Released back in 2011 Limbo is generally considered one of the first widely successful indie video games. The game did a fantastic job merging a creepy setting with puzzle platforming mechanics to create a truly memorable experience. When I played Limbo I really enjoyed it as it was a great example of what the indie scene could bring to the video game genre. So you might be wondering why I am bringing up Limbo in a review of the recently released game Stela. Well watching the trailer for Stela really reminded me of the atmosphere and gameplay of a game like Limbo and other games from this genre. As I really like this genre I was excited to play Stela. Stela may be on the easy and short side, but it succeeds at creating a fun and exciting game in a truly immersive atmosphere.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank SkyBox Labs for the review copy of Stela used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In Stela you play as a young woman whose world is falling apart at the seams. As you begin to explore the world you start to realize how bad it truly is. On your journey to your final destination you will encounter many dangerous creatures out to kill you that you must outrun or outsmart. Will you be able to survive your perilous journey to make it to your final destination?
If I were to describe Stela’s gameplay I would probably say that it is a combination of an adventure game and a puzzle game. The game takes place on a 2D plane inside a 3D world. Most of the gameplay revolves around walking/running to the right as you explore the world. As you explore you will encounter either creatures that want to kill you or obstacles that block your path. These can be dealt with in a couple different ways. First there are sections where you need to use stealth in order to avoid the creatures’ attention. This is really basic as you just need to hide behind/in parts of the environment until the creatures leave the area. Then there are times where you get chased by the creatures. These mostly involve running away along with some basic platforming until you can reach a point where the creatures can’t get you.
Finally there is the puzzle solving. The puzzle solving is used to deal with creatures that get in your way or to open up a path for you to continue your journey. The puzzles in the game utilize a couple different mechanics. A lot of the puzzles involve pulling a lever/pushing a button which activates or moves something that stands in your way. A lot of the puzzles also involve sliding around boxes and other larger objects. These objects are mostly used as platforms that you can climb on in order to reach across gaps or reach higher locations. Combining these two mechanics together leads to most of the puzzles in the game.
As soon as I started playing Stela it started to remind me of other indie games that I have played in the past. On the top of the list is the 2011 indie game Limbo. The overall atmosphere looks quite a bit different as Stela has a lot more color to it than various shades of black, white and gray. At the same time though Stela’s atmosphere really reminds me of games like Limbo. Anyone familiar with this genre of games should have a good idea of what to expect from Stela. This is partially because the gameplay doesn’t really revolutionize the genre. This is not really a bad thing though as Stela does a good job taking what works with the genre and putting it to work.
For the most part I really enjoyed playing Stela. The gameplay is simple and to the point, but it leads to an enjoyable experience. Trying to hide and escape from the killer creatures is exciting and it keeps you on your toes. The controls are really simple and work well. You basically can move left and right, and you also get a jump and a grab button. Those are the only controls in the entire game. The controls are quite responsive where your failures in the game will be due to your own fault and not the controls. If you enjoy these type of games I think you will also really enjoy Stela.
Other than the simple and satisfying gameplay, I think Stela’s greatest strength is the world and atmosphere that it ends up creating. Stela’s world is in chaos. The world is scattered with abandoned buildings and various ruins, but you get the sense of a civilization that was once successful before encountering the dangerous creatures that you must now deal with. The game is broken down into a couple different types of locales which all have their own distinct look. I really liked the game’s art style as it utilizes a style that really works for the game. While exploring it is hard not to admire the backgrounds. There are moments in the game that are really stunning which create a world that you really want to explore. The game’s story is kind of abstract as most of it is told through what you observe as you explore. I thought the story was not bad even though I think it could have been developed a little further. People who don’t like abstract stories though may be a little disappointed.
Stela does a lot of things right which leads to a game that I really enjoyed. It does have two issues though which prevent it from being as good as it could have been.
The first problem is that the game is on the easier side. Basically I don’t see you dying or getting stuck all that often. I don’t think it would even be that hard to beat the game without dying. This is reinforced by the fact that the game has achievements for completing the various sections of the game without dying. I ended up only dying a couple times in the game. When you die it will mostly be due to not reacting quick enough or failing an important jump. I also encountered at least one tiny bug where I was stuck in a location and the only way to get out of it was to die. On top of it being pretty easy to avoid dying the puzzles aren’t all that challenging. There are only so many potential options so you will figure out what you are supposed to do pretty quickly. Even if there were a lot of options the solutions are pretty obvious most of the time. I found the game to be pretty easy for the most part. Regularly I would hit one of the “roadblocks” and immediately know what to do to clear the way to continue my journey. There were only a couple instances where it took a little time to figure out what I needed to do. Otherwise I mostly breezed through the challenges.
The game’s easier difficulty leads to the other issue with Stela. With the game being pretty easy it also leads to the game being quite short. Some players may take more or less time, but I think most players can beat the game within 2-3 hours. This is partially because the game is easy, but it is also because the journey is just kind of short. With the game being pretty linear there isn’t a ton of replay value either. The game has a number of hidden areas with “collectibles” in them which adds a little playtime to the game as it requires you to explore further than the main path. If you were to go back and try to find all of the collectibles it could add some replay value to the game. I am not sure if getting the collectibles unlocks anything other than achievements though. Otherwise the only replay value in the game is just playing through the story again. As the puzzles and action sequences only have one solution I don’t know how enjoyable it will be to replay the game again without taking a pretty long break.
For the most part I really enjoyed playing Stela. The game may not revolutionize the adventure puzzle genre, but it takes what works with the genre and crafts a truly enjoyable experience out of it. The gameplay is a mixture of adventure and puzzle mechanics with a little basic platforming mixed in as well. The game’s controls are simple and they work really well. This all leads to a fun gameplay experience for fans of this genre of games. On top of all of this Stela has a fantastic atmosphere. Between the stunning visuals and the interesting world you want to keep exploring. I really enjoyed playing the game, but there were two issues with the game. Stella is kind of easy where it won’t give you much of a challenge. This leads to the game being pretty short as you can beat it in 2-3 hours unless you want to find all of the collectibles.
Basically my recommendation comes down to a couple of factors. If you have never been a big fan of games like Limbo or other adventure puzzle games Stela may not be for you. If you like these type of games though you should really enjoy Stela. Whether you should purchase the game now or wait for a sale comes down to how much you care about the easy difficulty and the short length. In either case I would recommend picking up Stela at some point as it is a really enjoyable game.
Buy Stela online: Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch (Digital), PC (Steam), Xbox One (Digital)