player is that paradise means nothing if you're still trapped in the "real world," as was the case with most of the NPCs lost in the dream.
There are many subtle details such as the example above that allow Strayed Lights to have a story of its own. The gameplay complements this by never making it unfair for the player at any point. Even the hardest enemies and bosses follow an attack pattern, known as a chain in-game. After several reps, the player should be able to roughly parry most of even the most complex chains. There is one added "bonus parry" that only makes itself available at the final level of the game, but the gameplay remains consistent.
One thing to warn players who wish to collect everything in games like these, there are several "points of no return" as Strayed Lights is a linear title. This also goes for its finale, as once the player beats the game, the player must start over from the beginning. There are no save files before the final level nor are there any returns to previous HUBs past certain points. While the player doesn't need to unlock every single ability in the game, this is something for achievement hunters and 100%ers to take note of.
While it's a short run, Strayed Lights is a rare kind of game where everything connects to each other, forming the lore behind the game. The protagonist's "non-violent" approach to parrying attacks and using their opponent's rage against them goes with the theme of the game. The impressive soundtrack pairs well with whatever the environment or scene calls for.
Mysterious caverns are met with soft pianos while a chase sequence may require trumpets. There's no sense of real estate being wasted in anything for Strayed Lights and I felt the ending was satisfying enough. It played like an interactive movie and felt like one as well. Players who are short on time and have an afternoon to themselves will find great use in completing a run of Strayed Lights.
Strayed Lights is available on Steam.