When it comes to casual puzzle experiences virtual reality (VR) studios have got gamers very well covered. From shorter, easier to manage titles like Mare or The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets to more elaborate experiences such as Paper Beast, there’s something for all the family at all skill levels. Another to add to this roster is Stargaze, a cosmic puzzler by indie team Played With Fire where you can inspect and explore strange new worlds.
This story-based puzzler mixes astronomy with a little bit of magic, where you play an astronomer detailing curious planets, discovering what lifeforms inhabit them, and then putting your findings into a research journal. From the outset it’s easy to tell Stargaze is a VR title that suits those new to the technology, as the workspace nicely caters for a seated experience where everything is within arms reach – although you can wander around a bit with smooth locomotion.
Your lab floats around in space, giving a beautiful 360-degree view of the universe but for the most part, you’ll be focused on the telescope which has some rather unusual controls. With a giant viewing lens that can be moved up and down to suit, most of your time will be spent operating its various controls. When a planet appears into view either side of the viewing window are two big levers that snap the planet left or right by 90-degrees. Giving you further control is a joystick that manoeuvres the planet on the plain you’re currently facing, plus there’s a button for taking pictures and another lever providing basic zoom controls.
The idea is to learn about the six different worlds, each tending to consist of three objects which need to be found and photographed and then primary and secondary events catering to the inhabitants. Even with the controls mentioned your ability to interact and manipulate each world tends to be fairly simple, highlighting the objects to snap a pic to then place in the journal. Thankfully, as you explore each planet surface the puzzles begin to interlink, some even taking you inside to unlock the next section.
It’s here you’d imagine that Stargaze begins to ramp up the challenge as there are only six worlds but it never really achieves any notable complexity that’ll have you scratching your head. That’s not to say the process isn’t fun as you encounter ice skating shrimp, fire foxes and spiders which cry tears, all complimenting that storybook feel. The simplicity of the experience does mean the control mechanics are nicely in tune whether that’s operating the telescope, flicking through the pages of the book, or spinning each planet on the orrery.
Drawing inspiration from The Little Prince, the early 20th-Century novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Stargaze feels very much like a piece of children’s piece of interactive literature. It offers a pleasant narrative set amongst the stars with enough wonderment and interactive controls to keep them entertained. For most players this will be a one and done experience that’ll last a couple of hours at most, even the last couple of puzzles aren’t too difficult. Short, wholesome VR puzzle gaming.