This is an interesting one, out of the same school of thought as Fez and maybe Pixeljunk Eden. Little if anything is explained to you, and it’s more rewarding if you figure out everything for yourself. To some extent this feels like I’m making excuses for an abusive spouse, because you’re telling yourself and others to be way more patient than would ordinarily be expected. But giving Fez like a week of my life–my desk covered in pages of letter frequency analysis, occasionally trading theories with friends–was one of my favorite gaming experiences of the last few years.
The main difference is that Starseed isn’t a puzzle game, and instead of trying to crack a simple cypher and number system (and almost always overthinking it), you’re trying to crack the actual game mechanics and goals. In a way that’s less peripheral to the gameplay, but it’s also more irritating. Fez was also ultimately a lot more engaging and beautiful in terms of the atmosphere and lore uncovered. Starseed doesn’t have a lot supporting it when your patience starts to wear thin.
I played for the better part of a day, stitching together screenshots of my hub world to build a map of my sprawl, until finally looping around. I got some satisfaction out of learning the rules, certainly, but it was ultimately too unsophisticated, frustrating, and randomized to hold me until I beat it. You don’t know how long of a bridge you’ll get from orange blocks, which way the green blocks will spread, or–depending on your character–when you’ll get the block you need in your queue. Features like being able to shuffle the next thing in your queue might’ve helped by giving the player some control back over the randomness. The frustration was mainly in having nothing at all to show for failures–hearts are useless without a key, keys are useless without hearts, and both are useless if your path back to the gate is out of reach. And once you’ve built all your bridges in the hub, it doesn’t matter even if you exit a level with 15 hearts–they don’t seem to serve any other purpose.
I imagine I was supposed to get through those three-key gates in the void areas of each island, probably opening up a final level on that island with nothing on it. But I only made it to one of those gates once, without any hearts, and had to warp out because I was stuck there. So I felt that this was asking too much of me, and made peace with the fact that I sucked at the game.
If I’m being honest about my level of enjoyment with this game, the level of payoff for the time invested, and how much credit I think is really due here for its more original ideas, I give this one a 2/5. While there are other games I’ve really enjoyed that also have little variation or story but require a lot of time because of their difficulty–such as Super Hexagon–I wasn’t nearly as taken in by what Starseed Pilgrim had to offer.