by Howie Howard
reviewed on PC
Who's the Boss?
The Boss, is the boss in Starena. This boss rush game by developer Darksun Studios and is essentially an action game with some RPG elements thrown in to liven things up a bit. The RPG elements allows the player to customize their mecha by adding new skins and weapons as they become available. A boss type of enemy is fought in every round with the need to get past each one before the next one is unlocked. Then if you so wish, you can go back and fight defeated opponents again for practice or better your time.
The opponent bosses are not easy to beat, that's for sure. I had a tough time beating all of the bosses I fought after the tutorial battle. Admittedly, I'm not great at some fast twitch action games, but the WASD game controls did not help me in this one. The game is keyboard controlled with the mouse used to activate the weapon and to speed forward in order to perform a fast escape. Other keys are used to perform additional functions like the space bar to perform a jump and F to get fan support. The boss is so fast, and the player controls are clunky enough so that just a few hits knocked me out of action time and again. After each smack-down I collected a handful of gold and I tried again until I just got frustrated and had to take a break. Even with the Billy Bass function enabled, which makes the boss easier, I still couldn't win a battle with out trying multiple times.
I'm Running Around and Going Nowhere!
Starena takes place sometime in the future in a four-sided gladiatorial style arena. The player is assigned a small mecha named J3, and as fights are won and renown is built up, it can be upgraded with customized weapons. It’s a nice feature and there are a lot of very nice things in this game. If you can manage to knock a weapon off the boss, then you can pick it up and use it against him. The fans cheer and the arena announcer describes the action. Fans are J3's most important allies because they throw gold and items into the arena when something they like happens. The gold coins enhance J3's attack power and the fans throw out med kits that can be run over to restore health.
If you do nothing except run around like I did most of the time trying to avoid being pummeled to death by a mallet hit, then the fans boo and throw bottles at you. I thought that was quite amusing and it showed how bad I was doing. As battles are won additional fans become followers. Occasionally a fan with a special ability to help will appear in the training facility and they can be added to the fan roster. Fans are very important because they can be seated, one on each side of the square arena and they can be changed as new ones are acquired. If you can manage to find the F key then the fan that is the closest will throw out a med kit or a special combat item that can be used. Do it quickly because the boss will be on you in a flash. Needless to say, the fans didn't help me much because I got pummeled into submission before I could locate the F key!
Training Is What Makes A Champion
The training facility is the place where our hero will spend his spare time between matches. After wins are accomplished then the hero can frequent the shop and gold can be spent on weapons and other upgrades. There's a gym where the mecha can practice fighting a dummy bot and a device that simulates an opponent’s punching action. There is even a set of weights that can be used to increase strength and areas to practice jumping. Make sure you search everything in the training center such as trash cans because items can be found. There are other items and machines present but they didn't seem do anything other than say “this is a machine.” Pressing the Esc key will bring up a data screen where the settings can be accessed. Other data concerning opponents and other interesting information can be looked at as well. This is also where weapons are modified. All in all, the training facility is laid out very well and it is functional.
The graphics are 3D voxel in nature and are more than sufficient. There is one thing that I did not necessarily like while in the training center. The same W, A, S, D keys are used to move around. A combination of the movement keys need to be pressed in order to move diagonally. Like alternately pressing W and A. When changing direction, you can't see where you are going, not until the overhead scene shifts position. It's kind of awkward. The sounds are nice with the neat tune that is playing in the background and it's rather uplifting. The battle sounds consisting of explosions, crowd cheers and boos tell how the battle is going. The best part though is the announcer comments which makes for a pleasant all-around gladiatorial experience. Just do not attack the announcer’s booth because he will complain!
Final Thoughts From A Rookie Gladiator
Other than the keyboard game controls there is not much to complain about because Starena has a whole lot to offer. There is a lot of gladiator action and a whole lot to do other than just fighting. For such a simple game it really is quite complex. The learning curve is not all that steep, but the fight sequences are extremely challenging. Too bad the key stroke action caused some frustration. Maybe with more practice it wouldn't be as bad. My main problem with the controls was the finger placement on the keys and the need to quickly move my fingers on one hand in order to press a certain direction key. Maybe my keyboard is too small, and I do have large fingers and found that I wasn't able to find the keys quickly enough. In this game not being able to move out of the way of a hit from a big hammer can spell disaster.
My suggestion to improve game movement would be to add the option for a game controller or a joystick or maybe just have different difficulty levels. Using the point and click method with the mouse by placing the cursor on a spot with a click might make the character move to the intended spot be easier. Then the other hand could operate the fire, jump, fan keys and others. However, even with the frustrating key controls, Starena gets two thumbs up because it is a very worthwhile and fun game. Fun is what it is all about.
Very challenging, a lot of fun. Arena announcer and fans cheering and booing is first rate.
Keyboard movement controls can be rather frustrating