Stained is an upcoming platformer from RealAxis Software that will offer a mix of running, jumping, and combat gameplay. The hitch is that you'll be fighting enemies made of stained glass, and these baddies can reconstruct themselves and even come back in new forms to cause all kinds of grief. It is up to you to traverse the game's many perils. I was given the opportunity to check out a demo build of Stained, and though I was certainly curious at first to see how the game would play, I can honestly say I'm even more interested in checking out the final product after having played through a handful of the initial stages.
You play as a mysterious hooded figure armed with a magical scythe. The scythe acts not only as a weapon, but also as a means to solve puzzles and progress deeper into a dark and ominous castle rife with secrets and mysteries. The levels I played through were fairly lengthy, and they offered engaging combat and platforming sequences throughout. Stained delivers a nice combination of action and platforming, and I never found myself getting bored doing the same thing over and over again.
Combat in Stained is interesting due to its sheer challenge. The enemies in this game aren't slouches, and they'll give you a tough fight. You might think that defeating them means you can move on to the next area immediately, but that's not always the case. One of the stages I played through featured a tough enemy that jumped around, all the while continuously unleashing a devastating attack. I had to measure my foe carefully and take shots with the protagonist's scythe in a calculated manner, because rushing in resulted in failure. How did I come to this conclusion? Well, I failed! I attempted to simply jump right in and act as the aggressor, but I soon learned that this technique would get me nowhere. Instead, I needed to take shots at the enemy, avoid touching him, run underneath him as he hurled himself upward, and continue to strike at the most opportune moment. This all seems doable, and it most certainly was, but it was even more challenging when there were multiple baddies onscreen.
Defeating enemies unlocked new areas for me to traverse, so it was imperative that I take on a variety of creatures — from hulking grunts to flying dragons to large spiders — in order to continue forward. Of course, as previously mentioned, Stained isn't just about combat. A lot of the areas in the five levels I played featured some clever platforming. I noticed that where there were spikes or large gaps, there were also stained glass windows. By using my scythe's magic abilities, I was able to shatter windows and turn the glass into conveniently placed platforms.
Certain areas featured light puzzle elements, requiring me to manipulate chandeliers so that I could cross massive pitfalls littered with spikes. I was required to make far leaps in a few of these, so simply running at a normal speed and jumping from one platform to the next wasn't enough. I needed to use the dash button and time my jumps just right to get to the next ledge. While in mid-air I needed to manipulate my character so I wouldn't jump too far. If this all sounds pretty grueling, that's because it was. But it wasn't a cheap, taxing affair. No, it was a level of platforming toughness that was very reminiscent of satisfyingly difficult 8-bit and 16-bit platformers.
Daunting bosses awaited me at the end of the levels. Seriously, could we expect anything else from a tough 2D platformer? Hell, would we want anything else from a tough 2D platformer? I certainly wouldn't, and I gladly welcomed the challenge. That said, I got my butt kicked quite a few times, so I realized I needed to use that careful approach that I used for past enemies. I couldn't just rush in. I needed to memorize the bosses' attack patterns, wait for an opening, and deliver hits that counted. And when the broken shards that made up these bosses reanimated themselves, I knew the fight was only going to get tougher.
The gameplay in Stained definitely seems promising, and its visuals look great so far, too. Though the game is a 2D platformer, environments are rendered in 3D, which gives everything a distinct appearance. RealAxis has really done some interesting things with the art style in Stained, and the castle that acts as a backdrop for the game has a very eerie vibe to it, with crumbling architecture and stylish art. The music is also great, and it goes hand in hand with the game's fantasy setting.
After clearing all five levels in the demo, I was left wanting more. The platforming and puzzle gameplay was simple but enjoyable, and the combat was pleasantly fiendish without ever feeling unfair. The build I checked out didn't offer gamepad support, but I was told by RealAxis that the final game would definitely allow traditional controller input, and the studio is currently looking into Xbox 360 controller support, which is awesome news. Currently, RealAxis hasn't announced a specific launch date for Stained, but the game's website states that it will be landing on PC soon. There's certainly a lot of promise here, and if you're a fan of 2D platformers, definitely keep this one on your radar.
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