Thursday, March 8

Review: Steredenn - Binary Stars [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Absolutely one of my favorite genres that has never gotten old (at least when the games are good) is the side-scrolling shooter. Indie games have been doing a great job celebrating and rejuvenating this staple of the old arcades, bringing modern sensibilities and intensity to an already-exciting style. Roguelikes have also been immensely popular due to some great indie titles, some of them my favorites on any system, so when I hear about any titles that are looking to marry these two together they immediately get my attention. In the case of Steredenn: Binary Stars the result is something extraordinary, filled with some absolutely insane action but throwing in a mix of choice and randomness to turn it into something special.


Starting out with your first ship you’ll need to get your bearings and spend a bit of time getting absolutely wrecked as you come to understand the basics. All ships on the screen are to be blown away before they can do the same to you, big cargo ships will drop a power-up when destroyed, and boss ships will have multi-phase attack patterns that can be truly terrifying. Each ship you can control will have a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, and then a special attack that and attributes that set it apart from the others. Whether being nimble or a bit slow, armored up or a bit fragile, as you unlock new ships by making progress you’ll need to give them all a shot and see what suits you best. I’m partial to the well-armored Fortress, partially for its ability to survive a bit of a beating but mostly because it has a great homing missile attack that can really help out in a pinch when you have limited opportunities to line up a shot at your attacker.

Where the roguelike element of the game really makes it all come together is in the diversity of the weapons and power-ups you’ll get to choose from. When you blow up a cargo ship in the middle of battle you’ll only have a brief time to either pick up the power-up it drops or leave it. Depending on what weapon you already have, what styles you may prefer, or possibly taking a chance and picking it up in the hopes it will pay off later there are many possible motivations for taking or leaving anything you encounter. Weapons fall into categories, whether bullet, heavy, energy, bot, or contact. Depending on the style of play you prefer and also the ship you’re using different options may appeal to you. I personally found success picking up a bot power-up, that allows you to place a few remote attackers on the screen, and complementing those with an effective forward weapon. In true roguelike fashion the more powerful weapons usually have downsides like requiring a charge, only being semi-automatic, making your ship move slower when in use and more. Where it can get more interesting is between levels you’ll get to choose one of 5 random enhancements and some of these can counteract certain downsides so there can be many strategies for finding success if you’re willing to roll the dice.


While people who embrace the challenge of roguelikes and are dialed into the repetitious nature of an arcade-style shooter will likely have an incredibly good time with all of this, there’s no doubt it won’t be for everyone. To be clear, the game is very challenging and more often than not you’re going to simply have poor to middling runs when things just aren’t going your way. While the weapon diversity can be exciting it also means there’s a higher probability you’re not going to prefer the drops you get, making the road even tougher in the process.That said, forced improvisation can sometimes lead to the discovery of new and effective tactics you hadn’t anticipated so it is worth giving anything you encounter a shot at some point. The ability to add a friend to the action is also a mixed bag in that your offensive firepower is doubled but the chaos on the screen being magnified and a shared life bar mean that there are no guarantees of better results, especially if your skill levels aren’t well-balanced.

I’ve personally had a great time playing Steredenn and would immediately recommend it to anyone who enjoys intense shooters and roguelike sensibilities. It’s a combination of bullet hell, crazy power-ups (you can get a sword that lets you stab enemy ships), and risk-reward decisions that most often ends in complete failure but still puts a smile on my face. If you’re up for pushing yourself, and don’t mind the taste of defeat, I heartily recommend it.



Score: 9

Pros:
  • Challenging multi-phase bullet hell boss fights
  • An insane variety of power-ups
  • Risk/reward decisions after every round let you help define your fate

Cons:
  • Not for the easily frustrated
  • No slow burn method of making the game more approachable with time, you just need to learn and get better
  • While I appreciate the ability to play the game coop overall I didn’t find the added craziness practical