Updated: Stellar Escape Review

Stellar Escape received an update that adds six levels to the game, bringing the grand total to 15. However, if you thought the later levels of the original nine were challenging (and if you’re human, with human reflexes, you probably did), the new ones will make you pull your hair out and break your iPhone into pieces all at once. They’re that tough.

Which isn’t to say they’re bad. In fact, if you’ve gotten that far you’ve probably impressed yourself with your fast reaction time. Beating these new levels will probably become a matter of pride.

But one thing we’re noticing as we play these demanding new levels is that sometimes the controls don’t pick up on your inputs exactly on time. It doesn’t happen all that often, but when you feel like you’ve tapped a button on time and the game doesn’t register it, it’s a major annoyance.

Also, there’s still no pause button. I mean, come on. Give us a pause button.

But, considering these incredibly hard new levels, we’re bumping the score up to a 3. Any game that makes our palms sweat and our teeth grind together– but keeps us coming back for more– is impressive. Check this game out if you think you’re up to the challenge.

In Stellar Escape, you play as a helmeted, space-suited hero running through a futuristic obstacle course. Electrified barriers sprout out of the floor and ceiling, or move up and down in the middle of your path. Tap the right buttons at the right time, and you’ll make it to the finish line, earning an Angry Birds-style star for your effort. Get hit three times, and you have to start over. Just make sure you remember to stretch first.

Like all games in the packed running genre, your character runs forward automatically. One thing that makes Stellar Escape stand out from the crowd is the size of your move set. Most running games (Canabalt, Grim Joggers) only let you jump. Some (Monster Dash, Robot Unicorn Attack) give you another button that lets you shoot or dash. Stellar Escape, on the other hand, gives you buttons to jump, slide, dive, swing on a bar, or hop down a tube.

These extra moves are both a good thing and a bad thing. On the plus side, having an arsenal of moves to deal with everything the levels throw at you makes you feel more powerful and in control of your fate. On the other hand, having five buttons stare you in the face as you try to make split-second decisions can seem overwhelming.

Slide over here, and give me a moment.

Luckily, the pre-built levels ease you into the controls. Level one is all about jumping, while level two introduces sliding. Soon you’ll be hopping and diving and weaving like a pro… at least until you reach level six, when the difficulty level spikes mightily. If you’re like us, you’ll be pulling your hair out after a couple of attempts. Worse, there are only nine pre-built levels. If they’d included more, perhaps they could have smoothed out the difficulty.

Also included are two endless modes that don’t feel at all different from the pre-built ones except that (duh) they don’t end. There’s a novice version that throws obstacles at you at a measured pace, and an expert one that crowds them together. Both OpenFeint and Game Center handle the leaderboards.

Overall, Stellar Escape is enjoyable, but it doesn’t have enough personality to make it stand out. What sticks with us most about Canabalt is the apocalyptic feel. Robot Unicorn Attack is a psychedelic acid trip. Stellar Escape, on the other hand, is pretty bland sci-fi. It doesn’t help that the game is missing basic things, like a pause button, a next level button, and the ability to flip your device upside-down.

Don’t get us wrong: Stellar Escape is a decent game, but it’s not exceptional. And in a genre as crowded as this one, that just doesn’t cut it.

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