Neon action, narwhal jousting, and competition are the building blocks on which the foundation for Starwhal: Just the Tip is built. And while that foundation doesn’t have a ton on it right now, what content is present in this Early Access title is stupid fun. Plus it’s called Starwhal: Just the Tip. Pun and innuendo all in one couldn’t possibly lead you wrong.
Starwhal is a straightforward battle arena game where up to 4 players compete to be the last unicorn-whale standing. Any combination of humans and AI fight to survive by destroying all narwhal that stand in their way. A throbbing heart on each player’s chest is the target. No matter the game mode, piercing that heart with your horn is the goal.
The controls take a bit of getting used to. Humans have the option of using WASD, the arrow keys, or a supported controller. No matter what you choose, three keys is all you’ll need. One directs your narwhal left, the other right, and a final one to make him move forward. A fourth key for taunts also gives you the ability to project your Narwhalian battle cry, striking fear into the hearts of all who hear it. It’s simple enough, but don’t expect to be swimming gracefully right out of the gate. Awkwardly flapping around is part of the game and half the fun.
This combat is experienced via 5 game modes: Classic, Score Attack, Zones, and Heart Throb. Classic pits horn to heart in a typical death match. Players are able to select between 1-3 lives per round. Have your heart hit the set number of times and you’re out. Last man standing gets the crown. Score Attack is similar, but the goal is less to avoid being hit and more to just stab everything. Options include different score limits or 1-3 minute time limits to see who can achieve the most heart hits.
Zones and Heartthrob are the newest of the game modes and both add a ton of variance to the overall experience. Zones places several capturable points on the map which can be controlled by a player ramming their porpoise into them. Points are accrued for the amount of time a point is held. First one to the target score wins. Heart Throb is the Capture the Flag of Starwhal. Players compete to hold one heart and gain control of it by stabbing it away from opponents.
Starwhal does well with what it has, despite being an early access title. Players can choose from 10 different arenas, separated under 3 worlds. These battlefields range from a basic square to a hellhole of twists and turns. There’s only so much variety you can place into a 2 dimensional arena, but Starwhal: Just the Tip crams in as much as possible. Each of the levels have just enough variance to make each one worth playing.
The visuals themselves are just as exciting and fast paced as the rest of the game, and the menus are something straight out of an 80’s neon fantasy. Each of the brightly colored competitors floats gracefully around the background, a faint glowing trail following behind its horn. As a narwhal nears a heart-hit, the entire game goes into dramatic Matrix-esque bullet time. They are minor effects overall, but without them the game wouldn’t look nearly as polished as it does.
Oh, but what would any self respecting Narwhal simulator be without character creation? At the start of each round, human players can alter the appearance of their narwhal knight. Through customizing the color, head accessory, and body accessory every narwhal is free to express their individuality. Chun-Li with a lightsaber narwhal-staff, Ensign Wesley Crusher with an impressive lumberjack’s beard, dog ears and angel wings… Seriously. The options are there and they’re beautiful.
All of this ties together for a stupid fun time. Matches are generally quick, but that doesn’t diminish from the experience. A quick succession of 1-life Classic matches is easily more fun then a 3 minute score attack, and playing with the in game AI can get a little dry after a while, but not for lack of quality. The AI is just as good as most humans are at this game, but Starwhal: Just the Tip is best played elbow to elbow with 3 of your favorite gaming companions.
All in all, Starwhal: Just the Tip does a great job of being an Early Access title that doesn’t suck. It gives us enough content to justify the price tag while still holding out something special for the second date. Starwhal: Just the Tip is currently available for both PC an Mac on the game’s homepage and Steam Early Access for $9.99.
[+Stupid, Ridiculous Fun] [+Simple Gameplay] [+Variety of Levels] [+Fun Vs. Both AI and Humans] [-Early Access] [-Gameplay Can Become Repetitive Quickly, Especially Vs. AI]