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Stela

Posted by GG Goblin On March - 31 - 2020

A few hours of cinematic platforming escapism.

 
There can be no denying that these are difficult times. With most people being stuck at home right now, things can seem pretty grim and the idea of escaping to some other world, even if only for a short time, will be very appealing, even if that other world is on the brink of destruction. This is what is on offer in SkyBox Labs’ Stela, a cinematic platformer that previously launched on Xbox One and iOS, that has recently arrived for Switch and Steam.

 


 
The first thing that players need to understand is that they won’t necessarily understand anything. Stela is one of those games that is deliberately vague when it comes to narrative and story-telling. The player will be taking control of the titular Stela, a young woman who finds herself in a strange, hostile world. Awakening in a cave-like area and without any perceptible purpose, Stela will have to do what platforming heroes have been doing since the birth of the genre and move to the right.

 
The lack of story is not a problem, as has been proven in many other games that left the player to decide on their own narrative. In Stela, certain things are obvious. The setting will quickly give the player an impression of a world coming to an end through grim levels and mesmerising backdrops. Little glimpses here and there of previous civilizations and life in general will tease at what the world once was. However, players looking for that solid confirmation at the end and a big reveal will likely be disappointed with the still vague ending. Again though, other players will be fine with this. It’s all about the journey after all.

 
And it is a very interesting journey. That travelling to the right across the screen will see the player move through a nice variety of different environments. The visuals in Stela really are the star of the show here, earning the cinematic description. A beautiful use of light and many darkened foregrounds ensure that there is always something nice for the player to look at, and the visuals are made even more beautiful on the smaller Switch screen. The downside of the smaller screen is that Stela herself can be far too small and certain objects can be difficult to see. This is something that can be remedied by playing docked, but Stela is the type of game that demands being played in handheld mode, preferably with headphones. The audio work is another highlight, with some really atmospheric sound which will often alert the player to approaching danger way before any other sort of hint can be seen. As a game that will keep the player on their toes through much of the journey, the audio is very much part of the experience and done really well.

 


 
The actual gameplay is much more mixed. The player will be moving from left to right for the most part, and thankfully the controls in the game are simple, with just the movement, a jump and an interaction to worry about. Stela’s movement though is quite floaty, reminiscent of certain games from years ago, making any precision movement much trickier than it needs to be. This means that players will come across certain situations where, as they have to think quickly, Stela will miss platforms fail in an unfair way. Fortunately, the game is quite generous in that players will not lose much by way of progress through a restart, but it can still be frustrating.

 
There are also puzzles as the player progresses, which may involve moving objects or activating switches. None of the puzzles are too taxing though. Much of the time will be spent running away from threats, some of which are quite dramatic and even scary, but occasionally the player will have to involve themselves with a little stealth as they try to avoid detection. Aside from the threat from giant monstrosities and humanoid creatures, the environment itself will offer a level of danger as platforms break or debris falls from the sky, keeping the player on their toes.

 
There are some collectibles to find along the way, which is nice and may add some replayability for dedicated players. However, these collectibles don’t really add anything to the game as such. Stela can be completed in around three hours, which makes it a nice afternoon’s distraction. It does seem too vague though and may leave some players feeling unsatisfied, and the replayability is limited, even with the collectibles.

 


 
Stela is a beautiful game, and that will be what sticks in players memories once they finish their short journey through Stela’s world. As a puzzle platformer, Stela is capable if uninspired, and the mysterious vibe of the game is maybe taken too far. A bit too short for the asking price, Stela is at least a game that players will remember. Stela is worth checking out if you are a fan of the cinematic platformer.

 

 ★★★★★★½☆☆☆ 



 

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