Travel at your own pace. Walk. Breathe. Rest. Walk some more. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the sunlight.
You wander through a vibrant, painted forest, idly picking brightly-colored flowers as you go. As you walk, the trees tell you a story, whispering truths about awareness and sensation and the unity between humanity and the planet Earth. Each voice is distinct, a spectrum of ages and genders and accents and speaking styles all represented as proud sentinels of the forest. Sometimes, the trees encourage you to stop and breathe – an important reminder in today’s ever more hectic world. There is no pressure, no obligation, nothing but the forest and the voices and the warm sunlight from above.
This is the essence of Krillbite Studios’ Sunlight – and yes, it’s exactly as relaxing as it sounds.
An Interactive Painting
Playing Sunlight is like exploring a painting. The game’s hand-painted environment, created using Quill, is one of its greatest strengths. The forest feels calming and welcoming. Even as you wander more deeply into the trees, picking flower after flower, you don’t feel lost or scared or trapped. Instead, you know that you belong. The comforting feel of the forest made Sunlight’s world one I would willingly spend my time in.
I especially appreciate Krillbite Studios’ decision to make a forest that is not simply filled with identical trees of the exact same height and size, somehow spaced perfectly apart, as is so often seen in media. Despite its stylized design, this forest feels real and imperfect. Trunks are different colors. Some trees have many branches. Others have few. There are scraggly undergrowth and even the occasional rock in your path. A few trees are even so close together that you have to find another way through as you move towards the next flower. Walking through it truly felt like wandering through a real forest.
Partially because the forest is so well-done, I found myself disappointed by the design choices made regarding the flowers you pick as you explore. There are only a few simple flower designs, and they quickly begin repeating. As a result of this, the bouquet you collect is fairly lackluster and doesn’t have any of the striking visuals of the environment surrounding you. The flower designs feel simple and rushed, and this is an area in which I feel Sunlight could have improved.
Many Voices As One
As much as I loved the game’s visuals, I think I enjoyed the unique decisions made regarding audio even more. Sunlight is definitely a game best played with a quality pair of headphones or sound system, as so much of the experience is letting yourself get lost in not just the woods but the words and music surrounding you.
Sunlight’s somewhat strange yet effective audio is made of two parts. First, come the voices. There are a large number of voice actors involved in the project, each representing a different “tree” or section of the forest. The voices are reciting the same story in unison, but each contributes somethings different and possesses their own personality. The voices feature a mix of ages, genders, and especially speaking styles such as accents or dialects, which I very much appreciated.
Krillbite Studios’ decision to handle the game’s audio in this way was a daring one, but it paid off. It truly felt as though the trees were whispering to me as I walked, sharing a secret story that only I was meant to hear. At first, I was reminded rather chillingly of the classic literary text Dante’s Inferno, in which the titular Dante travels through a grove of trees which turn out to be the tormented spirits of humans who had committed suicide. However, this was a far more benign and calming version of this tale, and within a few moments of starting the game, the whispering of the trees went from potentially creepy to reassuring and even comforting.
In addition to the “voices of the forest,” Sunlight also features background music in the form of Tchaikovsky’s “Hymn of the Cherubim” sung by Norway’s Kammerkoret Aurum choir. The music, which was recorded in the Archbishop’s Palace in Norway, is exactly everything it needs to be. Sometimes happy, sometimes melancholy, always beautiful, it echoes through the forest and accompanies you on every step of your journey. I was initially worried that having both music and spoken narration at once would lead to a confusing or overwhelming experience, but the two complimented one another perfectly. Krillbite posted a link to a YouTube video of the piece used in the game, and I’ve added it to my regular daily listening ever since playing Sunlight.
What’s in a Game?
Sunlight works as a lot of things. As mentioned earlier, it’s a gorgeous interactive painting. It’s a clever thought experiment, or perhaps a relaxing guided meditation. It’s something you could easily boot up and spend a few moments with if you find yourself needing a break in the middle of a chaotic day.
But does Sunlight work as a video game?
…Yes and no.
Although it’s described as an exploration-based title, Sunlight would definitely fit within the category of “walking simulator.” There’s nothing to do except walk around the forest, listen to the story which the trees are telling you, and pick the occasional flower. While the flowers are spread out in different locations, the story progresses in a linear fashion, with each piece recited once you have found the next flower. Gamers looking for something with intense gameplay – or, really, any gameplay at all – will not find what they are searching for in Sunlight.
The definition of a video game is a broad one, but, even by that definition, Sunlight falls on the lower end of things when it comes to interactivity. There’s so little to do. While I applaud the experience Krillbite has created, I did not feel that Sunlight needed to be a game – it could have worked just as effectively as a short film or even, as mentioned before, a meditation tape with a visual component.
While I did enjoy wandering around the forest, I was a little disappointed by how short the game’s playtime was. The entire story can be completed in about 30 minutes, and while those 30 minutes are definitely fun and lovely, there’s nothing left to do after the main story has been completed. The game has minimal replay value and there is no reason to continue wandering around the beautiful forest.
This left me feeling disappointed because the environment was so well-created that it felt like a waste to only be used for a short game with a single story. I wish the trees could have told multiple stories, even if they didn’t necessarily use the “many voices as one” technique. Krillbite has created a whole forest that is pleasant and relaxing to spend time in but has not taken full advantage of what that offers.
Sunlight is fully worth the 30 minutes it takes to complete, and makes a perfect break if you need something to calm your mind. The audio and visual elements work perfectly together to create something which truly embodies peace, meditation, and awareness of your body. However, its short length and minimal gameplay may feel disappointing to some, and the flower-picking mechanic is disappointingly lacking when compared to the gorgeous and complex visuals of the rest of the game.
TechRaptor reviewed Sunlight on Steam using a code provided by the publisher.