Star Stuff Review – Cobble Code To Craft Constellations

You are Mija, a Starlien. It is your first day as a the Popoca star factory space station, where heavenly bodies are created and sent out into the universe. You are excited to meet your boss, Hoshi, your coworker Itri, and begin work as a Stellar Systems engineer. After a brief orientation, you are all set to get to work helping make a star. And then an explosion rocks the station and every other stellar engineer is ejected into space. And the power has gone out all across the station right when a new star was being built. So now it’s up to you to run across the entire factory, getting every section back in order and getting enough star power to stabilize the star, send it to space, and save yourself and everyone on the station. This sudden turn of events occurs within about the first five minutes of Animo Games Studio and Astra Logical’s Star Stuff, a puzzle game about learning how to program.

You might be confused, “what does programming have to do with making stars?” I can hear you ask. And the answer is robots. As you are the only Engineer available, you can enlist robots to help you complete various tasks to help you gather more star stuff from the specialized emergency power cells it’s been directed to because of the malfunction. The only problem is that the robots are in fact robots and you have to tell them what to do. And whatever it is you ask them to do, they will do it. Exactly what you ask them to do. No more, no less. Often less, really. This forms the backbone of Star Stuff‘s gameplay, figuring out what the exact right sequence of events to get a group of robots to activate floor plates, sockets, laser receivers, and more to help you complete your job. At first this starts off extremely simple, with commands like “Go To” “Pick up At” and “Drop At” handling all you need your bots to do.

Early puzzles involve one robot and some simple tasks, but even these ramp up in complexity quickl;y
Early puzzles involve one robot and some simple tasks, but even these ramp up in complexity quickl;y

However, this is a puzzle game, and puzzle games have to increase their complexity. A game about programming robots has ample ways to make life more complicated for you as you try and fix the station. Remember how I said robots do exactly what you tell them to do? There is a limited number of distinct commands you can give to each robot in a given level, and once they’ve performed all those commands, they’re done and they shut down. So not only do you have to program the robots, you need to time them correctly and make sure you’re in the right spots at the right time and not in the way, because if the robots you program can’t complete a task, they begin to panic and eventually break down.

Fortunately, the game also gives you more actions. First among these is the Wait command. Normally, whenever a robot finishes a specific command, for example, moving to a specific spot or picking up an object it will immediately proceed to the next command. The Wait command halts a robot’s programming until a trigger is completed, allowing it to resume its task. Star Stuff also gives you many other types of commands over course of your journey. There’s the Go to Line command, which allows robots to jump back to an earlier line in their programming. There are If commands, which allow you to create conditional behavior depending on the state of a robot, for example if a robot is holding one type of object, it performs one set of tasks, and if it’s holding, say, you, it performs another. There’s the Nearest command, which allows you to specify that a robot should react only to the activation of the nearest object of a specific type at a given line of code. There are also a few robot-specific commands like Turn and Spawn, which do what they suggest.

Later on you have to manage two or even three types of robots to make them work in tandem to complete a goal
Later on you have to manage two or even three types of robots to make them work in tandem to complete a goal

Of course, you wouldn’t be given these tools if you didn’t need to use them. As you progress through Star Stuff there are more and more obstacles put in your way. At first it’s sending robots to step activate and hold switches to turn on a walkway. Very quickly though, further complications arise, like needing to both power and then depower an elevator so it can rise and fall at the right time to send you to a different level, launch pads that only activate the moment their associated trigger mechanism turns on, oil covered floors that robots can cross but you cannot, floor sections that fall away after being used once, even electrified traps. There are indestructible cubes and destroyable aerogel cubes that you need to protect and sacrifice at the right time. And those are just hazards one might find in a specific level, there are other roadblocks the game throws at you.

About halfway through Star Stuff, the game introduces rogue robots, who already have their actions encoded and which cannot be changed. Shortly thereafter, it adds the complication of needing to use multiple robots of the same type in a single level. And by the way, they share their programming. This is what the If and Nearest commands are used for, of course they’re not always available, so sometimes you have to get creative and remember that you are also an element in the program and can affect it too. This includes lifting objects, running over or putting items on pressure plates to activate paths for robots, getting picked up by a loader bot, standing in front of a laser robot’s beams to deactivate a laser receptacle or protect an aerogel. So many times my “A-Ha” moment for figuring out a level’s solution was realizing how I could interfere with a robot’s assigned task constructively. Sometimes the only correct course of action for a robot is to make it malfunction, as counter intuitive as that might sound. In the very last leg of Star Stuff you are given an object that you can trigger at any point, multiple times, giving you total control over when a robot takes an action. Naturally, this is where the hardest puzzles with the most robots and fewest lines of code arise. But it also makes for an extremely satisfying ending when you finally figure out the code sequence for that final puzzle and everything just clicks.

Rogue robots cannot be reprogrammed and almost nothing can stop them from completing their tasks. Almost nothing, but not nothing.
Rogue robots cannot be reprogrammed and almost nothing can stop them from completing their tasks. Almost nothing, but not nothing.

For most of Star Stuff, there’s no specific requirement to needing to complete all the puzzles in an area, as only the very beginning and very end require every puzzle to be completed in a specific order, with all the others only requiring a certain number completed to move onto the next section, and completable in any order. But the game does offer prizes for completing more and more puzzles in the form of unlockable cosmetics. The more puzzles you finish, the more outfits Mija can dress up in. Of course, there aren’t enough puzzles in the main plot to unlock everything, and that’s where challenge puzzles come in. Once unlocked these can be challenged at any point, with more and more challenges being unlocked as you complete more plot and challenge puzzles. These challenges further reinforce the themes and challenges of the areas they are associated with, providing a challenge whether attempted right after locking or after completing the main story. Challenges account for a good portion of Star Stuff‘s completion and I am nowhere near to finishing all of them.

As for controls, I played with keyboard and mouse, controller, and Steam Deck. I found the coding most intuitive with keyboard and mouse, but barely any harder to manager with a controller or the Steam Deck. For me, who has had some amount of computer programming experience, the main plot and some of the challenges took about eight hours of play. Though I’ve still only scratched the surface of things and it might give a novice programmer many more hours of play than it did me. If you like the idea of making stars and working with robots, or just like programming, give Star Stuff a try. It’s very cutesy but its puzzles are no joke.

Tim played Star Stuff on PC with a review code.



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