Stela is a cinematic, atmospheric platformer about a young woman witnessing the final days of a mysterious ancient world.
Overcome daunting challenges, treacherous terrain, and gargantuan beasts while traversing a decaying land. Manipulate the environment to solve elaborate puzzles and creep past dangerous creatures under cover of muted landscapes, all set to an original soundtrack. Survive sweeping environments including mysterious towns, haunting forests, and massive subterranean ruins brought to life in an atmospheric experience.
I honestly couldn’t have made a better opening if I had tried, and let’s be honest, I did, re-read the actual intro to make sure that I was on point, and decided, why not let them say it best. That said though, Stela is the type of title that will honestly stick with me for quite a while because of how well done it was. Nothing is over the top but the combination of the color palettes with the darker musical scores was nothing short of amazing.
Stela is a very short and quick title, if you understand both what you’re doing and have some good timing. Essentially always moving from left to right through a series of treacherous environments, Stella can walk, run, move objects and “jump” like a normal person or hold onto ledges in order to pull herself up. There are no super powers here and the monsters are both very real and very scary as just one attack can end Stela’s life.
With how easy is it to die, either by a monster, a horde of rats that made me think of Plague Tale: Innocence or simply from falling too far down, there’s thankfully a very robust system for checkpoints as well as loading and reloading the game as you try to figure things out. Honestly? The puzzles are not the most complex but sometimes there’s just something that you know that you are missing and it’s figuring that out that can sometimes take a while in order to get past where you are stuck. Such as, my pro controller not being responsive enough so it wasn’t until the handheld mode that I finally passed a certain puzzle with a certain rolling object of death. Otherwise, it’s just figuring out that there’s something that needs to be pushed or jumped on at the right moment.
What impressed me the most, and what I wish there had been something to tell me from the beginning, is that Stela isn’t quite a 2.5D platformer, but you do sometimes move Stela either forwards or backwards on the two dimensional plane to get past certain puzzles. It’s subtle, but it’s there and it makes for an even better time as it makes the short adventure more than just a straight run from left to right.
Finally, there are the visuals and the music. Visually, you’ll often have a very zoomed out view that lets you see everything in front of you and then some. It helps to avoid monsters. It helps to avoid arrow showers. It helps to plan out your next move. Added in either the very dark or sometimes very bright colours on screen, you’re never at a loss as to where to go, just at a loss in order of how you’re going to get there. Only adding to the urgency, or the horror, is the musical scores that are either eerily haunting or jacked up with so much base that my heartbeat ran in tune with it as I tried to sneak past and run away from some of the earlier monsters.
With all it has going for it, Stela isn’t perfect but I could never truly figure out if it was because of Stela herself, or the set input lag of what you’re asking of her. As I mentioned earlier, Stela doesn’t have any superpowers going for her. She can literally run and move objects around, but when it comes to things like even jumping, oftentimes it’s going to take a few tries to get it right. Part of it is because when you say jump, it can take a second before she does it. Now whether this is because of the input lag, or by design as she has to prepare for it, it cost me many a reload and even sometimes when you think you’ve got it down? You’ll find her not jumping or falling short making you have to reload and try again.