There are few games that offer something truly different from what we’ve already seen before – and with so many games out there, it’s not surprising – but Strayed Lights manages to do just that. As the first project to be brought to life by Embers Game Studio, it marks an impressive debut for the team that bodes well for future projects. Available for both the current and previous generations of Xbox and PlayStation, the PC, and the Nintendo Switch, it is widely accessible. The Nintendo Switch version was the one used for the purposes of this review.
Strayed Lights is a game that is presented incredibly well with vibrant graphics and impressive use of colour – two elements that seamlessly come together to create a barren yet beautiful world that captivates almost immediately. This melancholic ambience is built upon by an atmospheric score composed by Austin Wintory, who is known for his involvement in a variety of successful projects ranging from Journey to Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. As two of the first things you notice when booting up the game, Strayed Lights does a very good job of drawing you in.
Deploying a rather subtle method of storytelling, Strayed Lights is a game that allows you to make your own interpretation of its overarching themes and narrative rather than holding your hand the entire time.
You take control of a small humanoid being of light who must journey through a beautifully presented, decaying world inhabited by creatures corrupted by darkness. Throughout this atmospheric adventure, you must guide this ember of light towards their awakening whilst battling the monsters we come across, both to restore them to their original state whilst also keeping our protagonist from succumbing to the same darkness that has corrupted seemingly everything else in sight.
With no dialogue and only the occasional vague gesture from other beings of light, it is initially difficult to figure out where you’re supposed to go and what you’re supposed to do, but thankfully, the game is rather linear. Even if you do get lost, you’ll stumble across your objective fairly quickly.
Strayed Lights’ combat system is where the game really shines. Rather than having a focus on offence, it requires precise parrying to deal damage to enemies. This is made more engaging by the fact that both enemies and the playable character can change colour between blue and orange. To avoid damage, you simply need to block at the right time, but to actually deal damage, you need to do this whilst matching the colour of the attack to execute a successful parry.
There are also purple attacks to contend with – these cannot be blocked, so you’ll need to dodge these, though, in my experience, the effectiveness of dodging was a bit hit-and-miss. I’m sure my lack of skill was a contributing factor, but some of the attacks had such a wide area of impact that dodging was almost impossible.
Strayed Lights doesn’t rely entirely on defensive combat, however. There are also standard offensive attacks. These don’t deal as much damage as parrying but are good for getting in a few quick hits in between parries. There are also special skills that have effects that range from dealing powerful physical attacks to temporarily removing the need to switch colours for a successful parry, the latter of which I found incredibly useful, especially when more than one enemy was involved.
Parrying, dodging and dealing damage to your opponent causes you to absorb their energy. Once the energy meter is full, you will be able to unleash a powerful energy attack that will, in many cases, end the fight. Combat is pretty fun, but it is let down by its repetitive nature. Outside the bosses, there were only a few different types of enemies, so it was pretty easy to learn their fight patterns.
The controls are simple to learn but more difficult to master. This wasn’t helped by the fact that they could feel a little clunky at times. This was especially noticeable when it came to unleashing the finishing attacks. I found I would often have to press the required buttons more than once for them to actually register. Platforming could be somewhat awkward because of the closeness of the run and jump buttons on the Switch, and there were times the combat felt a little too chaotic. This was usually when more than one enemy was involved because it made it much harder to match the frequent colour change to deliver successful parries.
While I can’t speak for the game’s performance on other platforms, there were definitely issues on the Switch. Combat is fun, but as I’ve already mentioned, it can be a little laggy. The timing for parries felt a little off at times, and there was also an issue with framerate drops and stuttering. Thankfully, this wasn’t prevalent in combat, but there were a few times when exploring that I found the game would lag so much that I’d end up walking off a ledge.
Despite being a little on the short side, Strayed Lights is a unique experience that is worth checking out. It is presented beautifully, both in terms of visuals and music, with a melancholic world you will want to get lost in. It features fun, intuitive gameplay but suffers from some performance issues on the Switch. These are by no means game-breaking, but they do cause some minor frustration that might take away from the enjoyment of the game.
Developers: Embers S.A.S., Embers
Publishers: Embers S.A.S., Embers
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X and Series S, Nintendo Switch
Release date: 17 March 2023