Straimium Immortaly is the newest game from Caiysware and Digerati, and is best described as Weird. Yep, with a capital W. It is officially described as a “shmup roguelike dungeon crawler”, and this is certainly an accurate description. It is also a retro looking game, with pixelated graphics and lots of things to find in the procedurally generated “Cubicus”. It does all though deserve further exploration, so come with me to a vibrant colourful world where everything is as alien as it’s possible to be.
The story of Straimium Immortaly is that you need to go and kill a Queeni – the creature in charge of the whole Cubicus, as the dungeons are known – which is protected by various sub-bosses that can be destroyed or skipped, as you wish. As you explore the Cubicus, you’ll find yourself going into different sections, each of which has a kind of peril rating attached. They start with sector 1 – Goreponics – which has a one skull difficulty level, and they get harder from there on out. The interesting thing about these dungeons is that they provide a different layout each time, and each configuration has a seed code that can be entered at the start of a run. In this way, it is possible to learn the layout of one particular level, and with the knowledge of which rooms are attached to which you can start to build up an idea of what’s about to come next. If you enjoy the thrill of uncertainty, then the seed code can be left blank, and you’ll never know what you are about to fly into.
The Cubicus is made up of a series of rooms, most of which have a load of enemies in, and a treasure chest that will open when all the enemies are defeated. These chests contain lots of different things, from health top-ups to Pinkies, the in-game currency. There are also rooms that have hats to find, which can be equipped to help you survive a little bit longer, along with portals to perilous rooms which can, possibly, deliver access to a giant chest and more powerful weapons.
The more powerful the weapons in your arsenal, the easier your life will be in the battles to come. While they only last for the run that you are on, some of the upgrades are very useful, like a homing lightning gun. There are also rooms where a weird looking creature will sell you items to make the run easier, letting you pay with Pinkies. And further to all that Straimium Immortaly provides rooms which play out like a side-scrolling arcade game, where the idea is to… well, I’m really not sure what the idea is to be honest, but it certainly seems to revolve around trying to stay alive.
Once you’ve explored the Cubicus and prepared yourself, the next stage of Straimium is to take on the boss of the particular zone you find yourself in. Luckily, this is the one fixed point around which the game revolves. Each time you find your way to the boss of the zone, it will always be the same boss with the same attack patterns. Familiarity never breeds contempt, so at least it is comforting to know that there is one room where you know what to do. The bosses themselves are a varied bunch, from a sort of giant cyclops octopus thing to a giant wheel with a skull in the middle that flies around the screen. Yet with this healthy dose of imagination comes quite a steep increase in difficulty. Even the boss of the one skull difficulty level can seriously mess you up, and with this being a Rogue-like game, if you die then you have to start again from the beginning.
And it’s here that the addictiveness of the gameplay of Straimium Immortaly begins to sink its claws into you. Each run sees you get that little bit further, allows the bosses’ health bar to be whittled down that little bit further as you begin to see the patterns of attacks. And believe me, taking bosses down in this is a pure gaming high. Of course, with only one health bar to preserve, and with refills of that bar being hidden in chests in rooms full of enemies, there is a real risk/reward mechanic that will keep you heading back in for more. It may be easier to preserve your health, avoid as many fights as possible and get to the boss with a pretty full health bar, but exploring and finding stronger weapons may see you get to the boss with a smaller health pool left, but with more damage output. The balance between the two paths is the one you have to strike, and the gameplay on offer here is a real tightrope act.
So graphically, as I mentioned at the top, the game is pixel art of the highest order, with your character looking like it wouldn’t be out of place in #IDARB. Much of it runs as a small pile of pixels that somehow exudes personality, and other than that the presentation is a little, well, I hesitate to use the word weird again but there’s really no other way to put it. The language on display is a strange kind of amalgamation of baby talk and mythology, and honestly I find it a bit annoying. Being asked at the end of a run if “I has tried being gud?” did make me want to throw the controller out the window.
There are a couple of little niggles with Straimium Immortaly that, while they don’t spoil the game, do take a bit of getting used to. One is in regards to the shooting, as every fibre of my being wants this to be a twin stick shooter, as it seems like it would be a perfect fit for the gameplay. However, it isn’t, and the direction you are shooting while you hold the fire button down is the direction you’ll continue to shoot until the button is released. What this means is that if you fly from right to left, firing as you go, to fire from left to right you need to release the fire button, face the opposite direction, potentially flying into enemy bullets to do so, then begin to shoot again. The number of times I found myself shooting in the wrong direction, while holding the right stick in the direction I wanted to fire, and dying horribly as a result doesn’t bear thinking about. The other niggle is that sometimes the enemies are hard to make out against a backdrop that features animated creatures; like bats, for instance. Quite often I dismissed an enemy as a background detail, before it then shot me.
All in all though and the hook and addictiveness of the gameplay of Straimium Immortaly on Xbox One just about overcomes these drawbacks. Seeing your skills improve, taking out the bosses after numerous attempts, getting new mutators and hats, and unlocking new modes like the boss rush option keeps you coming back for more. Yes it’s weird, and yes it’s wacky, but Straimium Immortaly is worth a play.