Suggestively, Strayed Lights starts you out reminded of the art of procreation, as you embody the role of an illuminating offspring totting off into what looks like a church doorway. Despite no apparent religious connections, Strayed Lights does a pleasant job of imbuing its world with a viscous layer of intrigue as soon as it begins, nudging you to ponder about what is lurking on your path forward, how the world will happen to you, and what more of an impression Strayed Lights will leave you with.
The glimmering early impressions Strayed Lights ignites are sadly peeled away, as what lies beyond that elegant opening sputters thanks to frustrating design choices, and a sense of a barren landscape undercutting the eloquence of the surrounding dreamscape, suffocating in an underpopulated and malnourished world that is desperately trying to breathe and resonate, but ultimately fails to do so.
Your journey is welcomed by forced tutorials, squeezing you into a small faceoff with a titular lugubrious and accursed creature, where you learn the basics of the combat, including how to extract the most out of the light/dark melee offense and the general mechanics therein.
Offensive and defensive measures are like a game of Simon Says, or in this case, match the colour emitted by the big black towering demon, whereby the most significant blows come from matching your enemy’s colour. In theory and in practice, this mechanic is a nuisance because switching back and forth between colours to deal damage, means you’ll have to be cognizant of not only attacks from the enemy, but ensuring you’ve switched to the same hue they’re wearing. Their ginormous swipes and erratic moves are simultaneously predictable and difficult to prepare for-meaning the timing of their attacks is easy to get down, but the radius they’ll cover trying to blitz you is not so easy to tell.
Parrying and dodging are the best ways to avoid losing large chunks of health. The former needs to be timed properly and you need to make sure you hue corresponds with your foe, but the feedback rarely feels satisfying or empowering-you’re too often at the mercy of larger foes and your flurries don’t feel exacting or comparable to a deity who has flames for hair. Dodging is swift and marginally satisfying, zooming out of the way of thunderous ground smash is nifty, unless you have to dash right into one-which can be a hairy annoyance.
The controls are an unnecessary hassle. Juggling between light and dark whilst fending off and covering up from copious enemy bombardments is annoying. Sometimes you’ll face several troll-sized enemies who can flatten you like crisp packet if you aren’t continually dodging and parrying, chipping away at long health bars until they suddenly keel over, where you’ll need to finish them off and consume their energy.
The monstrosities themselves don’t exude much of a personality either-unless they happen to be reavers of charisma, which would make sense because they lack defining characteristics. They are merely angry dark entities that want nothing more than your demise. The bosses are quite impressive though, they are giant blazing beasts that deliver a pleasant spectacle that you won’t find with the rank and file enemies elsewhere. Some creatures look majestic, bursting with vitality despite the gloominess of their surroundings, such as glowing artiodactyls that really lift up the eloquence the game lacks in other areas.
Though largely dark and brooding, the locations in Strayed Lights are beautiful and foreboding. The cave-like environs always glow with a pulsing energy that feels alive, and later purple skies are introduced which are wonderfully reminiscent of the forgotten 2018 indie curio Fe. The colours ignite like the Ori games from Moon Studios too-giving a lovely inspirationally-lavished look upon Strayed Lights.
The Austin Wintory-composed soundtrack is beautiful and resonant, complementing the glowing themes of Strayed Lights marvellously. Dramatic music is toned with a sinister bent and some thunderous arrangements. This soundtrack further proves that Strayed Lights’ greatest strengths lie within its presentation, it’s just unfortunate the same attention couldn’t be integrated into the gameplay.
Artistic expression is what will strike the biggest chord in Strayed Lights. There are lovely moments of beauty to unearth, and you will no doubt find a game ignited with a love for tranquillity and colour. However, empty spaces make Strayed Lights world feel uncomfortably abandoned at times, and the combat is based too heavily on precision and colour matching to engross. Thankfully, Strayed Lights is short, but it runs out of momentum too soon despite some impressive boss encounters and some gorgeous skies. Give it a whirl then, but you won’t feel like Strayed Lights is anything but a shallowly gentle gust that will blow by without the force it needed to stick in the mind.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.