Pierce the Heart This Holiday in ‘Starwhal’
The holidays: a time for family, a time for togetherness, a time for space narwhal arena combat. Originally released on PC in 2014, Canadian developer Breakfall’s smash-hit ‘Starwhal’ has made its way to Wii U, PS3, PS4, and most recently Xbox One, which means that you have virtually no excuse not to treat yourself to one of the greatest joys you can have with three other people without breaking various state laws.
Pumping jams and neon colors are just the first layer of Starwhal’s awesomeness. Simple controls—just three buttons, one to control your narwhal’s acceleration, two to control its up/down pitch—and simple objectives—traditionally, to pierce the large, beating hearts of your friends/enemies, although alternative game modes will shake this up—do not, in this case, beget a simple experience.
It’s a funny thing, because when I say that these narwhals in zero-gravity aren’t very easy to control, that sounds bad, doesn’t it? It isn’t. Where some multiplayer games rely on randomness to level the playing field, Starwhal’s genuine (but never unfair-feeling) trickiness is its great equalizer: anyone at any level, first-timer or veteran, has a serious chance to be a serious threat to their opponents.
Finding control amidst this chaos is exactly where Starwhal shines brightest. Within a few rounds, even the least gamer-y of participants will be swooping and weaving around their opponents, balancing protecting their vulnerable underbellies against arcing in for the kill, while both their opponents and the arenas themselves try to kill them with acid, lava, moving elements, breakable walls, and ball pits of doom. Matches rarely last more than a few minutes, and you’ll never want less than “just one more round…”
Oh, and did I forget to mention thousands of costume combinations for your narwhals? (You can, as the developer is fond of reminding people, be a space narwhal wrapped in a burrito.) Or the series of 30+ single-player challenge courses? Plus, with a full suite of (dangerously skilled) A.I. opponents, you’ll never have to ‘whal alone.
Before I finish, I should reveal some biases. Back in 2013 I was one of the 1243 individuals who backed Starwhal on Kickstarter, so I’ve had my eyes and hands on this baby for a while. Also, the folks at Breakfall generously provided me with a review key for the new Xbox One version of the game—which might be my definitive edition, I might add. But I assure you that this is one of those magical instances where my passion and remuneration align.
Try it yourself, and you’ll see: breaking hearts has never been so much fun.