Project Starship X on Xbox One is an enhanced and expanded sequel to Project Starship. While there have been a fair few of these classic shmup releases on Xbox in the last couple of years, Project Starship X not only eclipses its predecessor, but offers an experience which genuinely feels fresh and inventive. Where most of the shmup releases either tend to be a bit on the ordinary and derivative, or don’t quite succeed in implementing radical ideas, Project Starship X by developer Panda Indie Studio implements zany ideas into a tried and tested genre with great success.
The game has a vibrant comical style, implementing the creatures and characters of H.P. Lovecraft into a comedic sci-fi world. The ideas and inspirations are definitely liberal and very much out there, right from the get-go where the first boss itself is a zombified rendition of a certain notorious historical figure, operating an eyeball-shaped spaceship of all things. There’s a whole mix of different character designs here, and while it can feel all over the place, all of the different visual elements come together nicely to give Project Starship X an absolutely explosive personality.
The sprite-based graphics bring the visuals to life, and rightfully so the game carries a seizure warning (ironically enough, the warning message itself is delivered using a splash of neon colours). The use of colours is fantastic here, especially the zany animations of the character portraits and boss characters, but sometimes things can get cluttered to the point of confusion. As a precision-based shooter, the confusing mix of colours and effects can get in the way of a good run.
Variety is the spice in the game design of Project Starship X, and while it may seem like it tries to do a bit too much, the core shmup gameplay has a solid foundation where the mechanics instantly become second nature, allowing players to accommodate all the other bells and whistles with relative ease. At its core the game has a rogue-lite design, meaning that each playthrough is different from the one before. For shmup purists, this can be problematic as the genre has maintained a longstanding tradition of memorisation. Still, having some procedurally generated elements doesn’t necessarily take away from the soundness of the level design. In fact, having a few surprises with each run can enhance the replay value.
In Project Starship X there are four characters to choose from (plus one secret one) and each of the ships vary in their speed, firepower, and other statistics. Each character actually offers a distinct playing style, and while the game follows conventions it does implement some cool combat mechanics to great effect. Aside from the basic shot and bomb attack typical of any shooter, the other primary gameplay mechanic is in the form of dashing. A dedicated dash button is used to dodge particularly hairy enemy fire and obstacles, but more importantly it can be used to literally ram into enemies. Although there is plenty of shooting, much of the level design in Project Starship involves dodging, dashing, and ramming into things. This definitely adds an interesting spin to the typical shmup shenanigans, and interestingly enough it almost, by accident, turns the experience into that of a rhythm shooter.
There are a surprising number of things to unlock in Project Starship X, as each playthrough brings new events and even new gameplay systems, such as space tanks that your ship can literally dock into for some extra firepower. And so, while the score-chasing objective remains intact and ever so satisfying, the process of discovering and unlocking new content and gameplay features really freshens up the typical shooting action a great deal.
In all, Project Starship X on Xbox is a surprisingly inventive entry in what is normally a tried and tested genre. Although stirring the pot when it comes to sound shmup design is usually a bad idea, here all of the zany and crazy ideas are fun and entertaining thanks to the sound fundamentals of the core shooting mechanics. The dashing/ramming adds a welcome variation too, and so while Panda Indie Studio may have had some hits and misses with their previous projects, Project Starship X feels like a culmination of all their shooting game ideas. And this time things come together nicely with plenty of inventive gameplay substance.
- Dashing mechanic works perfectly in the traditional shooting gameplay
- Lots of things to unlock and discover
- Artwork is fun and zany
- Visuals can get a bit confusing during gameplay
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - eastasiasoft
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
- Version Reviewed - Xbox One
- Release date - 27th January 2021
- Launch price from - £8.39