There is something indescribably, beautifully satisfying about breaking glass. Sure, it’s a shame and all about your neighbor’s window or your mother’s favorite glass, but deep down, you can’t help but feel that one brief crash of magical destruction was worth it. And in Realaxis’s mystical platformer Stained, you get to enjoy that moment again and again – without guilt or getting grounded.
The first thing I noticed about Stained when I began playing – aside from the player character’s remarkable resemblance to the Grim Reaper – was the gorgeous environment. I never considered platform games to be especially heavy on the setting aspect of a story, but the “living castle” players have the privilege of exploring in Stained is as lovely and as potentially dangerous as the stained glass windows the title is derived from.
This concept is brought to life in an intertwining of vividly colored crystals and dark dungeon corridors, climbing vines and crumbling stones. The ambiance is as pleasing to listen to as the setting is to see – unfortunately it remains merely pretty, when it should have been haunting.
The story of what happened in the castle is revealed piece by piece through pages in a journal as you progress and while the whole truth is not revealed until the final level, it is clear from the very beginning that something terrible occurred here. Yet even the battle music is almost soothing; it sounds strange to accuse a soundtrack of being too appealing, but unfortunately the tranquil mood set by the music is a little at odds with the tension that should have been built up by the journal entries.
The story itself also feels a bit disconnected from the gameplay, though this is mostly because the narrative deals largely with events that occurred and reached their conclusion long before your arrival.
There is one large (fairly obvious) plot point that eventually makes the connection between then and now. However music would have been a good way to help tie the present to the past more effectively. Though interesting, the concept will feel a little familiar to fantasy-genre fans, while the writing is merely okay and suffers from occasional typos and a couple of awkward wordings.
I won’t spoil the story, but I will warn you that the finale is pretty underwhelming and abrupt, especially in comparison to the nicely developed prologue sequence. The final battle is basically a glorified mob fight, though there is one (enormous) new boss.
Luckily, more enemies means more pretty glass to break. Like the world they inhabit the enemies in Stained are a unique feast for the eyes. A result of the magic protecting the castle (reminiscent of the spell which brings the suits of armor in Hogwarts to life), they are woken by the thump of the player’s scythe against the ground and are formed by shards of the countless stained glass windows the player gets to destroy during the game.
Though combat becomes a tad repetitive after a while, it manages to remain enjoyable thanks to the gratifying glass-smashing sound effects when you hit or defeat an enemy.
Just remember, kids – if you play with broken glass, you’re bound to get cut. Stained plays like a standard platform game making gameplay in theory fairly simple to adjust to. However the controls are frequently clunky and frustrating making timed actions like jumping onto a rising chandelier hanging over a pit of spikes a test of luck as often as they are a test of skill.
Viewing and changing the configuration can be just as annoying, as viewing it requires returning to the main menu (and therefore restarting your current level) and reassigning keys requires closing the game and editing a file.
The good news is that Realaxis is still tweaking the game and working out some bugs. Hopefully this means some of Stained’s flaws will be cleaned up in the near future. As it is now it is still a pretty enjoyable experience, especially if you like platformers or sword-and-sorcery type fairytales.
If you’re ready to break some windows you can purchase Stained from Gamestop or Desura for $9.99, and it is currently up for voting on Steam Greenlight. You can also try out the free demo first by downloading it from the official Stained website.[review pros="Beautiful environment, satisfying sound effects, unique enemies" cons="Aggravating control system, minor errors in writing, combat a little repetitive, anticlimactic final battle" score=75]