Sky Box Labs will tell you that Stela is a cinematic, atmospheric platformer and they are spot on with their own description. Yes, the very same Sky Box Labs that are working on Halo Infinite (Insert my fanboy squeals).

 Now, you’re absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes on platform choices, Stela is available on Xbox One, PS4, Apple arcade and Nintendo Switch, it’s the latter which Sky Box Labs provided a code for and damm was I smitten with this game immediately. 

As for how the game plays on the Switch, I found zero issues in Handheld mode, as for the few moments I played the game through my TV, while the game itself was fine, the display was far too dark. However, i’m putting that down to my LG TV and the annoying way models from that year dull the screen in ‘Game’ mode, suffice to say that I immediately picked my Switch back up.

Is that Rainbow Road?

At around 2 and an half hours in length and with no dialogue you’d be forgiven for assuming that Stela is light as far as any narrative is concerned. Is it war and peace in video game form? Well, No, but through fantastic visual design and striking iconography the world of Stela doesn’t so much tell you it’s story, rather it drops nuggets of narrative and it’s left up to the player to interpret.

This doesn’t mean won’t be given a definitive ending, it’s just means that how you interpret the clues you’re given will drastically change how you experience the ending, for me, without too many spoilers it was a complete shock and I was left stunned but amazed. I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to say that Stela almost acts as a personality test of sorts, in the general sense of how you see the world and you level of optimism and hope you find within it. 

The opening level of Steal wastes little time, after being summoned into existence accompanied by a gentle score that wouldn’t be amiss at a monastery you proceed into the world, well the sudden shift in musical tone told me all I needed to know about what was about to happen. From the calming serene orchestral tones to an upbeat jarring beat (imagine a synth take on the theme from Jaws) floods you with fear, I didn’t know what was coming but boy did I know I needed to run. A ravenous horde of insectoid doom burst form cover and flee I did, crashing through the environment using any obstacle I could find (all clearly marked with red detailing that reminded me of Mirrors Edge) to slow the encroaching chittering plight that followed.

Clearly marked in red, so helpful when time is of the essence.

After escaping the horde of bugs my heart rate returned to it’s usual pace the game took a different tone, again accompanied by a shift in music and colour pallet. If the opening level was Jaws, then the following stage felt like ‘The Quiet Place’. The screen was now a beautiful sepia and black and things seemed safe for a moment. Safe that is until the music changed again, it was deep and heavy and that’s when my eyes saw it, one of the many terrifying ‘Gangley Bastards’, these shadowed rejects have to be avoided at all costs and where the first stage was all about speed and reaction time, this monochrome plane of spindly limbed horror was all about caution and timing. 

I hated these guys, they reminded me of the mean giants in the BFG.

Shifts in gameplay aren’t huge in Stela and nor would you expect them to be in a puzzle platform but the slight changes are elevated by the dynamic shifts in score and visual tone, so that you never really feel like you’re repeating yourself. The use of camera angles also helps and a sense of drama and scale to what could of been your standard 2.5D stages, near the end of the game the visual takes a very otherworldly techno shift and the camera often draws back to give you a sense of scale and really drives home that Stela is vulnerable in this world and it’s your job to protect and guide her to safety. 

Being a puzzle platformer you’d of course expect to find puzzles and this is the only weak point I found with Stela, the puzzles are barely worth the name, each one is so simple that they don’t feel so much like a challenge, more of a delay to my exploring the stunning world on offer. 

Stela deserves all and any praise it receives and i’ll repeat my earlier point that it’s release and existence deserve to be celebrated as a testament to what a focus on delivering a pure experience and not chasing the hot trend in gaming can achieve.