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Stonerid Review: Trial-And-Error In Two Dimensions
Stonerid clearly looks up to the elite of indie gaming. Indie games, like Braid, have infamously pulled from classic genres and eras of gaming and infused them with new life by tackling them in unique ways. Braid not only presented players with a narrative to invest in, something that wasn’t often seen in 2D platformers, but it merged 2D platforming with mind-bending time manipulation puzzles. Stonerid seems to pull heavily from Braid. It too tells its story primarily through diary entries in between levels, and it also has an interesting mechanic to draw in players, but, unlike Braid, Stonerid is a deeply flawed game.
Stonerid begins with scrolling text and narration that informs the player that the Great Tree, without which life couldn’t exist, is dying due to the appearance of strange toxic substances all across the magical Atronast mountain. Your character takes it upon themselves to investigate and clean up the substances. The game’s central mechanic is that your character (who isn’t named until the final level of the game when he gets a strangely unremarkable one) has the ability to move instantaneously between two separate but parallel dimensions at will (a fact that isn’t brought up in the story until the final level). In each dimension, the character has a different form. The “stone” form is slower and doesn’t jump as high, but he can kill enemies. The “demon” form can’t do anything to enemies, but he’s faster and can climb ladders. Two parallel dimensions mean that every level is actually two levels, each dimension often being quite different from the other. Find a pit you can’t jump across? Switch dimensions to find a handy floating platform for you to use. Need to open a gate? Maybe the lever is hidden somewhere in the other dimension. Besides this mechanic the game is a rather standard, by-the-book platformer. There are spike pits, traps that come out of the floors, walls, and ceiling at regular intervals, dozens of collectables to find, and enemies to be killed by jumping on their heads. Unfortunately, while the dimension shifting mechanic is intriguing, its let down every step of the way by frustrating design, stiff movement, and poor presentation.
If there’s one major flaw a platformer can make, it’s forcing the player to jump without being able to see where they’re landing. Since Stonerid tries to combine its platforming with the dimension shifting, the game is filled with these leaps of faith. It’s very common to have to make a jump into thin air, not knowing where the next platform will be, shift dimensions, and then try and calculate your landing before you miss the platform and go plummeting into a bed of spikes. Every level in Stonerid is filled with these leaps of faith, and it can’t be overstated how big of a problem it is. Levels aren’t beaten because of skill and timing, but because of slow memorization from failure after failure of what comes next. The platforming becomes a tedious grind as you have to guess where platforms, enemies, and traps will be.
This trial-and-error designs permeates the entire game. Sometimes you’ll find yourself at a dead end, only to switch dimensions and be dropped without warning into spikes. Sometimes you’ll switch dimensions and find an enemy right on top of you. Death comes quickly, and often without warning. Although there’s no loading screen after death, the instant respawning is wasted on the intermittently placed checkpoints. Coming back the second after a death is pointless if it means having to trudge back through the same part of the level again for the dozenth time.
The game’s art only exacerbates the frequent failures. Each world restricts itself to a small color palette and theme so that none of the worlds overlap visually. While a nice idea, it means that the backgrounds, foregrounds, enemies, and traps of a world all feature the same two or three colors. Layer them all on top of each other and it becomes too easy to wander into spinning blade or evil creature without noticing, once again causing unfair deaths.
The gameplay almost becomes comedic with how quickly and unexpectedly death happens. Struggling through a level with just one heart left, only to be killed the second you switch dimensions because that giant Jabba-the-Hutt-like sludge monster doesn’t have any wind-up attack animation and he fired the second you appeared. Walking down a long hallway, only for a giant blade to descend from the ceiling, killing you before you could possibly react. Switching dimensions to search for more collectables and being unceremoniously dropped into a pit. There were some deaths that happened so quickly and without warning that I couldn’t help but laugh.
But Stonerid isn’t a comedy. In fact, despite featuring a magical world and simple fairy tale-like plot, there’s no levity to be found anywhere in the game. The only real story moments happen in the very last level. Although you earn diary entries every few levels, they generally only describe how your character gets from one place to another. The few characters you do meet in-game only spout short lines of expositions about what may be ahead or unhelpful information about the plot. A total lack of story and character leaves the game with no personality or identity whatsoever. There’s no feeling of an epic quest, despite the player character claiming it taking weeks to finish his adventure. There’s no thrill when you beat a particularly hard level or finally meet your adversary. There’s no joy of success when the adventure is finally beaten. The game fails to elicit any emotion at all. Without any story, character, or tone to flavor the gameplay, the entire game becomes forgettable.
A review copy of the game was provided by Enitvare.