It’s well documented over numerous years, that I have fond memories and a deep-seated love for MattMakesGames’ 2018 Smash hit, Celeste. It’s allure was rich with old-school platforming, and modernised mechanics to make the golden-era gamer’s heart flutter. The loop was an instantaneous grind, immediately grasping the formula that made classic sidescrollers of an adorned era timeless. So I was elated to see another indie title of the same ilk so inspired by the Game of the Year contender, that I knew I had to give it the same attention. Amalgamating the aforementioned, along with Edmund McMillen’s Super Meat Boy comes this death defying, dare devil, labyrinthine-like escapade.
From a studio of six indie developers comes Sunblaze, the self-proclaimed “Precision Platformer” that follows our young aspiring heroine Josie, and her expedition through multiple trials programmed by her father, and set within a virtual reality with hopes of training the teen to become a Superhero, just as he was. The premise is nuanced, with its fixed setting entailing multiple overlays that harbour schematic challenges for the ambidextrous. While predictable, the story takes a turn when the training simulator crashes leaving Josie stuck in an endless loop, with no hope in sight. The hazy void suddenly manifests its own unique puzzles in order for our protagonist to carefully traverse through to overcome this supposed matrix.
Dodge, Dip, Duck, Dive & Dodge...
While its striking resemblance to Celeste will no doubt exhibit a homely sensation for those acquainted with the mountain climber, Josie’s expedition through this digital deed does demonstrate a respective take on the perilous pitfalls of purposeful platforming. With each level comes a slate of multiple challenges and puzzles which escalate in difficulty over time. Obstructions, barricades and impediments are delivered in various factors, including laser beams, floating androids, metal spikes, corroding enclaves, presumably poisonous shards, barrels of plutonium (not actually sure if it’s plutonium, but it does have a nuclear label on them), and those pesky Crash Bandicoot TNT crates make a cameo. These a few example in the lofty library of levels that make Sunblaze incredibly fun.
The beginning of the campaign is filled with hilarious dialogue between Josie and her “hip” dad, trying to impress his daughter with his assortment of laughably terrible jokes. The man tells his daughter to “Slay Queen” while dabbing; you may visibly cringe now. A tutorial teaches the basics within the first hour of the expedition, setting a baseline in both gameplay and mechanics that you depend on in furthering your pursuit. Each screen in delivered in slide format, with a dynamic environment that changes each time you collect a computer chip that awaits you at the end. It’s a simple A to B style design that’s easy for gamers of all ages to acclimate with. The trajectory of the title’s difficulty is appreciatively stable, so you won’t find yourself getting stuck in slides for too long, but there are some that purposely built to slowly crank that death counter.
The Celeste and Super Meat Boy connoisseurs won't get enough of it, and the casual gamer will have a ball sinking hours into this fun action-adventure. Sunblaze is platforming excellence, personified.
Just as it is in Celeste, receptive objects will hurl themselves towards you. Inspired by Super Mario’s Thwomp, an angry metal block will charge at you in full speed in hopes of squashing Josie into a bloody splatter. Other interactable features will either aid or stifle your time in-game. Stove-like blocks will hit boiling point if you stand on them for too long, making them a combustible element for our protagonist to overcook and explode. Springboards will allow extra height on-top of the allowed double jump needed to traverse across wide chasms that are often found late in the campaign. Chain reactions will be imperative to how you play out each “slide”, as you seamlessly grasp more of the essential elements of Sunblaze.
Leaping forward to scale a bar attached to a loose block, then utilising an android to spring forward while gripping a small dip in the wall, then to jump back and do the same thing, to grab hold of that sweet chip only to send you to the next slate of your adventure delivers momentary satisfaction before revealing your next wave of challenges – chef’s kiss. This seamlessly organic style of smooth platforming is proliferated to perfection. Not only is it designed to for hazardous potential, but to percolate the mind in performing a dissection in each puzzle. Attaching loose blocks to natural elements that shift world design for a distinct path to each level’s end goal is manufactured with excellent precision. It’s all about pacing yourself, and correlating a timely manoeuvre.
✔️A charming story that develops into an all out action-adventure.
✔️Super Meat Boy & Celeste fans will undoubtedly love this game.
✔️A marvellous time-sink for platform lovers. Old-school and new school come together for a thrilling challenge.
❌Overture is a little vanilla but does entail some evolution.
With over 300 levels to complete, there’s shortage in variety here. Environmental changes come with the territory as you make your way through each chapter in Sunblaze. Along with its top notch level design, comes a vibrant display in worldly elements and architecture. Hearkening back to what made Celeste a beloved fan favourite amongst gamers, its aesthetic is quite reminiscent of the flavoursome foray. Bit-like textures brazen the boasting block type battle, with insurmountable animations that interlace with Josie’s movements across the screen. This of course with momentary triggers within each element that looks to impale our proud heroine from completing her quest.
To accompany an extravagant design comes a bopping soundtrack that changes within each chapter. The subtle tunes are a great addition to your surroundings, with its expeditious temp that does not overbear what is placed before you. While heightening the mood, the overture seems to juxtapose an unlikely composition of calm and angst; almost keeping things tempered while disposing a mixture of desperation and excitement. With each chapter passing, the melodies evolve giving a fresh take on an established tune. In terms of character design, Josie distinguished chibi-like proportions do spell out a disparity from her mountain climbing counterpart, but certainly retain some similarities, especially the colour of her uniform changing with each double-jump ala Madeline’s hair colour turning blue.
While I only encountered one crash throughout my entire experience playing the game on PC, my six hour playthrough of the title was extremely insightful into the ways of that puzzle platforming has truly evolved and inspired a new wave of devout side-scroller/speedrunners, and why the gameplay loop is so addictive. The urge to continue immediately after a sudden fall as your death counter rakes up numbers into the hundreds; the need to complete the map set before you for personal gratification. It really does speak to the veteran player, a gamer that enjoys a good time sink into a randomised loft of goodies that not only takes a punch, but strikes back. Enamoured by this facet alone, I had an absolute blast playing Sunblaze.
What can I say? Sunblaze is full of heart. A charming adventure, packed to the brim with bountiful challenge that is sure to attract any player that’s looking to delve deep into a void of endless perils. A plethora of poignant proceedings that pit our protagonist against an unknown threat, with the chance of overcoming her father’s poorly programmed simulation, just hear one more dad joke from the cack-handed champion. Old-school gamers will love it. The Celeste and Super Meat Boy connoisseurs won’t get enough of it, and the casual gamer will have a ball sinking hours into this fun action-adventure. Sunblaze is platforming excellence, personified.