Stellar Escape Review

Marathon Man

For their first iOS outing Orange Agenda ask gamers to step into the boots of one Elliot Black, a space courier used to working in the more perilous sections of the known galaxy. When he realizes that his latest delivery has unwittingly placed entire planets at risk, he snatches it back from its insidious recipient and begins his Stellar Escape (Out Now, $.99). Unfortunately for Elliot, several thousand meters lie between him and his getaway ship — and rather than send aliens with lasers after him, his erstwhile customer does the truly smart thing and fills every hallway of his fortress-like abode with electrified hurdles and other obstacles that look to be straight out of some deadly space-age track meet. Thus the galaxy’s fate rests on Elliot’s ability to leap, somersault, swing, and slide past one deathtrap after another until he reaches his destination.

A seemingly inexhaustible marathoner, Elliot continually runs at a measured pace; the player’s task focuses only on the timing and type of acrobatic maneuvers he pulls off to avoid the assortment of traps in his path. At the player’s disposal are five virtual buttons: three on the right side of the touchscreen devoted to sliding and variations on jumping, and two on the left side for making use of overhanging bars and hopping into warp tunnels. Each virtual button is assigned to a specific maneuver, and naturally each is suited to clearing a particular obstacle. Elliot can suffer three electrical jolts from traps he collides with before the player is forced to re-start the level; different point totals are applied to his or her OpenFeint score depending on how many times the protagonist has been electrocuted before reaching the finish line.

As the player progresses through each of nine levels currently on offer in Stellar Escape‘s regular mode, the traps become more closely packed and elaborately assorted. While familiarity with a level helps immensely in taking advantage of stress-saving warp pipes that transport Elliot safe and sound a few dozen meters down the current hallway, moving traps ensure that later levels never truly devolve into simple affairs in memorization. Challenge builds in a way that gradually familiarizes the player with the proper use for each of Elliot’s acrobatic techniques, lending the game a perfectly balanced easy-to-get-into, hard-to-master quality. A distance measurement built into the user interface ticks up with each footfall, and the fact that the player knows exactly how much of a level has been completed despite failure makes that “Retry” button on the Game Over screen consistently tempting.

Aside from the normal mode Stellar Escape offers two infinite modes — one geared toward beginners and another that more seasoned players will unlock midway through the normal mode. Of course these measure OpenFeint scores based on distance achieved before Elliot gets shocked into submission, but players who enjoy challenges that can’t be mitigated through level memorization should enjoy them for their randomly generated nature alone.

Not counting time spent in the infinite modes, Stellar Escape is a very short game; its normal mode should offer an average player between two and two-and-a-half hours of gameplay. It’s good for more than one sitting, however: the gameplay is complex enough that pulling off Elliot’s various somersaults and other impressive acrobatics never gets old, so this is one that seems destined to remain on the player’s iDevice as an occasional guilty pleasure long after all the levels in normal mode are unlocked for re-visitation. Orange Agenda have already begun whipping up new levels to boot, and these should hit the Appstore as a free content update soon.

The user interface layout will certainly strike some as outlandish at first, but the virtual buttons are intuitively placed and consistently reliable; whether the wrong action is executed depends wholly on how flustered the player gets and not on interface flaws. One undue annoyance exists in the form of a poorly placed “Retry” button that pops up once a stage is successfully cleared – the idea apparently being to allow the player a way of immediately outdoing his or her own performance – but luckily progress is auto-saved even if this is pressed accidentally, and the player can dump out of an unintentionally restarted level at any time.

Screenshots alone can’t do justice to how fluid and crisp Stellar Escape‘s 3D sidescrolling aesthetic is. It could benefit from some more oomph in the music department though, as the simple in-game jingle fails to complement the truly colossal nature of what the protagonist has to pull off if he has any hope of reaching his ship. Just try plopping an epic choral piece into your iTunes playlist before entering Level 8 or Level 9 and you’ll surely agree!

iFanzine Verdict: Stellar Escape nearly epitomizes what a perfect $.99 iOS offering should look like — an engaging and downright addictive concept wrapped in an intuitive user interface and undeniably attractive aesthetic. The only things players could ask for are more content and new gameplay innovations, but what’s already on offer is exciting and complex enough that it should enjoy a healthy stay on many iDevices regardless.

[xrr rating=4.5/5]