Review: Stela (Nintendo Switch)

If you’re a fan of cinematic platformers, Stela should be a title that catches your eyes. It does several things well… I’d just like to see it do even better. Beating this adventure has left me with mixed feelings.

Contrary to what you may think, Stela is not based on The Simpsons episode where Ned Flanders plays Stanley from A Streetcar Named Desire. Shocking, right? But if “witnessing the final days of a mysterious ancient world” sounds intriguing, don’t stop reading this review yet.

Allure is all well and good, but Stela is a game that doesn’t have much to tell players plot-wise. It really could use a few more cutscenes. It has familiar elements, but at what point does cryptic become just plain vague? The ambiguously muddy tale might impact your satisfaction, but thankfully there’s much more to it.

You take control of the beautifully animated Stela, a young woman who looks a lot like Princess Leia à la Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Her true to life movement reminds me of classics like Prince of Persia and Another World (Out of This World). Thus, I found traversing as her to be something of a delight.

She is under a continuous threat, a fact I want to emphasize. Creatures big and small would like nothing better than to see her demise. Do you attempt to hide from these monstrosities, try to incapacitate them, or make a run for it and hope for the best? Depending on your circumstances, you’ll do all three. With some surprisingly scary moments, I’m surprised Stela didn’t get a Teen rating.

The dangers extend to the environments too. Terrain crumbles beneath you. It tries to crush you from above. Stela keeps you on your toes, but it’s moments like these that will ultimately leave an impression. Thankfully the controls should be intuitive for those experienced with the subgenre, making it easy to watch your step as it were. That said, do jump a tad early, just to be on the safe side.

Should you fail, Stela has very reasonable checkpoints. Indeed, the entire game isn’t particularly challenging. A few areas give a brief pause, but don’t tax much. One of my initial difficulties was missing a lever, due to the early game being too dark – there’s a mainstream look I’d like to see improved with better lighting options. My beating the game in less than three hours should tell you that Stela isn’t very demanding.

The short length makes me question the $19.99 launch price. I don’t feel it suits the game on the Nintendo eShop, especially considering that Stela is inspired by less expensive contemporaries. Replay value is scant, so what’s my motivation to beat the game again any time soon? The Gallery, where you can unlock 15 images to view, is a nice bonus, but a small one.

I do want to give a special mention to the soundtrack and sound effects, though. They certainly impressed me a good deal. While similar games might err on the side of quiet, Stela’s audio is fitting and powerful, going a sizable way to making key moments memorable. So thumbs up!

As a fan of cinematic platformers, I rather enjoyed playing Stela from start to finish. Be that as it may, it didn’t take me long at all, hence one of my leading (but not my only) concerns. At under three hours, and with little replay value to speak of, $19.99 is a lot to launch for on the Nintendo Switch. On sale, this would be one to consider for sure, depending on how burnt out you might be on the subgenre.

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Bender Bending Rodríguez
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