I’ve been in love with cinematic platformer for some time now. They’re immersive, beautiful, and quite frankly hard to make challenging. Given the mechanics, cinematic platformers are often simplistic in order to maintain their visual style. That being said, Stela, from SkyBox Labs, is both beautiful and a challenge.
Changing up the style of most cinematic platformers, you play as a young woman instead of the usual child. As such, the story is much darker and while it isn’t a horror title, it is filled with tension and stress as you try to make your way through a desolate forest and keep out of sight of the del Torian style monsters in the trees.
Stela’s story centers on a young woman witnessing the final days of a mysterious ancient world. In the demo, available at PAX West 2019, players ran through an empty and dead forest. As you move through the setting you can see the embers of a distant fire grow in intensity as the colors transition grays to oranges.
In the demo level, you use the foreground, background, and middle ground to move through a variety of platforms. While it takes some learning to know when to move to either one of them given the coloring of the world, once you do, it’s easily traversed. Well, that is until the monsters from Guillermo del Toro dreams come out.
With a screeching roar, the first time I encountered one of the creatures led to my demise. While the game is not violent, the sound the creatures make is enough to make you jump back – especially when you think that they are just a part of the scenery. In fact, the subtly of the horror elements is what makes Stela stand out from other games in the space. The devs of SkyBox Labs build an atmosphere of terror. The moment right before the scare and the use of the creatures efficiently pose a challenge to players but are used sparingly enough to make their every appearance hold weight.
As depictions of lost souls, these slender and tall creatures serve as obstacles to be cleared, offering a cone of vision to avoid. You must be patient, timing your movements with their turns while utilizing an interactive background to move in and out of or hide behind. The added difficulty turns a simple platformer with some difficult platforming moments into a contender as one of the best platformers I’ve played.
While I only saw one level, those featured in the trailer for Stela leave me even more intrigued. As the most beautiful game I played during PAX West 2019, I can’t wait to jump into the game’s world. The atmosphere is also impacted by a soundtrack that fuels your stress, beautiful but tension-filled at the same time, Stela offers up an amazing soundtrack that is worth the purchase alone. Plus, this game has no dialogue, relying on the score to build emotion and depth, and executing well.
Also, if you’re worried that the game will only have one look, don’t be. Stela offers different areas with different obstacles and mechanics for you to master as you work your way through. While the initial demo stills bring the world of Limbo to mind, the other parts of the world featured in the trailer do well to showcase the diversity of gameplay.
While there isn’t a hard release date, Stela is set to make it’s way on to Xbox One later in 2019, but before that, SkyBox Labs is co-developing a little game with 343 Industries: Halo Infinite.
Make sure to keep your eye out for the release of this beautiful game and get ready to enter the dying world of Stela.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.