by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
An Indie Cliche
Small, independent games are great. In fact, the ability that small developers have to bring their unique projects of passion to the masses with relative ease is one of the main reasons that I game on my PC with regularity while my Xbox One is, more often than not, a fancy Netflix machine. However, despite the modern classics and unique genre benders that the indie boom continues to produce every few months or so, I’m starting to grow a bit tired of the increasing number of titles that seem content to eschew actual gameplay ingenuity in favor of a big metaphorical sign reading “hey, look how indie I am!” Unfortunately, Shooting Stars! (yep, the exclamation mark is part of the title- isn’t that quirky!?) is one of these games, and I can’t say I really enjoyed my time playing it.
Immediately after starting up Shooting Stars! I was disappointed to see that it employs one of my least favorite trends in quirky indie games- low detail pixel art. Obviously it’s personal preference, but it seems that what was once a throwback to games of yore has become the easy way out for devs not looking to spend much time on graphics. There’s a way to make pixel art beautiful and appealing, but Shooting Stars! hasn’t found it. Does it look like a game from the 70s? Sure, I guess, but character models are bland, text is hard to read, and nothing on the screen is ever particularly enjoyable to look at. The music is made to match, with a simple quasi-retro electric song repeating in the background and simple, repetitive (and frankly very grating) sound effects blasting throughout.
The best way I can think to describe the gameplay of Shooting Stars! is if Galaga made a Reddit account and spent way too much time browsing ‘dank memes’. The game is thoroughly infused with internet culture references, which, unfortunately, are more forced than actually funny or clever. The premise is simple: you’re a guy on a hoverboard holding a cat that shoots lasers, and you’ve got to fight through waves of enemies and bosses without getting hit too many times. As you play and take out enemies you’ll upgrade your main laser attack and even earn special attacks capable of laying destruction to anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in the crossfire. The simplicity of the game’s mechanics is both a strength and a weakness. There are only three control inputs- move with the mouse, shoot with left mouse button, and use your special attack with the right mouse button- keeping controls and movement tight and responsive, but also severely limiting any kind of depth.
Since this is an arcade-style game the goal is to score as highly as possible, which is unfortunately undermined by some of the game’s random elements. Every few minutes you’ll come across a boss, and each time you play you’ll get random bosses in a random order. The problem is that some of these bosses are incredibly simple to defeat, and others are guaranteed to land quite a few hits. This makes it very challenging to compare your scores as it can be more a result of which bosses popped up that how well you actually played. This imbalance is extended to the special weapons, which are vital to success. Random special attacks will be dropped throughout gameplay, and taking one replaces the one you currently have equipped. It’s unfortunate that you can’t revert back to an old one since some absolutely dominate the screen, and others are of little use at all.
One of the game's big selling points seems to be its referential, witty, random humor. As part of the assumed target demographic of young, internet savvy video game players, I’m disappointed that the humor really fell quite flat. The bosses include such pop culture celebrities such as a grammar Nazi, Chuck Norris, Daft Punk, and many more, which do have the potential to be pretty funny. Unfortunately they’re relegated to one or two lines that barely even attempt humor or satire. They’re just there, and the fact that it kind of looks like them is supposed to be funny enough. It’s just not, seeming more like a list created by someone who researched “things people on the internet like” than someone who actually knows anything about the things being referenced.
I know humor and style are incredibly subjective topics, so maybe you’ll try Shooting Stars! and totally dig it. Maybe you’ll get hooked and laugh your way through a few hours of rogue-like blasting. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case for me. Shooting Stars! could have been a lot worse- thankfully the controls are tight, there are some entertaining special attacks, and there is some challenge to be had. It’s just that it also doesn’t really do anything that we haven’t already seen a few dozen times before, done at least equally as well. It’s just not funny, original, or adrenaline-fueled as it needs to be to stand out among a crowded indie pack.
Some interesting special attacks, game runs and controls smoothly.
Drab visuals, annoying audio, unoriginal gameplay, and repetitive enemies.