By Josh Speer / February 9th, 2017
|Title||Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax|
|Release Date||September 9th, 2016|
|Platform||PC, XBox One|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Mild fantasy violence|
I’ve been playing shmups for a pretty long time. I don’t know what first drew me to the genre, but I’ve always enjoyed the crisp controls, eye catching graphics and pumping tunes. So after I read oprainfall’s review of Stardust Galaxy Warriors, I was intrigued by the opportunity to tackle the updated version, called Stellar Climax. This version of the game polished what was already present and added new content to the experience. What I couldn’t tell from reading the review was just how fun the game was, and how close to a classic shmup experience. Now that I’ve spent a few hours with the game, how did it hold up?
The first thing you need to realize about the game is it doesn’t take itself that seriously. William mentioned the offbeat craziness in his initial review, and it’s very present in Stellar Climax. While it’s true few shmups have very deep plots, Stellar Climax goes out of its way to be goofy and break the fourth wall at every opportunity. This is apparent in the back and forth dialogue between the pilots before and after missions. Another great example is when I blew up a meteorite and it swore revenge, only to be faced later by its vengeful meteor child (complete with whirly gig hat).
Gameplay is split into several worlds which are separated into 3 parts each. Before each mission, you can select a different pilot and corresponding mecha and then pick your primary and secondary weapon. There are 5 pilots (one of which is unique to Stellar Climax) each with a fashionably catchy name, such as Blue Falcon and Black Bear. Though each pilot has a proficiency, such as Blue Falcon being a long distance specialist or the Black Bear being a defensive tank, with the proper setup you can overcome most inherent shortcomings. Additionally, each pilot is armed with a devastating sword that they can swing around in between firing bullets, which is useful for when enemies get too close. Lastly, each mecha has its own signature move, something I was totally unaware of until after I started New Game+. These can range from Hadoken style charged shots to stationary shields. Though cool, they weren’t really necessary to succeed.
One thing that surprised me about Stellar Climax is that you have unlimited ammo for all of your basic weapons. While this might seem overpowered, they balance it out by making it hard to get enough energy to unleash a screen clearing Distortion attack (this game’s version of a bomb). Distortions are also each unique to each mecha, ranging from a wave of homing missiles to temporarily freezing every enemy on screen. Besides these, you can also occasionally pick up a drone to temporarily attack foes, though you’ll never find upgrades during stages like in classics such as R-Type or Gradius. Instead, at the end of each level you can pick from one of three random stat upgrades, such as improved shield regeneration or improved attack power. These are permanent boosts, so if you keep playing through New Game+, you can get pretty powerful, though that is moderated somewhat by increased enemy swarms and devastating new attacks in boss fights. However, if things get too intense you can play with friends or turn on autofire.
Speaking of bosses, there are plenty in Stellar Climax and they are all pretty fantastic, even the mid bosses. Though many are robotic vehicles, they all look distinct and pose a challenge, especially in the harder New Game+. While few come across as an instant classic, they all have their own unique flavor. One of my favorites was the mechanical crustacean that I battled in the aquatic world, which would lunge at me as it took more damage and fire devastating swathes of bullets and lasers. By far the best boss in the game is the very last one, but I can’t discuss that without serious spoilers which would frankly ruin the delightful surprise. Just trust me that Stellar Climax did save the best for last.
Besides the main Campaign mode, there is also the Gauntlet mode, which is an endless score attack, as well as various Challenges. One of those involved traveling through Santa’s village and fighting hordes of Christmas themed ships (no, I’m not joking). The level culminated in a battle against a devious dreadnought shaped like a Christmas tree with the ability to reflect your shots back at you and a terrifying laser star. Suffice to say, I haven’t beaten it yet, but the numerous other Challenges should keep me coming back to the game for a good while.
Visually speaking, Stellar Climax isn’t going to win any awards but it is very colorful and just exudes an air of fun. You can tell Dreamloop Games had a lot of fun making the game. Each of the mecha you pilot looks visually distinct and pops with color. There is a huge variety of enemies as well, and they all look distinct and have different attack patterns. When I first played the game, I did encounter some pretty consistent slowdown, but by turning down the graphics settings the game went from jerky to buttery smooth framerates. Something else I appreciated about Stellar Climax were the pumping tunes. There are several tracks that play, and none of them were boring in the slightest. They recapture the essence of 90’s shmup games perfectly, and helped keep me constantly immersed.
I played 4 hours for first playthrough with Blue Falcon, then tried New Game+ with Amber Fox. After trying out the various modes, I spent a total of 6 hours with the game. Frankly, I can see why William enjoyed Stardust Galaxy Warriors so much. Stellar Climax took an already great experience and made it tighter, more challenging and polished, even though the latter part of the game does start to become a bit bullet hell. It’s a fun little shmup that I would recommend to any fan of the genre, both old and new. There’s enough variety to keep things interesting and to allow those unschooled to have a chance. For $13.99, it’s a great bargain. After playing it, I look forward to seeing what else Dreamloop Games has up their sleeves!
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Dreamloop GamesPCShmupStardust Galaxy Warriors Stellar ClimaxSteamXbox One