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Stela

Game review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
Stela Game Poster Image
Short puzzler has strong heroine, but unanswered questions.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

The story is wordless, but play encourages perseverance when odds are stacked against you and things seem hopeless. It also rewards patience and careful observation.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Stela avoids conflict, preferring instead to use her wits to outsmart her attackers. She's clearly determined and courageous, though her driving motives beyond survival are mostly unknown.

Ease of Play

The interface is very simple, though it feels a little janky and imprecise. Deaths come frequently, but checkpoints are generous. The puzzles generally aren't too tough, but some later brainteasers could stump players for a while.

Violence

The player's character confronts beetles, lizards, birds, and giant creepy humanoids with glowing eyes. These creatures can attack her by swarming or swiping at her, causing her to fall to the ground and die (no blood or gore). She doesn't fight back, but instead attempts to run, hide, and evade.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Stela is a puzzle and exploration game for Apple Arcade with a strong female protagonist who never gives up. Stela frequently comes under attack from a variety of creatures, including beetles, lizards, and shadowy humanoids with glowing eyes. They can quickly kill her (without blood or gore), but she doesn't fight back. Instead, she runs, evades, and hides from her foes, opting to use her wits to outsmart them. While the game isn't especially violent, focusing more on puzzle solving than action, it's dark and atmospheric, depicting an unfriendly world that's in ruin, without human life, and dangerous.

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What's it about?

STELA is set in a desolate and creepy world inhabited by aggressive animals and tall, spooky shadow men with glowing eyes. Our heroine wakes in a cave and ventures out to discover these and other threats as she begins exploring, working her way through barns, forests, and more exotic locales. She doesn't fight back, but instead outfoxes her enemies, setting up barriers to block and escape them. Players use the game's simple controls -- you can move, climb, jump, grab and push things -- to do things such as shut gates, push boxes and carts, flip levers, and scramble up obstacles. There are no secondary objectives, such as collecting items or learning new abilities; this is a game purely about surviving threats and moving forward toward an unknown ending.

Is it any good?

While this feels like the sort of game that ought to have important things on its mind to convey to players, it really doesn't. Stela succeeds in creating beauty in its ruined environments thanks to a minimal yet atmospheric graphical style that includes the hero herself, whose bright hues stand in contrast to the world and make her a symbol of hope in a land weirdly empty of humanity. The moody music matches the visual tone, creating a fitting soundscape that conveys unease without being abrasive or noisy. In this respect, Stela shares company with beautiful and beloved indie masterpieces such as Limbo and Inside.

But unlike many of the games from which it clearly took inspiration, the experience never quite manages to coalesce into something with a message. As you work your way past enemies and through hazards, solving a variety of contextual puzzles along the way, nothing's ever explained. Who is Stela? What has happened to the world? Does she know where she's going? What's driving her forward? Even after the credits roll, you'll be left to speculate on answers to all of these questions. Ambiguity is perfectly acceptable in storytelling, so long as you begin with a few basic, well-established facts and premises. Alas, these don't exist in Stela. It will likely leave players feeling either frustrated for lack of resolution or dumb for not understanding what they just saw. It goes easy on both the eyes and ears, but it leaves the mind unsatisfied.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about screen time. Stela is a relatively short game that can be completed in a couple of hours, but is it better to experience it all at once, like a movie, or would it be more fun broken into a few sessions?

  • Stela doesn't fight back, but instead uses her wits to get out of tough situations, so is this a stereotype that women aren't strong enough to fight? Should it instead be seen as a positive that she's able to use her smarts to avoid conflict?

Game details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love puzzles

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