By: Matthew Striplen
Sometimes you just know when a game is going to be awesome. Its greatness oozes out from every pore, even from the title screen. Part of what makes Starwhal so great is that it gives gamers something we didn’t even know we wanted: narwhals jousting in space. Did you know you wanted that? If you did, then we need to be better friends.
It’s important to note that while this game’s title, Starwhal, is undeniably cool, it once held something much grander: Starwhal: Just the Tip. I’ll just leave you with that little gem.
Starwhal is a franticly paced multiplayer jousting game that got its start as a Kickstarter project, and was initially launched on Steam in 2013. As time passes, this delectable title is being ported to a much wider variety of consoles… to the benefit of all.
What makes Starwhal stand out is its simplicity and accessibility. The controls are intuitive yet incredibly difficult to master. Narwhals handle like they’re coated in Vaseline, butter and baby oil, and it’s hilarious. That being said, the slippery controls seem to be intentional, and consequently, the source of a tremendous amount of amusement. Just watching the narwhal flop around provides loads of entertainment on its own.
Graphically, Starwhal keeps things simple. The backgrounds of each stage have some awesome pictures, and the narwhals themselves look positively goofy, even without being dressed in a monocle with a cat riding on its back (more on that later). As for sounds, expect lots of fun 8-bit and dubstep inspired electronica. It’s fun stuff.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of this game. Starwhal presents a streamlined experience: no story and no explanation, not that one needs to justify jousting space-narwhals. Players are greeted with the options of two basic types: Versus and Challenges. Versus and Challenges are multiplayer and solo experiences, respectively, though they share some similarities. Let’s start off with Versus.
Within the umbrella of Versus lies four distinct modes: Classic, Score Attack, Zones and Heart Throb. Classic gives us the basic premise of the game: stab everything in the heart until you murder every other nar/starwhal. As with the other modes, Classic allows players to adjust the game terms, such as the number of lives, number of rounds or teams/free-for-all.
Score Attack eliminates lives, but instead features a race to get the goal score. Of course, this number can also be tweaked to the gamer’s content. Zones is very reminiscent to King of the Hill type games, with the ‘whals vying for control of specific areas.
Points are awarded for each second of control but subtracted for getting stabbed in the heart. Again, it’s a race to see who can get the goal score first. Lastly, Heart Throb is essentially capture the flag, or heart, with points being awarded for each second of possession and subtracted for, you guessed it, getting stabbed in the heart.
Once the desired mode has been selected, the player is directed to potentially the funniest part of the game: the character design. Gamers get to choose from a massive array of colors and costumes to personalize their narwhal. These costumes are chock full of nerdy references, like Mega Man‘s helmet, Guile‘s hair and Geordi La Forge‘s visor. Plenty of other options are available too, like wrapping your narwhal in bacon or a burrito. The sheer cleverness of the costumes is sure to bring anyone a smile. Unfortunately, AI narwhals cannot be customized.
After a character has been designed, a large arena list appears. The arenas are divided into worlds and levels. Each level in a single world shares the same theme, as well as aesthetic choices. These worlds have some pretty impressive names as well, my favorite being “Spacetopus.” Spacetopus makes prominent use of obstacles in the form of colorful balls to enhance gameplay, reminiscent of playground ball pits.
Challenges is a relatively simple game type, being single-player only. After going through an identical character design screen, the player can choose between two challenges: Obstacles and Targets, which are pretty self-explanatory. Each divides their levels by difficulty, and also posts best times. By replaying a stage, gamers can race their previous best performance, a la Mario Kart ghosts. These times are also posted to an online leaderboard.
Despite its launch across a number of different platforms, Starwhal appears to still be a work in progress. According to their Kickstarter page, online multiplayer may still be in the works, which would catapult the game to the next level. For a game that relies so heavily on multiplayer, online capabilities are a must in the modern gaming era.
Although the vast majority of this game is stellar, Starwhal does have a few issues. The aforementioned exclusion of online multiplayer is a big downer, which will hopefully be remedied sometime in the future. The enemy AI can be a little wonky, too, often getting stuck horn down into the ground or in various crevices.
Lastly, there are times where the camera pans in such a way that the life counter obscures action taking place at the bottom of the screen. Though relatively minor, these problems do have a negative impact on the game as a whole.
Starwhal is one of the most playful and funny games I have ever played, despite its total lack of plot and dialogue. Its core gameplay is just rock solid and oozes replayability. The wide variety of game modes and maps should provide hours of fun. Even with the handful of technical issues, Starwhal gives us one of the most satisfying multiplayer experiences in recent memory. Get this game and pierce the heart!