By William Haderlie / April 5th, 2016
|Title||Stardust Galaxy Warriors|
|Publisher||Dreamloop Games, Vasara Entertainment|
|Release Date||November 10, 2015|
|Age Rating||All Ages|
Role-Playing Game mechanics are in everything these days. You cannot tell me that the latest Madden Football game isn’t halfway an RPG. It was really only a matter of time before those mechanics made their way into a space shooter. Bits and pieces of those aspects have started to enter many shooters, but this has to be the most RPG-like of any space shooter that I have ever played. Not only can you choose between four different characters, which is pretty standard, but really only their special moves are different. They have access to the same choices of primary and secondary guns that any other frame has. And, most RPG of all, you have a choice as to where you want your additional stat points to go to after every level, as well as a choice of which upgrades you want to purchase from a shop at the end of every stage. You can invest stat points in things like Attack, Defense, Shield Strength, and so on, and the shop gives you access to major upgrades like more powerful melee strikes, or shields that are stronger if you don’t move.
In the above picture you can see the four frames and their pilots. The pilots are anime tropes, but they also know that about themselves. In fact, at a certain point the old windbag who leads the troupe threatens to buy a 4th wall to install. The story is quite humorous, and intentionally so. The old man in question eventually starts wearing a Santa Claus hat during conversations. But that is not a bad thing at all. In fact, I found it to be rather charming. Space shooters have had a history of treating themselves very seriously, so it is nice to see an indie entry not trying to copy that model and setting out for their own tone.
With a couple notable exceptions (two sentient asteroids, father and son, and the final boss) the enemies are all seriously designed, so you will not mistake this for Parodius. But that is not to say the enemy designs are bad. This may be an indie title from a small team, but the design (both in looks and fire patterns) of the enemies are just as good as a large studio would make. That being said, this is not a bullet-hell shooter. This is a straight up, Gradius style, side scrolling space shooter. Your hit box is much smaller than the size of your robot frame, but it’s still not as small as your typical bullet-hell type. One other design choice that separates it from some of the other classic side-scrollers is the addition of a melee attack. In fact, it most reminded me of the recent game Astebreed. And, in so doing, made me wish that they did more with the melee like that other title did. The melee ability is there, and can be used, but there is usually little reason to use it unless you choose build upgrades that stress melee attacks.
That choice of which build you are going to invest in is both the game’s greatest strength (along with just the pure fun), and it also sets up its potential greatest weakness. It is very refreshing to play a game like this and have so much control over how you want your robot to play. You can create a glass cannon that has a ton of shot power but very low defense, or you can create a tank that can take a real beating but cannot hit very hard. You can also choose two, of many, weapon combinations that will accommodate that style; ones that are more hit and run, or ones that stress staying still, or even ones that demand you get up close. There is a ton of choice here. Not all choices are equally as powerful, but I tried many combinations and could defeat the stages with each of them. However, where that is a potential weakness is that some of those builds made the game much harder, and some of them made it laughably easy. I created a build that was so powerful I was able to set the controller down on the last two boss fights (which happen in sequence) and just watch my character defeat them. That is its own brand of fun, but many people who enjoy space shooters are going to be put off of that because they like challenges.
It’s not just the potential overpowered builds that make your time with this game a bit anticlimactic, though. It is a bit short, even by shooter standards. It only takes me about an hour to beat the campaign. Now, to be fair, this is a small team and shooters are never known for their lengthy campaigns. But I couldn’t help but wishing there were more levels and more story. But that can also be construed as a good thing, it means I enjoyed it enough to want more. The Gauntlet and Challenge Modes are nice diversions, but the Campaign is the primary draw, not just for the humorous story, but also because that’s where the upgrade mechanics are. The other knock on the game is that it is a bit buggy. And it was a bit more buggy than I would have expected, especially several months past release. It seldom bugged out during a gameplay session, but several times the Unity engine had trouble loading. Being a PC release, though, it’s possible that those issues are isolated to certain operating systems or certain graphics cards.
The music, graphics, enemy design, and background designs are all very solid. Even if this wasn’t a small indie team, this would be good work for any developer. Other than the mentioned bugs and the short playtime, this holds up well against any other modern side scrolling space shooter (and I play a lot of them). Even when my build made me too powerful to be challenged, there was a fun side to that as well. So, really, I wouldn’t mind at all if more games of this genre took some of these ideas to implement in their own take. Its MSRP is only $9.99 so its short play time becomes a bit of a vanishing problem when you consider bang for your buck. So I can definitely recommend this one. I did read some Steam user reviews that say this was difficult for them, so maybe I have been trained by bullet-hell shooters too much to be challenged by games of this type. But I strongly suspect normal gaming twitch reflexes will get you through this title just fine. And if you run into walls, switch weapons to a setup that suits you better. This is a 1-4 player co-op game, but I only played it single player. Yeah, I’m a bit of a loner. But there was no problems beating it solo.
Review Copy Provided By The Publisher
Dreamloop GamesPCspace shooterStardust Galaxy WarriorsSteamVasara Entertainment