Sophstar is a game, and not, as you might surmise from the title, some kind of dodgy reality show featuring a girl called Soph attempting to become a star. Nope, it is a good old fashioned vertically scrolling shoot ‘em up, incidentally featuring a girl called Soph who is on her way to the stars. But is there room in the gaming pantheon for yet another shooter, or would any of the last however many releases scratch that same itch? Well, without giving too much away, Sophstar does have a secret weapon, an ace up its sleeve…
The story of Sophstar, is, to be kind, slight. We are Soph, a girl who just so happens to be an ace fighter pilot, and we don’t seem to have much memory about who we are or where we came from. So far, so normal then. At least until a horde of aliens appear over the planet and someone has to go up into space to sort them out. Any guesses as to who gets sent? Yes, you’re right, it is good old Soph.
As she gets to the end of the first wave of baddies, she is contacted by a mysterious voice and the rest of the story is set in motion. The “narrative” is told via the medium of static cut-scenes with dramatic dialogue over the top. It is absolutely in keeping with the era the game is attempting to recapture but I’ll not be giving anymore hints or spoilers here.
In regards the presentation of Sophstar, and in the nicest possible way, it is like being back in the 1990s. In fact, all you’ll need is a bottle of Diamond White and a dodgy haircut to make the picture complete. Anyway, I digress. Sophstar is a vertically scrolling shooter and with the screen in the traditional 4:3 format there is a bit of space on either side of the action. There are various pictures that can fill that gap, being different depending on which ship you choose. This does work very well, and in fact it all looks pretty cool.
The actual game itself is also bang on period, with sprites whizzing hither and yon at great speed, throwing bullets around and generally trying to make your life hell. Maybe it could be described as a bullet hell? Accompanying those decent visuals and action that moves at a great lick, and the sound is also just right. Sophstar comes with many and varied laser effects, explosions and the traditional siren when a boss approaches. All in all, it’s got a great deal going for it in the presentation department.
But how about the actual gameplay, I hear you ask? Well, here the news is good as well. There are a plethora of modes to try, from the standard Arcade and Time attack modes to Endless and Score challenge modes too. And not only are there a lot of modes, there are also a lot of different ships to try out.
The choice of ship makes a great deal of difference to the way the game plays: there are all-out attack ships that focus all their power in front, dealing huge damage but being handicapped by having no coverage on the sides; there are defensive ships, that not only shoot over a good proportion of the screen, but have their super bomb ability replaced by a shield; and there are middle of the road ships, that do everything okay, and many more. Finding the right ship to match your playstyle is a must, and it is pretty good fun to try out the different craft.
Once you have found a craft that suits you, it’s off to battle, and it is here that Soph’s trick comes into play. You see, Soph can apparently teleport, and not only can she teleport, she can take her ship with her. Boss charging at you to ram you into oblivion? Simply hold down the RT button, pick a spot on the screen, and reappear there, safe and sound. There is a cool down period to stop you spamming this, but it is definitely an interesting mechanic. It normally goes straight out of the window when the going gets tough though, as finding a bit of the screen that isn’t covered in enemy projectiles can be a challenge. Other than this, it is very much business as usual – shoot some baddies, score some points, try not to die (you only have three continues, and once they are gone, it’s game over, man!) and defeat super size bosses at the end of the stages.
There are some odd choices in Sophstar, sadly. You know how when you play these games there are always power up capsules that enemies can drop, adding to your ship’s damage output? While there are the same capsules here to grab but they mainly seem to be score boosters. That’s a bit of a disappointment as your ship doesn’t get stronger as it goes through the game. It feels like a bit of a missed opportunity but other than that, Sophstar really doesn’t put a blaster or a rocket wrong.
If you like a shoot ‘em up, then Sophstar is an easy sell. It is challenging and manages to pack a good amount of content into a small package. Even if you don’t usually like shooters, the sheer variety of ways to play and tackle the levels will mean that you are likely to find a combo that works. There’s a very good chance you’ll have a decently enjoyable time with Sophstar.
Sophstar is on the Xbox Store