Sunblaze accomplishes something previously believed to be impossible: it got me into speedrunning. Between its snappy level design, tough-but-fair controls, and rapid-fire progression, I honestly had no choice but to accept how much I loved the rush of getting seconds faster every run. After playing more of the game, this really is the logical outcome of the game’s play-as-you-are approach to difficulty, where all skill levels are encouraged to push themselves just a little more - a motif that perfectly fits the game’s themes.
Overview and Story
Sunblaze is a precision platformer. This means you’ll use the snappy controls to jump, dash, and bounce your way through intricately designed levels. Touching any traps or falling out of the map means restarting the level, so you’ll need to execute your moves perfectly. But because requiring pixel-perfect accuracy isn’t enough of a challenge, each level is also a small puzzle. Some blocks will need to be touched in a certain order, or enemies dashed through at just the right time to get you past an obstacle. This makes every screen a test of not only your timing but your planning abilities as well.
While the game is relatively light on story, what it does have gives the game a nice structure and some stakes to care about. You play as Josie, the daughter of a world-renowned superhero. While practicing your skills inside your dad’s superhero training simulator, you get stuck inside and will need to complete increasingly tough levels in order to find out what happened and be reunited with your dad and cat. The tone is light and wholesome, and the writing is packed full of great dad jokes that will have you rolling your eyes almost as often as Josie.
I’ll be honest: precision platformers have never really interested me before this year. I didn’t really understand the appeal of playing something where you couldn’t make any mistakes without suffering huge setbacks. But Sunblaze has refined this concept into something that makes it easy to see what the fuss is about. While yes, you will need to be precise, the game’s design makes it easy to try, fail, and get going again in microseconds. Failure not meaning a lengthy and frustrating loading screen also means that I never felt like I was being punished for not being able to pull off a jump, but rather being encouraged to try again.
The second piece to this successful formula is the short, one-screen levels. You can see everything that you’ll need to be doing right from when you load in, helping you plan how you’ll traverse the traps and gaps. They’re all fairly quick too, so any time you get reset you’re losing seconds of progress, not minutes. Once you get across the map and touch the cube, your progress is saved and you transition to the next stage. And oh, those transitions. As you touch the cube, the room you’re in seamlessly shifts around you to form the next challenge. The way everything moves in makes you feel like you’re perfectly in sync with the game and keeps your momentum going.
Just like any other activity, some people need different types of help. For me, the quick reloads were enough to keep me from getting discouraged with tough rooms. But for others (and likely me once I get to the later chapters) there is also a range of accessibility options. These go from being able to break glass yourself instead of needing to send an obstacle flying into it, to extra high jumps, to full invincibility. Each of these are there so you can keep the game fun to play, or practice levels until you get the hang of them. I really like these inclusions both as a way to make the game more accessible, and also to echo the game’s themes. This isn’t supposed to be a punishment, it’s a training exercise to make Josie a better superhero. Of course her dad would make it so that she can work on getting better without becoming discouraged!
For those who are newer to platforming, or just want to focus on the puzzle aspect, there’s one final inclusion: zen mode. This is exactly what it sounds like - a stress-free way to enjoy Sunblaze. There are significantly fewer obstacles in your way, the traps move slower, and the paths through the level are generally more straightforward. This is an amazing way to learn the ropes if the regular mode is too hard, or if you just want to see how the story plays out. I checked it out and found that the levels still had a good amount of difficulty, just one that more people would find fun.
On the other side of the divide lies a group of people that both scare and fascinate me: speedrunners. How people can get so good at precision platformers that they not only beat the game without breaking a sweat but also figure out routes to do it as quickly as possible is a total mystery to me. However, Sunblaze has put just as much thought into these players’ experiences as anyone else’s. There are built-in timers with death counters to help you time your runs and brag to your friends. If you’re really looking for more challenges, each chapter has a set of data cubes to collect, which require some tricky moves to be able to grab and finish the level. Once you have the set, it unlocks hard mode for that chapter - a unique set of levels designed to push you to the limit. Unfortunately, unlocking them is as far as this reviewer has got, but I have it on good authority they’re a blast.
Considering how tightly designed each level is, it’s incredible that there are over 700 of them in the regular mode. A good chunk of those go by quickly, so it’s not quite as daunting as it sounds, but it’s certainly not a quick game (despite what speedrunners may say). Zen mode has around 200 levels, which I think was perfect for getting a good taste of everything while still leaving you ready for more of a challenge. Overall length is hard to put a pin in due to how much this game depends on skill, but I’d say at US $15, the value is absolutely there. Like I mentioned at the top, I’ve probably spent more time practicing getting faster runs through early chapters than working on progression.
Sunblaze carries the torch of precision platformers that have come before it while adding intricate puzzle design and a whole lot of heart. The baked-in speedrunning features and bonus challenge levels will keep genre champions busy, and the host of thoughtful accessibility options make this a game that people of any skill level can enjoy. The puzzling level design means Sunblaze works your brain as much as your reflexes, and makes sure that you have a lot of fun doing it too.
Sunblaze is available now on Steam, Nintendo Switch, and GOG.