'Asterigos: Curse of the Stars' shows how indie games can succeed by distilling blockbuster titles

A still from “Asterigos: Curse of the Stars." (Courtesy)
A still from “Asterigos: Curse of the Stars." (Courtesy)

Asterigos: Curse of the Stars” is nothing if not a little familiar: A fantasy viking finds herself in fantasy Greece, hones her already formidable skills and demolishes every beast or man that dares to oppose her.

It’s the exact converse of 2018’s much-adored “God of War,” whose sequel comes out next month. With a much smaller team behind it, "Asterigos" may seem like an appetizer before a long-awaited feast, but it’s got just the right ingredients to make it worth a taste.

That’s because it looks and feels great. It’s got the cartoony appeal of a Dreamworks film. It’s got the precise combat of “Bloodborne” or “Elden Ring,” complete with six mix-and-match weapons. You can dart forward to slash with daggers, sharpshoot with a magic staff, and even launch balls of energy to dissolve enemies into blue stardust used to further upgrade your arsenal. Though not as richly realized as the blockbuster titles that inspired it, Asterigos’ fights are stylish and easy to grasp.

But while the action lands on its feet, the game stumbles through an overwritten plot. Characters are so flat that even copious dialogue can’t inflate them. In-game notes detail an epic world but make for tedious reading. Worse yet, you’ll often come across “echoes” — flashbacks that interrupt the game’s flow while you stare at inanimate, ghostly figures.

A still from “Asterigos: Curse of the Stars." (Courtesy)
A still from “Asterigos: Curse of the Stars." (Courtesy)

For a game with a female protagonist, one contrivance even highlights an odd lack of representation. "Asterigos" takes place in a sprawling city where cursed residents exhibit blue or purple-tinged skin, or have animalistic features. They’ll often react with surprise and disbelief to see the player-character’s un-cursed — and therefore light — complexion. Plot device or no, each remark draws attention to how rarely you’ll see people of (a more natural) color. You’re more likely to talk to someone with orange fur than Black or Brown skin.

I could also quibble with the game’s uneven difficulty curve, its stingy teleportation system and its B-movie voice acting. But for all its blunders, “Asterigos: Curse of the Stars” still feels like a charming experiment. It cheerfully remixes some of gaming’s greatest hits. It’s “God of War” without its brooding bloodshed, “Dark Souls” without its trademark inscrutability. It even evades the most insidious trends in big-budget games, from predatory micro-transactions to bloated “open worlds” stuffed with checklists and chores. That’s no small feat for an indie studio — much more of a blessing than a curse.


Headshot of James Perkins Mastromarino

James Perkins Mastromarino Producer, Here & Now
James Perkins is an associate producer for Here & Now, based at NPR in Washington, D.C.



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