Stela is another addition to the growing list of Limbo inspired, atmospheric platformers. Similar to its predecessor’s: Little Nightmares, Gris, Inside to name a few, you awaken as a silent protagonist in a strange world and have to progress forward passed platform puzzles and threatening foes. Stela has beautiful yet simplistic graphics, touching music and a few noticeable problems, so let’s get into it…
This is where the game shines, In the beginning, you emerge from a cave into a field of dead crops and with that small hint of foreshadowing the visual storytelling begins,
As the protagonist is silent and the world itself is hostile the backstory of this genre is told visually, as I explore I see a darkened sky, dead plants, barren dust blowing in the wind and in the first few minutes I encounter a swarm of beetles, so this world is gripped by a plague driven famine? Progressing onwards I see malnourished humanoid creatures stalking a nearby forest. Stela does a wonderful job of using visuals to reinforce the theme that this world is on its last legs, its the end times. I encounter references to war and further in the game, forest fires and frozen landscapes, perhaps hinting at climate change.
The world of Stela
Each new environment comes with its own style of unique enemies so you’re kept on your toes trying to figure out how to deal with each new foe.
The music, subtle sound effects and overall design is fantastic, when walking through a still forest you can hear the gentle rush if a stream, the wind rustling past dead leaves, the creak of a tree.
When running through a snow-filled tundra the sound shifts to chilling winds and the crack of frost underfoot, This creates very tense moments when a threat appears and you need to hide, the game knows exactly when to drop the sound entirely or change to a faster-paced track to add tension, I highly recommend playing the game with a good headset.
When Stela is less than stell-ar
This is where the game shows its first shortcoming, controls are basic. Move, grab and jump are all that are needed to interact with the world. The problem is the puzzles themselves are extremely simple, offering very little challenge, I found the game holding my hand and not letting go.
If I need to drag a box to climb a ledge the box is typically next to the ledge, carry a torch to light a bonfire? They’re both shown on screen at the same time, switch a lever to open a door? Just climb a ladder to reach the switch. Everything is spoonfed to you, I expected this from the first few puzzles as it teaches you the basic mechanics but they’re never expanded on later, they’re simply repeated throughout the game. It’s hardly a puzzle if you don’t need to think.
By far the largest criticism of the game, it’s two and a half hours long, with the price hovering around $17 that’s a lot of money for such a short gaming experience. There’s almost no replay value except to find some hidden glyphs in each stage of the game, a single collectable type.
Stela is a fun casual experience with some light puzzles and neat storytelling. I could say the game leaves you wanting more but for the price, I’d wait for a sale to buy.
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