Every year, there is one video game that stands out against the crowd. One game to shine just a little bit brighter, to show something no one has ever imagined. With almost 300 games included in the PAX Online showcase this year, it can be pretty hard to achieve “stand-out status.” And then, there it is. Starstruck: Hands of Time and its free preview chapter, Starstruck: Prologue. It is the streak of light against the night sky. And it is like nothing you have seen before.
What Is Starstruck: Hands of Time?
When the email first landed in my inbox, I was intrigued by the description: Two kids and a giant hand race to rewrite history in this genre-defying diorama musical.
There is so much to unpack in that statement, and yet every word of it is true.
To start with, YOU are the giant hand. Oh, yes! You are a time traveler from the year 30xx, sent back in time to investigate and rewrite a pivotal point in Earth’s history. It is all connected with two teenagers (Edwin and Dawn) and their adventures in the world of music. It starts as a story-rich adventure game, combining elements of visual novel and action. However, you are not a passive observer, with the expectation for you to directly interact with their adorable world and their musical futures. Solve some puzzles, jam with some guitar-rhythm gameplay, and release your inner chaos as you destroy all obstacles in Edwin and Dawn’s path.
It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Yet it comes together beautifully. As part of my PAX Online reviews, I picked up a free preview chapter available on Steam. It is called Starstruck: Prologue and it is a joy to play, for both the fun story and the creative expression. It is like nothing I have played before, and certainly like nothing else showcased with PAX Online 2020. This entire game is a journey in itself, so I sought out some guidance from the lead developer and creative guru, Max Ponoroff (Createdelic, LLC).
By the way, if you are picking up a strong vibe of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, you are spot-on. Not only did Bill & Ted inspire the adventures for our young protagonists, but there are also little nods to the original franchise in the game itself; I’m not telling you because I don’t want to spoil the treats.
Max: “It’s really two games in one. One part is the music. I am not musical myself; I wish I was but this is the closest I think I’ll ever get. And a lot of people probably feel like that too. So I started with progressive rock and the rhythm adventure game. Then there is the other part, the puzzle action game where you’re this big hand and you just mess the whole place up. It comes together in this beautiful game because we have a team of geniuses who see the game (and, well, life) in the big picture.”
Starstruck: Prologue is simply beautiful, and early indicators show the full game to be even more so. Each of the separate game formats has its own style: from space simulation to claymation characters in diorama settings to sweet chibi-style puzzle scenes. I especially love how you can personalize the skin tone and size of the hand. (See! True diversity CAN be done!)
Talking to Max revealed even more about this eclectic game. “Bill & Ted had a part in the story but we also had inspiration from other things. Like Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood and the classic movie Playtime. There are elements of the game Moon (it was available on PS1) and so many other creative ideas from the team! And yes, we have real claymation models of the main characters. They were used for 3D imaging but they look pretty cool on their own.”
The Sound of Music Games
Heads up now: This game is driven by progressive rock and crazy creativity. You don’t need to be a musician to appreciate the wonder. However, you will need at least a semblance of rhythm—of which, I have none. The only time I had any issue with the gameplay was during the damn guitar-rhythm tasks, and I will put that down to my complete lack of coordination with my left hand on the keyboard while playing this game via Steam. Fortunately, Starstruck: Prologue supports a variety of controllers to help you avoid my WASD disaster. The good news is Max was encouraged to include the Guitar Hero II RedOctane X-Plorer Controller. This is going to add a whole extra level of enjoyment to the game; you’ll gain a real sense of rocking out with the main characters.
Added note, I absolutely loved the voice for Dawn, provided by Elsie Lovelock. If you are a fan of web-based cartoons, you may recognize Elise from Hazbin Hotel. On the downside, the random-speech the characters use during their dialogue is a little off-putting. Where I lack in rhythm, I make up for it with a keen ear, and it is really distracting when I can pick out enough random words to clash with the subtitles provided. My suggestion here is to turn off the volume for the entirety of the spoken dialogue but remember to amp it back up for the music.
Free Prologue Preview
As mentioned earlier, Starstruck: Prologue is the free preview available on Steam right now (click here for the Steam link). The full game, Starstruck: Hands of Time, will be coming out sometime in 2021 on PS4 and Steam.
If I had to pick one single love with this game, it would be the whimsical way the visuals tell the story. It’s a cutesy rock opera playing out before my eyes—and somehow I am allowed to join in. As a preview, Starstruck: Prologue gave me just enough to want more. I can’t wait to see what Starstruck: Hands of Time will bring in 2021.
EG Mum score: 3.5 out of 5 air-guitar solos.