Stained is an action-platformer developed by small indie game developer RealAxis Software and is about a character, who looks an awful lot like Death, and a mysterious castle in an abandoned kingdom. As you travel through this seemingly abandoned castle, the story unfolds and you will learn more about who you are and why the once mighty castle has fallen into an abandoned and pitiful state. As you start the game, narration is provided in a husky, gruff voice that explains a little back story and then you are dropped into the game. As RealAxis’s website states that they as developers are in the business of making games that give entirely new experiences.
Graphically speaking Stained is in no way unattractive as it features a full 3D environment even though is is a left-to-right side scrolling action-platformer, somewhat along the same lines as the Trine games. One thing that is immediately noticeable on higher resolution monitors (I am at 1920x1080) is that the textures are a bit over-taxed and do not sit well with more screen real estate. Some reviewers on Steam mentioned the same issue, however, when I set the game into windowed mode and played at 1024x768, it became much more attractive. If Stained were to be released for the various mobile platforms it would certainly look better than the average platformer.
Unfortunately though it is quite noticeable on a larger monitor. Outside of the low-res textures though, Stained runs at a cool 60 FPS on even the low-end Lenovo laptop that has an Intel-based graphics card, which to me signifies a well-optimized game. I would like to note though, that the stained glass vistas and windows peppering nearly every screen are absolutely gorgeous, and the effect that is given with the light sources are in just the right spot are spectacular. If only the rest of the textures and graphics could have received the same dedication and care. This goes doubly for your character as he is animated in the most basic of fashions, the textures used and the model both look like they may have come from an early Playstation 2 game, as they appear slightly off from the quality of the environment.
The contrast is jarring and certainly breaks you away from the rest of the game. On top of that, if you hold down that attack button and you move one way or another, your character performs the standing attack animation but slides across the ground (don’t even get me started on the death animation for your character …). Added that breaking experience to the light flicker that happens when you are struck by one of the very well textured and very well-animated stained glass demons (indicating you have taken damage) and you can really see the studios’ inexperience come to the forefront. Little things like this can completely break any sense of immersion and unfortunately that is the case here.
Stained has some excellent ambient audio; the initial scene when you start the game has some spectacular rain and thunder that can be heard over the relatively decent background music. As you continue your way through the castle, various echoes and the sounds of critters is quite noticeable and a welcome addition as it help suck the player in. While the music is not terrible there was not much variety as the tracks all sound and feel the same; not terrible, but not spectacular either. Swinging your scythe or slamming the butt of the scythe onto the ground yield a satisfying swoosh or clunk but there is no change to the audio effect, no matter the room you are in or surface that is struck when you slam your scythe to the ground. The clink that happens as you smash into one of the stained glass demons that serve as enemies is actually very clean, crisp, and provides a satisfying crunch.
Gameplay is relatively standard for any “Metroidvania” style game; there are pits, bad guys, and rudimentary puzzles scattered throughout the dungeon. The periodic battles that are broken up but some pretty terrible jumping tends to pull you out of the game and does nothing to try to entice you back into it. Puzzles are obvious and easy to solve on account of there being only three real actions (swing, thump, and jump) and do not provide enough of a reason to play the game more than once (if you can get through it that many times), and when you add in the mediocre gameplay with the complete lack of any real shading and lighting, you are looking at a very stale experience.
All in all the premise for Stained is a good one; the story is decent and what few audio effects there were (including the music) were above average, but the game breaking lack of detail and quality textures mixed with low-quality animations really show that this is an amateur attempt at one of the oldest and most beloved genres in video games. While it pains me to say this, but Stained is an experience that is on par with a Pre-release Alpha of other studios and should be seen as a stepping stone for RealAxis. Some features and aspects (again, storytelling and audio) were quite rewarding but they were not enough to save Stained, as games are about the entire experience, not just a single aspect.
Preview by Robert