Platforms PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Wii U, Playstation 3
Developer Breakfall Publisher Breakfall
Genre Arcade Platform Played Xbox One
When thinking of hectic multiplayer action, four vibrant, costumed narwhals trying to stab each other in the heart may not be the first thought which comes to mind, but it should definitely be contemplated. Starwhal treads a fine line between ridiculousness and rage-inducing, leaving players to wonder what they just experienced, but immediately wanting more.
Starwhal is very obviously focused on multiplayer gameplay as the majority of game types involve more than one player. Most game variants are standard fare for multiplayer titles such as “Classic” which gives each player a certain number of lives and declares the last one standing the winner. “Zones” is another traditional game mode, demanding that players strike an orb with their tusks to control that area, scoring points for each second they hold control of it. “Score Attack” gives players infinite lives while they attempt to stab each other through their exposed hearts in order score points and reach the point goal. “Heart Throb” begins with a single glowing golden heart in the middle of the arena which the other players must attempt to grab. Once they control it, they begin to score points every second, but they suddenly become vulnerable to the other players and upon having their heart pierced, lose control of the golden heart to the individual who successfully tagged them. None of these game modes are revolutionary and it would have been nice to see another option or two (such as racing), but they present a variety of modes so that it takes a fair amount of time before things seem too repetitive. To help anyone who may not have a plethora of friends at their disposal any time they wish to turn on Starwhal, AI opponents may be inserted into any multiplayer mode. While it would have been nice to see a limit of more than four simultaneous players or an online multiplayer feature, the size of the levels would not be terribly accommodating for five or more individuals.
In regards to single player options, there are two modes which will undoubtedly test your skill and patience. 32 challenges of varying difficulty have medals associated with completion times. In order to obtain platinum medals on all of the challenges, you have to be willing to dedicate an incredible amount of time to the game and mastering the control mechanics. Even if platinum or gold medals are not what is desired from these tasks, the final few challenges can be incredibly tricky. Lava, acid, and ice blocks are all obstacles which will stand in your path, requiring finesse and skill from anyone who wishes to complete the level. These challenges serve as a fantastic introduction and tutorial for anyone who has never played the title before, but it also highlights just how finicky the controls can be.
Pressing in a single direction for a full second can mean your narwhal is suddenly flying forward on a completely different path from what was intended, likely combined with several unexpected flips. This is where the game can become infuriating, as the AI almost never seems to suffer from the issue of misdirecting their narwhal, making you a relatively easy target for them the minute you slip up. Several players can add an AI opponent or two so long as they only have a maximum of four narwhals in a game, but again the issue of sensitive controls rears its ugly head as the AI enemies will thrive on your missteps. When playing strictly with other friends, however, this is generally a nonexistent concern. They will find the controls just as tricky to master, resulting in pure chaotic fun. Accidentally getting yourself speared on a friend’s tusk because you were trying to escape someone else or getting yourself stuck in a corner can be absolutely hilarious moments and the game’s design choices only embrace this sentiment. The controls themselves are a testament to the game wanting to be viewed as light-hearted fun.
In addition to the oddball concept of narwhals battling each other, there are thousands of customization combinations to use, containing references to Mega Man, Street Fighter, Toto Temple Deluxe, Star Wars, and Dragon Ball Z among countless others. The Xbox One version of Starwhal contains even more customization options so you shouldn’t be surprised if your friends take a few minutes simply sifting through the cosmetic possibilities before agreeing to start a round of competitive narwhal fighting. Fair warning, there may be times when your friends need to pause the game just to finish laughing at how ridiculous a blue narwhal in a pink tutu with a Viking’s head looks.
Starwhal can be a ton of fun to play with friends and is guaranteed to bring out laughter. Unfortunately, it loses some of that charm when you are forced to play alone or against AI opponents. The combination of the controls and the fact that the computer-controlled enemies do not slip up terribly frequently mean that the learning curve is relatively steep. Those who do not have anyone to play locally with might even feel that the game isn’t much fun if all they’ve experienced is the challenge mode and battling AI narwhals. Local multiplayer is what truly lets Starwhal shine, and while it may not have a gargantuan library of game modes, it has enough variety to keep it from growing stale quickly. The limits in each game type can be modified, allowing you to extend or shorten matches as you please, making it a great game for short periods of free time or when there are more friends than player slots and people need to swap out after each round. Don’t expect to see Starwhal in any big tournaments, but that just means you and your friends will have to host them in your living room instead.
- Doesn’t take itself too seriously, embraces ridiculousness with costume options
- Local multiplayer is hectic and fun
- Ability to add AI opponents offers more gameplay options for those unable to host locally
- Map size limits games to four players
- Controls are frustrating when playing against AI
- No online multiplayer
The Score: 7.4
Eric is an Xbox editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest gaming news, previews, reviews, and everything else that rhymes with those words. ‘Like’ Analog Addiction on Facebook to receive all of the updates as they’re posted.