The lights are on
Starwhal: Just the Tip is as peculiar as its title suggests. It’s a jousting game, but instead of a human, you’re a neon-colored narwhal awkwardly flopping through space. The goal is to use your horn to pierce other narwhals’ hearts.
Its controls are purposefully awkward, like QWOP or Octodad, though I find these controls lend themselves better to Starwhal. Flailing around when you’re jockeying for position on another narwhal’s heart creates a ludicrous, but fun and tense moment. Being locked up with another narwhal and spinning around trying to get an angle on them is something special. You can get competitive with QWOP, but Starwhal’s direct competitive setting with tricky controls is a blast. When a horn approaches another narwhal’s heart, the fast paced action takes a break and the game goes into slow-motion mode to properly display the action. You can either use the keyboard or a gamepad like the Xbox 360 wired controller to play. Of the two, I prefer the keyboard, but only by a small margin.
Starwhal supports three different modes that are based on score, time, or lives. Tournament Standard is another option under the lives mode, and is a three lives and two minute game. The different modes all have the same goal, but I ended up using different strategies in them. Only having three lives per round really made me careful about my approach, and defense was a higher priority. In the time and score based modes, where you don’t have a set number of lives, I played without any regard for my own safety. While it is fun to have a sort of race to the top in a score based game, the rounds where we played with lives were more competitive.
Computer opponents are available if you can’t round up three friends for local co-op. The A.I. moved around with the same lack of grace as me, but had moments of brilliance where they were utterly ruthless. This was balanced out with them making weird moves – like leaving themselves open for attack by trying to swim through the bottom of the stage – but they weren’t pushovers; I never found a strategy that worked 100 percent of the time. I lost more games against them than I won, and they’re more or less comparable to playing against humans, though playing just with computer opponents lacks the genuine fun of playing with others.
Certain cosmetic changes can be made to your narwhal that are both humorous and help to further differentiate it from the other narwhals. You can change the horn into a lightsaber, add a Firefly Jayne hat, wrap your narwhal in a burrito, or add a human rider to the back with the faces of Kickstarter backers. This becomes even more important for team battles when the narwhals of the same team are similar shades and harder to identify by color alone.
In the full release two additional modes are going to be added. One is a king of the hill style mode titled Zones, where you must defend a zone for points. The other is called Heart Throb, which is basically a reverse game of tag where you gain points the longer you hold onto the heart. When you’re hit, the heart transfers to the narwhal that got you. A single player challenge mode with timed obstacle courses will also be added in the final build.
Starwhal: Just the Tip is available through Steam Early Access on PC and Mac, with the full version expected this May. Also in development is a Linux, Wii U, and PlayStation 4 version.
Email the author Isaac Federspiel, or follow on Game Informer.
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