As I sit here and think about Stray, I struggle to come up with a game in recent memory that affected me more. I mentioned in my review of the game that the experience of playing it was undoubtedly colored by the recent passing of my own beloved cat, but still, the game rose well above my expectations, and I wouldn’t hesitate on putting it on any “best games ever” list.
That is bold, isn’t it? After all, Stray was not a perfect experience. I had my own moments of frustration with it. Some of its puzzles were a little too oblique; some of its action was downright odd. It wasn’t outright buggy, but there were moments that felt just a little unpolished. Despite all this, however, I remain firm in saying Stray was an amazing game that offered a truly unique experience. It brought something new to the table, or at least new to me, and it made me think about the reason why gaming has become a central part of my life.
Stray tells the story of a nameless, orange cat that ended up in a very strange place by complete accident. That strange place was a world populated by robots with some very human tendencies. They came to see the little feline as a savior, of sorts, for the robot’s world was in danger, and its lack of a human population was troubling. It was up to the Stray-nger (haha) in a strange land to help come up with a solution. The kitty was not alone in its efforts, as it garnered its own robot companion along the way, one that served as both storyteller and protector.
What struck me most while playing Stray is how close the experience was to the first time I played Super Metroid. The games are hardly similar, and yet, Stray brought up all the reasons why I continue to hold Super Metroid in such high regard. The quiet approach to storytelling, the exploration opportunities, the lack of grueling combat, and most importantly, the chance to make and learn from mistakes without feeling wholly defeated. Super Metroid was brilliant in how it rewarded progression while keeping players invested. Stray offered a similar if more modern approach. It gave players an interesting, user-friendly world to explore with nicely integrated checkpoints and lots of environmental storytelling. Did it help that the protagonist was the best and most adorable video game cat ever? Of course. Personal feelings aside, the game would not have had as much impact if another main character species was chosen.
I understand that Stray is not a game for everyone, and it is not without some rough moments for cat-lovers, but it was the most wonderful game I completed this year. Its world, its emotion, its story, and its thoughtfulness are all second to none. I enjoyed some great games last year, revisiting old favorites and taking on new challenges, but Stray was something different. Something old and new. A link to both the past and future of gaming. It stands heads, shoulders, and tails above the rest as my 2022 game of year.
All images, including lede, were captured by author during PS5 gameplay of Stray (© BlueTwelve Studio, Annapurna Interactive).