Starwhal: Just the Tip: It’s about winning by a nose

September 29, 2014


The quick-combat local multiplayer game has become something of a genre of its own lately, with titles like TowerFall and Samurai Gunn serving as the tip of a much larger iceberg. The strangely-named Starwhal: Just the Tip brings its own brand of competition through two innovations: a sometimes-inscrutable movement scheme and a focus on jousting mechanics.

In Starwhal, players are, well, what you’d expect: narwhals in space. Combat takes place in various arenas, and the goal is to pierce an opponent’s large, conspicuous heart with the tip of your nose while avoiding suffering a similar fate. It’s not quite sudden-death all of the time, as each competitor has a few life points in a given round, but an aggressive match can often end in under 30 seconds.

Moving your narwhal around can take some getting used to. You rotate with the analog stick and propel yourself forward with the boost button, but momentum (and sometimes gravity, depending on the level) continue to act, and it’s often a matter of smartly adjusting course a few degrees rather than turning on a dime and heading where you want. This will come up often, since players will often be heading directly at each other, and whichever player manages the slightly-lower nose has a great chance of making a hit.


Starwhal really loves its ’80s space aesthetic, with neon covering the screen at all times and various lighting effects complementing this choice. The characters themselves allow a lot of customization, making references to most popular modern games and some old ones. Want to look like you’re a narwhal from Tron? or Dark Souls? How about a female assassin? Those are here, and you can mix and match head equipment, body covering and color to make your own strange creations.

After floating around in various forms for a while, the full release of Starwhal attempts to be a more fully-featured version of the game, with multiple modes and a large selection of arenas. First, the modes: while Zones and Heart Throb do an admirable job of applying standard multiplayer arena sorts of concepts to the weirdness of Starwhal, you’re probably not going to spend much time with them, since it never feels like a great (or particularly balanced) fit. Score Attack encourages attacking over running away and could definitely appeal more to some players, but it’s the survival-focused Classic mode that still brings the magic.

The arenas, on the other hand, are certainly worth exploring. These are grouped into batches by “planet,” with each set sharing basic color schemes and mechanics. Within each planet, the stages mix up the configuration of the level itself, ranging from simple shape differences to hazards and moving platforms. The later ones can truly get chaotic, as you’d want; the original levels are still there for when you want a more straightforward battle.


If you don’t have anyone around, Starwhal does attempt to have something for you, but it’s really not what you’re here for. There are a handful of single-player challenge stages, in which your goal is to navigate through levels as fast as possible. In this context, the controls turn from amusing to frustrating, and generally you’ll really only want to play these to practice some sneaky maneuvers or kill time until friends show up.

Starwhal: Just the Tip is comfortable in what it is: a great party-friendly multiplayer game that’s as exciting for spectators and eliminated players as it is for active space narwhal jousters. Don’t expect anything beyond that, but check it out at your next gathering.

Pros: Compelling jousting mechanics, exciting to watch
Cons: Minimal single-player content, extra modes are less compelling

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.