Starr Mazer DSP (Imagos Softworks and Pixeljam) is a love letter to the shoot ’em ups of yesteryear, drawing inspiration from classics such as R-Type, Image Fight and Darius but a few with rogue-like elements mixed in. Fans of the genre will find plenty to like, but some players may be turned off by the lack of persistent progression.
There’s really not much in the way of actual narrative. You assume the role of various pilots who must fight to protect Earth from an alien race called “The G’ell”. Your team fight under the command of the “Admiral”, who just happens to be a cat. Honestly I think a more developed story would only have bogged the game down. What really matters here is the gameplay. The story works well with the overall theme and provides a platform for shooting things (as well as some funny lines) but if you were after something substantial maybe look elsewhere.
In a game like this the moment to moment is make or break. And I’m pleased to report that the gameplay is excellent. It’s fast, fluid and above all else, fun. Before a mission starts you assemble a squadron of several pilots, each with unique abilities and stats. The number of pilots you buy is then effectively your number of lives. When one of your pilots is killed the next in line takes their place, bringing with them a new set of skills. The constantly shifting weaponry at your disposal means that you often have to alter your playstyle in the middle of a fight. This adds a nice layer of strategy and keeps each run feeling unique. I also liked the way that the in-game currency “Carbomite” actually added to gameplay.
When an enemy is killed they will drop carbomite, which serves as both a charge for your weapons and as currency. To collect the carbomite all you have to do is fly over it. However if two chunks come together a larger piece is formed. This actually rewards players who are patient and have the ability to focus on both the enemy and their possible carbomite haul. Overall the gameplay is fast and satisfying, I can see people really getting into it. My only real issue is just how far the game takes its rogue-like elements. I felt like the permanent loss of all progress was a little much. I’m sure there are a lot of people who love this kind of thing but personally I like to feel as though I have achieved something tangible after each session of play. Losing all progress and all currency every time I exit the game is the antithesis of this. And while bits of each stage are randomised, it wasn’t quite enough. Having said this I know that there are people who will love the feeling of slowly getting better and mastering the game.
Graphics and Sound
The aesthetic of Starr Mazer DSP really helped to keep me playing. It’s bright, colourful and fits the theme perfectly. The pixel art on display is stunning and every scene is a joy to behold. The soundtrack too, deserves a mention. It really captures the retro style and the pounding beat perfectly matches the action on-screen, lending a sense of rhythm to the carnage. There’s not much more to say really. This is just a great looking game.
The controls are very simple and work fine. You use the arrow keys to move and X and Z to fire your weapons. It does the job. The game is still in early access but I would still like to see mouse support added to the menus, they seem to be geared more towards controller users at present. There also should be some way to rebind keys. Hopefully these things will be sorted in a later build.
The difficulty is probably what you’re expecting if you’re a fan of the genre. Starr Mazer DSP certainly doesn’t pull punches and it took me more than a few tries to even beat the first stage. New players might be slightly intimidated, but those with more experience will find a meaty challenge that manages to avoid being punishing.
This really comes down to a simple question. How good are you willing to get? For those looking to play casually this may be a no-go. If you aren’t willing to spend time improving then you will be replaying the same stage over and over. But for those of you who are willing to stick with the game and improve, I can really see this being something you could play for a very long time. There is a high skill ceiling and the quest for the highscore is sure to keep players coming back. If you enjoy games that allow you to grow as a player and gradually master the mechanics, Starr Mazer DSP is a must.