Minimalism is a good thing in iOS gaming. After all, simple plots and easy-to-understand games have earned millions in the App Store, especially in the physics puzzler genre. On the other hand, Stay Alight may have taken minimalism a little too far.
You play an incandescent light bulb spaceman throwing sparks at slimy green microbes. Why? That’s not really clear, though you can collect puzzle pieces that reveal the game’s backstory. What you do know is that the the dead bodies of your character’s fellow lightbulb spacemen are scattered across the levels, and that each of them has been murdered in one gruesome way or another. That’s a pretty good motivation, as understated motivations go.
The art style is distinctive, and the game deserves praise for avoiding the same old cartoonish style we’ve come to associate with Angry Birds and Cut the Rope. On the other hand, the dead light bulbs and slime are a little creepy. Some players will love the art; we didn’t.
The gameplay is good, but familiar. The microbes are scattered around the screen. You control your throwing angle and how hard you throw. Find the right angles, and you’ll hit the microbes. You have several different kinds of sparks to throw, including some that explode or split into smaller sparks when they hit.
There is one new trick in the game, and it’s a good one: you have a partner. He’s even an ecologically efficient Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb spaceman. Your CFL buddy usually stands on the other side of the screen, and will catch the sparks you lob at him. This gives you a second set of angles to zap microbes from, plus your partner can catch the sparks he throws if they bounce back to him. It’s a bright idea that illuminates a lot of new strategies, and we promise those are the only light puns we’re going to inflict on you in this review.
The level design is excellent, with a well-chosen mix of obstacles and useful items. Good timing will get you past the arcs of electricity that turn on and off, while good positioning will nudge deadly objects into the paths of the microbes. Ricochet shots are an essential part of your arsenal, and many levels have targets that can only be reached at certain times or with particular types of sparks.
The game rewards good planning, though you can get lucky with an unexpected bounce. You can also use an in-app purchase to buy special sparks that hit any target. These are convenient if you get stuck, but we were able to beat every level without them.
The 60 levels make the most of the elements available, but there aren’t very many of those. By the time you play through 10 or 15 levels, you’ve seen everything the game is going to offer. The rest of the game is clever, but it doesn’t introduce any more weapons, triggers, or obstacles to interact with.
There’s a lot to like in Stay Alight– there just isn’t very much that’s surprising or new. If you’ve played a few Angry Birds-style physics puzzlers, then you’ve played this game already. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as long as what you’re looking for is more of the same.