I’ve mentioned before how I am developing an almost phobia of the many roguelite and roguelike games available on the market, and while at the moment it is nothing more than a strong aversion, Starward Rogue will seemingly not help.
From Arcen Games and Klabater, Starward Rogue is described as a “Bullet hell shooter in a rogue-lite labyrinth”, and I have to say, that is a perfectly fair description. So, can this be the game to finally sway me towards the dark side, or will I be running, screaming for the hills?
Let’s kick off with the way the game is presented, and here the news is okay, at risk of damning it with faint praise. Starward Rogue is presented as a series of discrete rooms, joined by doors, the camera view working from a top-down perspective. In these rooms are a variety of obstacles, many of which are destructible, and enemies that are there to make your life unhappy. The graphics are extremely simple, being kind, and even the bosses that you come across at the end of each floor aren’t wildly exciting.
The flip side of this is that there are more bullets than you could ever wish for on the screen, but there is absolutely no slowdown to be seen; the whole game moves at a good speed. The bullet hell part of the game is certainly bang on the money, if you’ll pardon the pun. The sound comes in the usual kind of explosions and shooting noises that you would expect, accompanied by some pumping “choons” to help hurry the action along. All in all, the presentation works.
Don’t expect a story though. We are in the Megalith, a labyrinth built into the side of a star, and beyond this, we are having to shoot things, pretty much because there are things there to shoot. We are contacted by someone when we start, telling us that we need to get to the fifth floor to rescue him, but whether this is enough to count as a narrative I’m not too sure.
So, on to the main part of Starward Rogue then – the actual gameplay loop. The game plays out predominantly as a twin-stick shooter, with the left stick used to move your mech around, and the right not only choosing the direction that the main weapon fires, but also firing said weapon. Each mech also has a secondary weapon, and a missile launcher equipped. The secondary weapons can be offensive or defensive, with each of the multiple numbers of mechs running its own particular loadout.
A current favourite is the Flame Tank, and as the name may suggest, it is armed with a flamethrower. However, it’s in the secondary weapon in which it is arguably even more useful, as it can destroy enemy projectiles. When you see the amount of those on the screen, it is easy to see why it helps! With such a wide variety of mechs to pick from, there is bound to one that suits your preferred playstyle.
As you go through the levels, which are all procedurally generated helping each run be a little different from the previous ones, there are various things that can be found to help you out. There are shop rooms where you can spend the coins that you find in the rest of the levels, buying up new weapons and other gear. You can also spend the coins to buy EXP, which is usually earned by killing enemies, and this is actually a pretty good idea.
You see, when you level up, you can purchase enhancements for your mech for the duration of the run you are on, and these can turn the tide of the game in your favour. Whether this has the capacity to carry extra missiles or to gain enhanced healing from health pickups, I haven’t come across a bad choice yet! You do have to pick from three random choices, but every little helps, right?
Getting through a series of rooms, killing anything that moves (and even some things that don’t, as crates can give extra coins), getting stronger, will inevitably lead to an encounter with the boss of the floor you are on. You’ll know when you find one, as they are displayed on the screen in a loving close-up before the fight actually begins and they attempt to fill you full of holes. This is where the bullet hell portion of Starward Rogue is ramped all the way up. The sheer amount of things getting flung your way makes it difficult to survive, let alone try and do some damage to the boss. Should you be able to beat the boss, the next floor awaits and the whole rigmarole starts again.
However, if you have an aversion to the whole roguelite and roguelike scene, you should be fine with Starward Rogue. This is much more like a shooter in the same vein as The Binding of Isaac, and the twin stick mechanics made it a lot of fun to play. It isn’t a game that has the same hook as some of the best twin-stick shooters out there, but there is still enjoyment to be had.