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Apr 26 2013

Review of Starseed Pilgrim

13380-b (1)[rating=5]

I’ve never really wondered before what would happen if Minecraft and Tetris had a baby. Now that I think about it, the result would probably be rather blocky. Starseed Pilgrim certainly features a lot of blocks and is the likely result of that theoretical copulation. I would refer to Starseed Pilgrim as a freeform puzzle game. It has elements of Tetris’ hurried race against a snowballing force of evil blocks and Minecraft’s random block con/de-struction conceit. That said Starseed Pilgrim has its own special aloofness not present in those other two titles. It seems not to care much if you figure out what the hell your meant to be doing. For some, this block (excuse the pun) may be confronting and irritating; others however will appreciate the organic, self-teaching approach Starseed Pilgrim has taken and I think, I’m in the later group.

It took me approximately a half an hour to work out the core mechanic  of Starseed Pilgrim. That being the pressing of the spacebar to plant a titular starseed. This is probably due to my own inability to comprehend a simple (if slightly fey) message than anything else, but it also speaks volumes about Starseed Pilgrim’s nonchalant attitude toward the player. There is a written message in the first level that states: Touch space to grow. I never thought to actually “touch” the spacebar and spent half an hour jumping into space, digging through the first level’s blocks (and then falling into space), and generally being befuddled. Then perhaps out frustration I smacked the spacebar. Imagine my surprise as a pink column started to grow out of the ground.

1I pressed the spacebar a few more times and blocks of different colors and shapes started to spring out of the ground around me. I had discovered the secret of the starseed! Although the battle to discover what I was meant to be doing with that secret was far from won. The strange shapes that popped out of the ground seemed to correlate with the weird symbols above my head, and the way they sprouted out appeared to be affected by the blocks they were planted on. I didn’t have much time to think about all that because everything was being rotted away by a creeping darkness infecting my starseed plantations. Jumping away from the evil darkness I planted more starseeds, constructing a bridge to nowhere. Then, I ran out of starseeds and after a frenzied jumping sequence fell into the darkness. The screen flashed and I wasn’t dead, I was in an inverse world filled with black love hearts. I collected them all but still found myself stuck in the inverse world. It would be another couple of hours before I worked out what to do with those black love hearts.

2I think most people who enter Starseed Pilgrim’s world without any prior knowledge of it will experience much the same first few hours of confusion I did. You’re not told what to do and any in-game messages you do get are garbled and mystical. When you finally work out how to use the starseeds they act in such a chaotic manner that they seem completely useless. On top of all this the world’s flipping from black to white and you’re stuck on a single floating island in the middle of nowhere. But slowly you will start to understand the starseeds, taming their seemingly random nature to move yourself in the direction you want to travel.  The confusion and irritation will melt away to a feeling of wonder and freedom as you discover how to leave your lonely space island and move forward as a pilgrim of the starseed.

Starseed Pilgrim is essentially the same level over and over again. You start on a clump of dirt floating in the middle of oblivion with a bunch of seeds.  At the bottom of the dirt is a darkness that is spreading to every block it touches. You plant starseeds to escape the darkness. But as you explore Starseed Pilgrim you will find new properties in the game’s levels. Suddenly you can’t dig, or your green seeds seem to grow like crazy, or digging now explodes the blocks around you.  In keeping with the game’s aloofness you’re not told what the new conditions are going to be, it’s up to you to discover and adapt. It’s these little changes to the incredibly competent and engrossing core mechanics that keep Starseed Pilgrim exciting.

3Even without the daring and intriguing way Starseed Pilgrim forces you to learn how to play, it’s still a fresh and exciting puzzle game. It’s a wonder that at this point in time people can still invent new forms of the puzzles and Starseed Pilgrim does just that in such an inspired way. It’s a combining of puzzle, platforming, and sandbox game elements that at the same time feels familiar and completely new. The game goes one step further by applying those puzzle mechanics to the overarching progression of the game in a way that feels so much more natural and rewarding than a simple dumb level select screen. I’m not sure what’s more impressive, the fact Starseed Pilgrim’s mechanics are so fresh and clever or how the game presents them in such a coherent and self-contained package. Regardless Starseed Pilgrim is getting 5/5 multicolored blocks.

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