Ever since Nintendo released the Ocarina of Time, I feel like no Chosen One has been allowed to take naps lest they incur the wrath of their fairy guardians. But rather than saving Hyrule from a recurring evil, A Rite from the Stars protagonist, Kirm, must prove he is ready for adulthood by overcoming trials focusing on Courage, Spirit and Wisdom.
Madrid based developer Risin’ Goat crafted the game with a lot of attention to the ancillary details of the game world. Composer Daniel Nuñez’s score made for an invigorating listen both inside and outside of the game. The Makoan language - based off of Hawaiian and “Polynesian” (according to the Kickstarter pitch) - helped cement the game’s sense of place, even if it left me with some reservations.
I put “Polynesian” in quotes because it’s not a language in of itself but a family of languages - to which Hawaiian belongs. I mention this here not to be pedantic - well, not entirely - but to touch on the game’s cultural influences. The Makoans are largely a grab bag of southern hemisphere cultures - the language from Oceania, the architecture from Central America, and their meerkat partners from southwestern Africa. I could not find anything particularly egregious about their usage, but their shallow usage ended up feeling like window dressing.
While the game stumbled some establishing it’s world, A Rite from the Stars really trips itself up during the basic gameplay loop. Players control Kirm by left clicking to send him somewhere and right click as a separate trial dependent action. I often found that Kirm would get stuck on edges or wouldn’t go somewhere even if I could reach the same destination while clicking shorter distances.
I don’t think these mistakes are for want of good ideas. During the trial of Courage, I leapt across a rock column filled chasm. Each column began collapsing as I stepped on it, building some delicious tension. And since I didn’t hit any bugs, it felt great! Conversely, sneaking past a fire breathing beast in the same trial felt awful. With only the two mouse clicks available for input, you soon realize you have no way to tell Kirm to stop so that the beast wouldn’t detect your movement. I spent countless tries racing my cursor back to Kirm in hopes to stop him since even one step under the beast’s watchful eye would bring his fiery wrath.
In their Kickstarter pitch, Javier Corzo pledges that they will implement no pixel hunting as part of this adventure game. Unfortunately, that’s true in the letter - but not the spirit - of the pledge if we consider “pixel hunting” to be shorthand for “frustrating things adventure games require of you for no apparent reason”. Early on in the trial of Wisdom, Kirm must obtain something hard in order to smash a pot. This turns out to be a coconut that you can only access while the elder admonishes you for trying to hit the coconut tree with a stick instead of poking the coconut. But you can only poke the coconut from the failure screen of trying to hit the tree.
Similarly, I found that the puzzles felt too much like the frustration inducing early titles in the genre. In one light bouncing puzzle, I had several metal discs with which to redirect the light. But the rules were unclear. The symbols on the disc suggested one possible set of rules, the door that the light activated another. When I finally brute forced my way through the puzzle, I had no clearer understanding of why what I did worked.
Circling back to the Zelda analogy, Link is the chosen one because he’s the hero of time capable of pulling the Master Sword to defeat Ganon. Outside of beating a cranky rock golem, Kirm makes no similar claim to greatness. Indeed, during the Trial of Courage I often thought that the meerkat was much more capable than the hapless mute protagonist. I wish the game had opened the tale as a more commonplace coming of age story, because when I began to look at the story through that light, it worked much better.
On a technical note, I should warn players with an ultra wide monitor. You’ll have to spend a few minutes fidgeting with the setting to get the subtitles to appear properly. Normally not a huge deal, but I noticed that my clicks were consistently off, as though the game’s screen space projection calculations didn’t properly account for my resolution (nor could I find a windowed mode). Thankfully, this didn’t serve as too much of a distraction since few sections in the game require fast precision clicking.
A Rite from the Stars leaves me in a tricky spot with respect to a recommendation. On the one hand, the game clearly comes from a place of love for the point and click genre. The sections that weren’t held back by design missteps work quite well. But I couldn’t escape the feeling that much of the game would have been better served by further iteration.
Score: 3 out 5 (Cautiously Recommended)
A Rite from the Stars was developed by Risin’ Goat. It is available on Steam for $14.99.