Russian developer Wyse Games‘ strategic trajectory-based game Stay Alight is a charming little puzzle game at first glance, but upon closer inspection, there’s much more hidden beneath the surface. All you need is a little light. In Stay Alight, players assume the role of a humanoid with a light bulb head, making their way through a forgotten wasteland of abandoned belongings in an attempt to free the planet from the green germ-like microbes that preside over this trash heap. It may be a simple radial shooter puzzle game in terms of mechanics, but much of the backstory of the world is conveyed through the level composition. While hurling spheres of light at the germs, the player will find corpses of fellow light bulb heads throughout the world, making for a melancholic atmosphere that will have you flinging light balls with tears welling up in your eyes.
At the beginning, the player is presented with cleverly-arranged platform-strewn maps, and a small arsenal of basic yellow orbs of light to throw. The physics system allows for light spheres to be bounced off of obstacles in an attempt to annihilate the green germs hanging around the levels. As the player progresses, the obstacles complicate, giving favor to the germs rather than making an easy sweep for the player. Force fields, teleporting germs, and geometrical complexity in level design all work together to create a heavy predicament for the player.
This is well-balanced however, thanks to the presence of features that give the player a little edge when the competition ups its game. First off, some levels will include a second light bulb head character, strategically placed in a different part of the level. The player can throw a light ball, and if it hits the second bulb head, they will catch the ball, allowing a re-throw to hit targets in a spot that would otherwise be extremely difficult or impossible to hit. Next, there are added types of light spheres. Blue lights will act as a cracker grenade, detonating after a certain amount of time, sending four light projectiles in a north, east, south, and west trajectory. If timed just right, it allows the player to send a projectile straight into a germ that might be in a spot where they were sheltered well.
Don’t stress too much about timing, because the mechanic is so easy to get adjusted to, you’re most likely better at timing than you think! There is also a red sphere, which will explode on contact with any surface, sending two small “shrapnel” lights like a fragment grenade, which will bounce around for a bit. Green lights will roll around on surfaces, which can compensate for a missed throw. The upgrades and additions of friends aren’t the only helpful bits in the game, as there are cogs and crates that can be struck with a light sphere and sent hurdling toward an enemy as well. Strategically placed explosive cans can be detonated, and gears can be sent rolling down ramps, bowling over enemies.
Wyse Games has set up a solid puzzle game, that plays smoothly and comes so naturally to the player that it’s easy to lose track of time blowing away those germs and unlocking the next level. Speaking of puzzles, there are jigsaw pieces in some levels that are placed in a challenging spot to hit. If the player strikes them with a light sphere, the piece is obtained. Once the puzzle is finished, a bit of the story is revealed. In addition, there are several locations, each containing a set of levels which must be advanced through to complete the area.
The soundtrack itself isn’t extremely diverse but sets the overall tone very well, with its balmy resonance throughout the damaged world. Should the player fail in a single level, the “try again” jingle overpowers the beautiful music, causing a dissatisfaction that forces them to do better next time. Stay Alight presents a streamlined, pleasant experience that keeps all distractions away, allowing the player to just focus on the addicting gameplay. With a minimal UI and short, concise mini-tutorials when a new gameplay feature is introduced (such as the different types of energy spheres), Stay Alight is neat and easy to pick up and play without an intruding user interface, excessive and unnecessary dialogue, or broken gameplay that halts the rhythm of the game.
With 80 levels, multiple gameplay features, and a steady supply of germs to mow down, Stay Alight keeps the pace well, especially for the small price of $3.99 on Steam, with the original 2013 version available for iOS and Android (which contains only 60 levels.) On the surface, it’s a simplistic puzzle game with attractive art, but Wyse Games found a way to subtly inject a rich flavor, well-represented story, and engaging gameplay that has the potential to keep going with the same momentum for a long time. The game is only available for Windows PC, but supports 13 languages. It is well worth the price, and isn’t just a bargain, it’s a game that shouldn’t be missed.