Shoot ’em ups, like other video game genres, have always seemed to follow a formula. Players encounter a variety of foes, zipping around while laying down enough firepower to take out whatever approaches their ship. What I’ve always expected as a given, was my ship safely flying toward the enemies I shoot, and having control over all the pew-pew directed at the aliens. Star Ghost, by Squarehead Studios, shakes up this formula and makes a better SHMUP by doing so. Differences aside, Star Ghost stands on its own and is a quality title that you should download to bolster your Wii U library.
Right from the start, you realize what is different about Star Ghost from other SHMUPs you have played. Your ship doesn’t stay in space as you’d ordinarily expect. Rather than staying on a set path, your ship requires that you hold the A button in order to fly up. Let go of the gas to fall. You are constantly providing gas and letting go in order to adjust the height of your ship. One other thing: there’s no shoot button. What – a “shoot” ’em up without a shoot button? Yes, the ship in Star Ghost shoots automatically. Before any boost to your rate of fire, the shots happen with a slight pause between each is something of which you need to be cognizant when an enemy approaches. These two changes to the aforementioned formula affect gameplay in a way contrary to the genre. Want to line up your ship to take out a line of enemies? You won’t be doing that so easily, since you cannot simply move up and down with the analog stick or cross. Want to unleash a barrage of lasers at a cluster of enemies? You don’t have such control, as you are subject to the rate and range of your automatic gun. Added amounts of precision and awareness become present that I have come to appreciate. The left stick does allow you to aim up and down, and holding left enables a traction field that includes a nuance of disabling your gun. Learn to use the traction field – and when not to – so you can absorb much-needed credits. This and aiming your shots add even more to think about when you are already working to maintain your position while keeping aware of your shots.
I’m impressed that one man is responsible for such a shiny package that is Star Ghost; Rhys Lewis has done a fine job with this title. Taking place over twelve star systems, the levels are visually stunning – with crisp, flashy effects on the big screen also represented very well in the default off-TV play on the GamePad. Dynamic level generation means you won’t experience levels the same way each time. What I enjoy about the dynamic level generation is that it works well with the level progression – or lack thereof. Also worth noting is the stellar soundtrack by composer David Wise. I’ve replayed the initial levels numerous times, and have not minded a bit partly due to the audio and visuals. The controls feel more apparent as I play than usual, which in this case is a good thing. I’ve found myself entertained simply by the taxing maneuvering of my ship, even just when flying through an asteroid field.
Hone your control skills, because you will need it. You cannot rely on beefing up your guns to blast your way through the levels, because your power-ups will eventually run out. Pick up credits found throughout the levels and those left behind by downed foes in order to purchase these power-ups at the end of each level. Improve your rate of fire, the spread, and recover some shield if you’ve taken a hit. Keep an eye out for a boost to your power-ups in the levels, but watch out – there’s also the occasional virus that will disable your gun if taken. Your ship being temporarily out of commission because of that pesky virus will make you wish you hadn’t improved your traction in hopes of brining in some errant credits. Collect what you can and decide where to spend or whether to save. You won’t be working toward that coveted checkpoint. Get taken out and find yourself without enough credits to continue, and that’s it. You are starting over from the beginning. This might turn some away, but I find it an enjoyable challenge.
Complete the level and you are given a breakdown of your progress. Getting “Good” “Great” and “Perfect” in different categories lends a sense of accomplishment. I also like being told at the end of each level how many points I am away from the next place on an in-game leaderboard. Reminiscent of the gaming days of my youth, a top five similar to those found in arcade games contains scores you want to best. Keep that multiplier going and rack up the points! This leaderboard, however, is one shallow feature of the game that desperately needs an update. It might be fun to work toward replacing the top five of a static leaderboard, but adding a regional leaderboard that includes scores of friends would provide a facet of competition and depth of replay value. Star Ghost is ripe for competing against your friends and other Commanders out there, and I have a feeling I would get sucked in trying to surpass the leading score of each leading player every time I make some progress. Further, in the modern days of improving through updates, I’d like to see a way of tracking how many perfects I earn and attempting to build upon this number. It might be a steep request, but if this information is already being provided, I’d like to be able to have it recorded and a way revisit completed levels and attempt 3/3 perfects in each.
Star Ghost is a solid entry to the Nintendo eShop that should be experienced even by those who don’t consider themselves fans of the SHMUP genre. The challenge is fair without feeling punishing, and you will want to get right back into the cockpit due to the varied levels and twist on controls. I often find myself jumping in for a brief play session, only to play again and again. The omission of an online leaderboard is even more apparent because of how well it would fit, but isn’t needed to enjoy the title. Star Ghost is a strong first step into Nintendo territory for Squarehead Studios, and a game that I plan to revisit time and time again on my Wii U.