Indie games are certainly very unique. Since the majority of the studios behind these titles are very small, the developers are free to come up with any idea and execute it as they see fit. After all, it is their creation. With that in mind, I’m not one to knock anyone’s creative ability; however, I will say that there are some things that are better left as more of an inside joke than an actual public release, and that’s exactly how I feel about STARWHAL .
The concept of the game involves you taking control of a space narwhal (Science tip: a narwhal is an arctic whale with the males of the species possessing a long, sharp sword-like tusk that grows from one of their teeth.) The game features a wide variety of different levels, across 4 game modes. The title features both a single player mode, as well as a multiplayer mode that includes up to 5-players, a feature exclusive to the Wii U version.
The main point of the game is to guide your space narwhal through each level and complete a certain task. For instance, one mode will have you avoiding obstacles to get to the end of the level within a time limit in order to get the best score possible, while another has you also racing against the clock, this time your goal being to smash all of the targets (a-la Super Smash Bros.) The multiplayer portion spices things up with new modes, such as Pierce the Heart where you’re battling against your friends by using the tusks of the narwhals to, well, pierce each others’ hearts.
Now I must admit, I’d be lying if I said that STARWHAL doesn’t have some fun gameplay, but that’s just the thing. Considering that these narwhals are in ‘space’, the game tries to give the feeling of floating and flopping around in sub-zero gravity conditions. But at the same time, the narwhals literally do control like whales; they have a noticeable weight to them, thus equating to a lack of maneuverability. From the very beginning, it felt like I was playing Goat Simulator.
The controls are fickle on purpose, as they’re like that to add to the hilarity to the already outrageous gameplay, especially in multiplayer. As a creative decision, I can accept that, but that doesn’t stop it from being an annoying bother when it comes down to the single-player portion of the game. There, it becomes more frustrating than fun.
As for the multiplayer aspect, yes, I did have fun. Playing through all the modes with my younger brother, it did get really competitive rather quickly. However, while we were able to get a good laugh out of it, we were both left feeling relatively annoyed and unimpressed with the overall experience, thus resulting in a complete lack of interest in playing it again. I will give the multiplayer its merits where its due, but in my experience, the novelty wore off all too fast.
Looking at the title’s other factors, things are still relatively varied. Visually, STARWHAL is admittedly nice. It features vibrant colors, and neon-like special effects. These all add to the overall mood of the game, and it was enjoyable to observe. The music also fits the theme, though I found it to be noticeably loud, almost in an obnoxious manner. I actually had to turn the volume down almost to single digit values, and it was still louder than practically every other game I’ve played on the system. While the music wasn’t terrible, neither was it a soundtrack I’d enjoy replaying.
In the end, I can appreciate the idea that the BreakFall studio wanted to capture. Indeed, this game really is capable of bringing out one’s competitive side, but it’s also very much capable of causing a noticeable amount of frustration in the process. Its levels are relatively fun, but the controls, while purposely bad, just made the title feel more broken than funny. At $12, STARWHAL certainly has a very high price-tag, and not one I find appropriate either. For a party game, it has its merits, but not enough to justify the rest of the experience.
- Nice visuals
- You can get a good laugh or two from the multiplayer
- Purposely broken controls are usually more frustrating than funny
- The multiplayer is fun at first, but gets tedious far too quickly
- Single player feels like a guide to emotional breakdown
- Obnoxiously loud soundtrack