Review: Space Stella: The Unknown Planet (Nintendo Switch)

7 mins read

Review by Matt S.

Space Stella is a very strong candidate for the worst game that I have ever played. Every second with this thing makes me want to cut my fingers off, simply so that I have no way of ever playing it again. It’s almost worth sacrificing playing anything else ever again just so that I can avoid this one particular title into perpetuity.

I think the developers were inspired by Mass Effect, but that can only be a guess since the game is so utterly broken on every level that it’s hard to get a sense of what the team was actually thinking at any point in the development cycle. However, it does have a science-fiction setting, the opening cut scene rambles on about space jumping, and the combat action is, in theory, focused on cover-based shooting, so on that basis, I think this was an effort to distil Mass Effect down to its absolute minimum and then flog it off to suckers with more money than sense. Yes, I’m talking about me here. I’m really bitter and angry at myself that I bought this, even though I did so specifically to review it…

I digress. Back to how awful this thing is. The game promises plenty of levels, but they’re all the same thing, where you make your way down corridors and rooms for a few minutes (or outdoor areas shaped into corridors and rooms), shooting the enemies along the way before getting to the exit. Levels are short – mobile game short – and the level design is bland and samey. There’s no narrative to these levels. There’s no experience to them. They’re about as interesting as a fairground duck shooting game, only without the promise of a reward at the end… and who does those unless there’s the promise of a stupidly big but cheap-as-anything stuffed toy prize on offer at the end of the game? There is also a mobile-like grinding element to Space Stella (of course there is), with the quality of your equipment being more responsible for handling the difficulty jumps than your skill, and that equipment tending to be expensive to acquire without replaying old levels for gold.

I found the worst Switch game of all time. #NintendoSwitch

— Dee Guevara 🇯🇵 (@MattSainsb) January 14, 2022

All of this would be almost forgivable if Space Stella played well. I could, in theory, see myself paying money for some no-frills Mass Effect action on the go. I like Mass Effect that much. But Space Stella doesn’t play well. At all. Half the time the enemy AI doesn’t work, for starters. I’m not exaggerating about that, either. So often I would open a door and the enemy would be standing there, looking at me, and not doing anything. Even as I fired a round of bullets into their face. Even when the AI does bother to wake up, it’s not inspired, with melee enemies charging mindlessly at you, and ranged enemies following the same movement patterns over and over again, and failing to make use of cover, even when it’s right in front of you. Serious Sam has better enemy AI, and those enemies were deliberately programmed to be idiots.

Gunplay, meanwhile, is ruined a frame rate that makes me, literally, sick. I’m not one to talk about frame rates in reviews. I honestly struggle to see them unless they’re particularly egregious. The frame rate issues are particularly egregious in Space Stella. The stutter is so extreme that when I’m trying to move and aim at the same time, genuine motion sickness sets in. Furthermore, because the screen janks about so unevenly, precision aiming and firing (which is pretty important for a cover shooter) is nearly impossible.

I don’t know what causes the frame rate issues, because the game is very modest and even the Switch can handle (much) more than this. The console runs Apex Legends, Skyrim and The Witcher 3 well enough. It can handle tiny little sparse corridors. Character models are dull and lifeless, and those environments are just that exhausting to look at. Levelling up and equipping your character with new stuff is hardly exciting or rewarding. There’s so little narrative that there’s no sense of progression. It’s just an endless gauntlet of exhausting, repetitive, stupid enemies.

I wasn’t expecting much from Space Stella. It’s a Trooze-published game, after all. But what I actually good exceeded my expectations in the most wrong way possible. I don’t like bandying around terms like “unplayable” much, since “unplayable” implies that the game cannot be completed, and most of the time it’s juvenile hyperbole for “this is just a game I don’t much like playing because it has some flaws in it.” But Space Stella is genuinely unplayable. Even if I could handle the sickeningly janky gameplay (which I can’t), I have a visceral desire to avoid playing a game so shallow, uninspired and downright empty as this one.

– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

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