Sunday, December 3, 2017

Review: Star Ghost


The shooter genre is already pretty well-represented on the Nintendo Switch, with a pretty wide variety of options available. While many of them are of the twin-stick variety there are more classic scrolling shooters and a few other oddballs as well. By its appearance Star Ghost looks like just another side-scrolling shooter option and to some degree it is. However, it is its control scheme and roguelike qualities that will either suck you in or aggravate you endlessly.


In many ways the control in Star Ghost feels like it may have been inspired by mobile games at its core because the majority of what you’ll do to maneuver your ship is to press the A button. If you hold it down you’ll go up, and when you let go you’ll go down. While this seems like a pretty simple thing the way it affects how you play the game changes quite radically because of it. You do have the additional ability to direct your weapon fire but that’s only so useful as typically your rate of fire is pretty low and the space between shots make shooting at an angle a little tougher to judge than just trusting the fact you can hit what’s right in front of you. Your tractor beam also plays a role in helping you collect orbs that will come from destroyed enemies and these can serve as either currency or power-ups depending on their color. A great, but nasty, twist is that when you activate your tractor beam you’re unable to shoot and that forms just one part of the game’s major roguelike elements of risk and reward.

What makes this feel more like a roguelike than just an arcade-style game is a healthy dose randomness in the levels you’ll explore per run, the lack of predictability for the power-ups you’ll get, the fact that your power-ups diminish and go away with time, and the cruel temptation the game loves to throw at you to risk your multiplier and shields. While some aspects of the levels are the same the flight patterns of enemies and the way obstacles lay out are often just different enough that you need to pay careful attention to them. Destroying more enemies means more points and more power-up opportunities but if you’re busy shooting you won’t be able to snag that spread power-up that could really help you out since it has dropped back down to its base level. Do you spend your credits to upgrade your firing rate, replenish your shield (it isn’t restored between levels), or perhaps save up so you’ll be able to continue when you die? These decisions need to be made on a continual basis and there are ultimately no right answers, just you trying to stay alive a little longer. It is both exciting and aggravating for all of the right reasons for people who enjoy this sort of challenge.


When it comes to downsides that variability and the fact that from run to run you can have such wild shifts from success to utterly dismal failure probably makes it a tough choice for the average gamer (BTW, whatever you do don't collect the red virus orbs!). Especially for people who are walking into this, looking at the screen shots and video, and are thinking this is an arcade shooter you’ve been warned. It is something different and that can be a good thing but if what you’re looking for is that classic feel Star Ghost absolutely isn’t that. While I find the controls, and the decisions they force you to make, interesting there are some times where they feel unfair when it comes to the tight spaces you’re sometimes forced to fly through. Even with traditional controls these could be tight but with this scheme setups like that feel a bit more cheap. I’m also very surprised that the high scores are local-only, this seems like a game that is begging for online leaderboards and some healthy competition between friends as well.

As a whole I both enjoy Star Ghost and am a big aggravated by it. I love that it set out to do something different, and it has very much accomplished that goal. I like that whether it meant to or not it has some very roguelike elements in its DNA that make it noteworthy and challenging. That said, there are a few elements that may have benefitted from moving the needle a little further back in terms of difficulty to make it more likely accessible to a wider audience. It’s an acquired taste as it stands, and for people seeking out a non-traditional challenge it is a solid value as well.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • A healthy dose of unpredictability in every run
  • Multiple layers of risk and reward to tempt you
  • A very polished presentation

Cons:
  • For people looking for a traditional arcade space shooter this absolutely it not one
  • The control scheme is smart and simple but can be aggravating with tight obstacles sometimes
  • No online leaderboards is a shame


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