Review: Stela


Can't you hear me yell-a?

Charles Caleb Colton once said, "Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery." Clearly, Mr. Colton never owned iPhone. Since the launch of the App Store, it has become a cesspool of hastily thrown together titles that mimic, rip-off, or straight-up copy those games that have found success on other platforms.

That's the beauty of Apple Arcade. It's allowing mobile developers to create unique experiences without having to rely on gaming the search algorithms to make any money. But just because developers don't have to imitate more well-known games doesn't mean they won't.


Stela (iOS [reviewed], Xbox One, PC)
Developer: Skybox Labs
Publisher: Skybox Labs
Released: October 11, 2019 (iOS) / October 17, 2019 (Xbox One) / TBA 2020 (PC)
MSRP: Part of Apple Arcade ($4.99 a month)

Stela is a game about the end of the world. Starting out alone in a cave, players venture out into a world haunted by ravaging beetles, shadow creatures, giant lizards that live in the snow, and so much more. Like Playdead's Limbo and Inside, it is a puzzle-platformer, one that takes Stela from the depths of hell to the mountain tops and beyond. Unlike either of those games, however, Stela doesn't have anything to say.

What it does have are some sights to see and many, many deaths for players who aren't paying attention. Areas of the game -- I hesitate to call them levels -- feature a steady mix of puzzle-solving, platforming, and stealth as well as a few quaint moments where you're allowed to soak in the scenery. Not all of it is worth gazing at. Most early areas are washed out and lack the more intricate details found in the final few stages. The score by A Pit in the Shell sets the tone well, though it clutches to the braams a bit too much for my taste.

The world of Stela certainly is grim and moody, but it can often feel like a rerun of something I've experienced before. Besides just looking like it could be a poor-mans Inside, many of the situations Stela is placed into mimic those found in the Playdead title. An entire sequence set in the woods gave me déjà vu and while later set-pieces are certainly unique, they don't go far enough in establishing Stela as its own work, like a cover band that tries to mix in some original material.

I did have some trouble with the controls throughout my two-hour journey. Touch controls work well enough though occasionally my inputs wouldn't register right away. There are only a few sections of the game that rely on quick reactions, so it wasn't a big deal for most of it. Far more disappointing is how it handled my Xbox One controller. The jump and action buttons work fine, but it could be hit-or-miss when I needed to climb up onto an object. I actually found myself switching between using the directional pad and the thumbstick throughout as the thumbstick was a bit more reliable with this task. If I ever did die, or if the app crashed on me, it is so flush with checkpoints that it was never a big deal.

Stela clearly wants to be as unnerving and fascinating as its contemporaries but the end product is merely an empty imitation. There is no element of surprise or wonder here, nothing to make players consider the game at a deeper level. Instead, it acts as a good reminder of the far superior titles that came before it.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game through an Apple Arcade subscription purchased by the reviewer.]

You are logged out. Login | Sign up


Stela reviewed by CJ Andriessen



Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
How we score:  The Destructoid reviews guide


CJ Andriessen
CJ AndriessenFeatures Editor   gamer profile

Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games. more + disclosures



Also on Destructoid: Stela   (3)   From our database:

  • Review: Stela - CJ Andriessen
  • Take a look inside Stela, the creepy Inside-like cinematic platformer that's out next month - Brett Makedonski
  • More related stories
    Filed under... #Apple Arcade #art #iPhone #Platinum Games #Puzzle Games #reviews #Trailers #video #YouTube



    You're not expected to always agree, but do please keep cool and never make it personal. Report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community team. Also, on the right side of a comment you can flag nasty comments anonymously (we ban users dishing bad karma). For everything else, contact us!