Stray Review | Cuddly Badassery

Having taken a look at BlueTwelve Studio's puzzle-platformer Stray, we can safely say that it's one hell of an adventure.

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to our furry, feline friends. A lot of emotion goes into our fawning over GIFs and arguably, any form of media that features cats. What can I say? It’s the cuteness coupled with occasional indifference that wins us over.

Having taken a look at BlueTwelve Studio’s puzzle-platformer Stray, I didn’t necessarily lose my age-old perception of cats. I did, however, hold my pets a bit closer afterward. It’s definitely one hell of an adventure. 

Much more than your typical cat simulator

Without giving away too much of the plot, you take control of a cute ginger cat–who’s sadly, strayed away from the others. You’re dropped into, what initially feels like a sense of helplessness, being such a tiny animal in a larger, sprawling world. You do all the usual “cat things” such as meow, lap up water, and sharpen your claws on trees, walls, or nice shag carpets. While you don’t have any life-ending power moves or feline martial arts, you do have all the deftness and agility that a cat would possess.

With these abilities, you’ll be able to explore and survive in the strange, technological metropolis that is initially quite grim, but becomes more and more picturesque and dazzling with each chapter completed. 

The bigger the city, the smarter the kitty

The game’s setting and level design are where it shines the most. How exactly would your typical house pet be able to manage traversing different levels of a robotic city? Well, with some nicely crafted cityscapes and a little help from a robotic friend of your own.

While Stray is chock full of puzzles spread across each level, none are too tough to handle. Objects are neatly set where they’d usually be placed in a modern setting, and rather conspicuously, too. A lot of your surroundings will factor into how you’ll manage to find key items or escape danger–and trust me, for your size, there will be a lot of danger. 

You’ll oftentimes solve problems unexpectedly, simply through exploration. Just the same way it could kill you, curiosity will be your best friend. The game looking really good helps with keeping your eyes peeled–as they should. You’ll definitely want to check any nook and cranny you come across, and try your best to reach any items in sight. Now, this all may seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re all alone. Thankfully, you won’t be.

B12 is your backpack-riding, robot-translating little partner who will do a lot of the heavy lifting that a cat can’t manage. She’ll do her best to take care of unlocking doors, hacking locks, giving you hints, and most importantly, conversing with the locals. You may be a cat, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be lonely. Problem solved in that department.

Keeping things simple

If I haven’t stressed this enough, you are a cat. Aside from the aforementioned lack of human capabilities and equipment, there won’t be a lot going display-wise. Save for B12 and your friendly banter, your screen will be pretty much bare. There’s no map, no HUD, and no HP bar. You’ll eventually find a small suit that houses B12 and acts as your storage, but that’s pretty much all you’ll be having for the most part.

The areas won’t be too huge to handle, though. Since you’ll be doing a lot of cat parkour, especially in the beginning, you’ll manage to remember the locations well. This is crucial, as you’ll be doing a bit of back and forth throughout the game, so it helps to know exactly where to go.

I like this approach. Nowadays, we’re too hard-pressed to constantly check our map, or have our eyes dart across whatever’s littered on our HUD. Having the chance to soak up the environment while still being on our toes is a refreshing experience. It also helps that navigation isn’t too hard.

After all, you don’t need 5 guns, 3 sets of armor, or 50 stamina potions. The fact that you don’t even have opposable thumbs makes this simpler, more streamlined choice a sensible one. 

Final Verdict: 9/10

You play as a cat. What more justification do you need?

BlueTwelve Studio’s debut title is a welcome surprise. One can only bear witness to so many big-budget, AAA releases and sequels–and while that isn’t a bad thing, Stray is a breath of fresh air.

Its simple mechanics, focus on exploration, well-crafted stage design, and intriguing story make the game quite engaging. Colors play a large role in both satisfying your eyes, and setting the overall tone. There’s not much to say about the sound design, aside from how superb it was in capturing the essence of how it would feel to travel across a city bereft of humanity, yet teeming with life–and as a cat. It also helps that the meows are eerily accurate enough to elicit responses from my own cats. I still wonder what they were talking about.

Overall, Stray is a very fun, beautiful game to play with just the right amount of challenge. If you’re a pet owner who’s into puzzle platformers, I can guarantee you’ll have the time of your nine lives.

Stray is available today, July 19, 2022, on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC via Steam.

Stray was reviewed on PC via a game code provided by the publisher.