Back in the day there was an unspoken rule about a game’s length being indicative of its quality. For some reason we all thought that games that took longer to finish also meant they were good, and so for many years games would do anything in their power to stretch out the game time. It’s only in the last decade or so that we’ve collectively woken up from this weird idea, the idea of a short game somehow not being worth it now an outmoded idea along with diehard console fandom and games not being art. This has then allowed the creation of numerous kinds of gaming experiences, things that in the past that wouldn’t have been developed because it’d seemingly be cast aside with the other dreck that had a short play time. In that vein we have the short, 30 minute experience of Sunlight, something that provides a refreshing take on what a game can be and how it can be constructed.
If I was to say to you that a game had hand drawn environments you’d likely think of the numerous examples of cartoons come to life with standouts like Cuphead and Forgotton Anne so you wouldn’t think that Sunlight would fit into the same category. However it does as it was hand drawn through the use of a program called Quill, something you’ve likely seen a demo of if you’ve ever looked into getting a VR headset. The developers say they’ve taken inspiration for the design from expressionist painters and, whilst I’m no art critic, you can certainly see the elements of those artists on Sunlight’s visuals. Beyond that though everything is pretty simplistic in terms of art and visual direction but, given what I think the game’s overall feel and theme are, simplistic visuals are done deliberately to have you focus elsewhere.
Sunlight is a walking simulator and the story is told to you directly through narration. However you’re not told it by just a single voice, instead you’re hit from all angles with different voices all reading the same lines in their own rendition. There’s even a few easter eggs scattered about the place with unique voices that you can only find one of, like the tree below that used the voice of a child. However the really interesting thing is when you realise that each of the voices are tied to a particular tree and, should you want to you can sit by them and listen.
I have to be honest and say I can’t really remember what the story was about as, whilst I was engaged with it whilst it was being narrated, it was surreal and abstract. The basic beats seemed to describe someone going through a revelatory experience triggered by the use of some substance, but realistically it’s hard to tell exactly what was going on there. Although if I’m honest what kept me engaged wasn’t so much the story itself, but how it was being told. Indeed I feel that the story is largely tangential to the game’s overall goal, which i think is for us to reflect on how connected we are to everything around us.
The game’s final moments play directly into this and, for sake of not wanting to ruin what a moment that is, I won’t delve into it any further. The developers will also be planting a tree for every purchase of the game (they say “download” but I think they really mean purchase) although whether or not those trees will have any direct ties back to the game itself remains to be seen. Suffice to say the 30 minutes I spent with the game managed to captivate, entertain and quiet my busy mind which was something I sorely needed.
Sunlight is one of those games where writing about the experience feels like it falls short. The game’s concept will either interest or bore you and, if it’s the former, then you don’t have much to lose by giving it a small amount of your time. I stumbled across it after trying to find something, anything, to take my mind off a particularly shitty week at work and coming up blank at almost every avenue. So for that alone I can recommend Sunlight but, in reality, it is worth playing regardless of how you feel right now.
Sunlight is available on PC right now for $5.95. Total play time was 31 minutes.