Sunblaze PC Review
It’s not so easy to sell anybody on the elevator pitch for Sunblaze. It’s a 2D puzzle platformer with the only really ‘different’ thing about it being that each of its many, many stages are all presented on a single non-scrolling screen, limiting their scope (but certainly not their complexity). This is by no means a negative thing. It’s actually kind of refreshing to see a title build on a simple and solid foundation without resorting to needless hooks (which, oddly enough, are, more often than not, hook-shots). I just worry that it won’t get the attention it deserves because it is a good game; brilliant, even, at times. You play as Josie, the daughter of a superhero, who gets accidentally trapped in a virtual reality training simulator run by an all-knowing AI with one goal – create the perfect superhero. Much like a classic Asimov story, this not-so-well-defined task means the machine will forever build harder and harder trials to push Sunblaze, Josie’s given hero name, to her limits and beyond. Oh, yeah, and if you die in the sim you die in real life – duh!
The plot is completely throwaway. Besides the odd amusing interaction between the protagonist, her father, and a friendly AI she meets on the inside that takes the form of a floating chibi unicorn, nothing makes an impact. It’s all about the gameplay. The controls are pretty basic. The player can move, jump, double-jump (albeit this is not a full extra jump in terms of height/distance), and dash once horizontally, recovering it upon landing or via special level mechanics. These tools are all the player is given for the entire game, only the obstacles change. Something else to note is that Josie can hang from ledges and then pull herself up slowly from that position, which I grew to hate. It’s so fiddly! It’s often a total guess at whether you’re going to make a high jump on your feet, almost make it and wall-slide down until you hit the ledge, or grab the ledge right away and clamber up. Getting the hang of ledge-grabbing from long jumps or falls is tricky at first but it’s absolutely necessary to master for late-game areas. The problem is specifically when needing to gun it and not knowing how you’ll land, making some sections feel imprecise and a little random.
Mix that with some of the more annoying traps, that are timing-based instead of execution, and it can sometimes get quite frustrating. Let me explain. It’s common for timing to be a big part of platformers but here, because almost every block you stand on falls, there’s no real way to circumnavigate these problems without simply waiting X seconds before trying again each respawn. They play like a delay check rather than interesting problems. A little frustration is par for the course in games like this, though. It fuels you, it drives you. You can’t let the game win! And Sunblaze walks that line very well. It’s set over six chapters, each one consisting of their normal story mode and an advanced hard mode unlocked by collecting all of the extra-challenge presenting ‘data cubes’ spread throughout the levels. People drawn in by the common comparison to Celeste will recognise these as ‘strawberries’ – bonus items that pose a deeper test of your skills to grab. On top of that, completing the story unlocks the best part of the game, an extra ‘Lost Levels’ chapter that throws the player into special stages covering each of the mainline chapters’ unique mechanics but with incredible new twists on them.
Standard threats consist of timed explosives that can set off chain reactions, moving laser beams, blocks that are hell-bent on squishing you as you pass by, and sets of drones that need to be destroyed to open doors, to name a few. Every world has its main themed mechanic that is gently built upon throughout but, as mentioned, the Lost Levels is what takes them above and beyond. Lasers can be redirected with angled blocks, portals open up around the map for insane coverage and multiple cycles through arenas, and the powerup that turns you into a diagonally-focussed fireball gets you hunted down by spikey death-orbs. There’s a lot to get through. I believe each chapter presents about fifty puzzles to beat but they aren’t all made equally. Some are definitely better brain-teasers, whilst others require more precise and trickier platforming. Many are total non-issues or nothing more than a bit of trial and error. The ones that get you thinking and push you to your limits, however – those are the pinnacle of Sunblaze. They appear every now and then, more so in the harder parts. A room so wonderfully designed you can’t help donning a lengthy grin as you get crushed over and over trying to figure it out.
This is not a game I can recommend for its uniqueness. It’s not a game that tells an interesting story. It’s not even a game that gets it right all the time. What it is, is solid. Fun. It’s fast-paced and endlessly engaging. It’s challenging, and full of clever design that I only wish would have been explored even earlier in the experience. And I have to say, it had me glued to it for a while there as I finished up the hard modes. This is definitely one you need to check out if you like this genre but just be aware that what you see is what you get, it never dives any deeper. It often reaches excellence but doesn’t stick around for long. I can see a sequel, spiritual or direct, being something that turns a lot of heads. I’d like for the blander areas, such as the narrative and music, to be turned up to eleven, and a greater focus on the more creative, stimulating ideas available here. No more lengthy bouts of adequate challenges and not ending just as it really starts to grow into itself. Until then, Sunblaze’s safe offering of hours of puzzle platforming goodness is a welcome one.