Released in 1984, Star Force sticks you in control of a space ship as you go through levels blasting a variety of enemy types. Yes, it’s yet another retro shmup on Switch, this time set across 25 levels and offering quite a stripped down shooting experience. In Arcade Archives Star Force your ship (the Final Star) has a cannon to shoot down foes, but there are no other weapons, charged attacks or bombs to help you out of dangerous situations. You don’t have multiple options to consider during the levels, survival is just a matter of avoiding the enemies, their fire and gunning down as many of them as possible.
The straightforward action is accompanied by the kind of simple visuals you’d expect from the game’s age, but there’s a surprising amount of variety, too. Multi-coloured speckles are seen against the black of space and you’ll fly over lots of different coloured terrain; some sandy, some rocky, usually with metal panels or other objects spread across the surface. The audio features basic sound effects and some adventurous, exploratory music. Initially working quite well, the repetitiveness of the audio means it does grate after a while.
The first 24 stages are named after the letters of the Greek alphabet and then after Omega you move on to 'Infinity'; a stage that repeats until your stock of lives is gone. Each stage ends with a letter that you must blast before you scroll past it. Should you fail, a portion of the level is replayed, but despite the fact it moves left and right with two cannons shooting at you, these end of level encounters aren't too tricky. Naturally, they get tougher as the game progresses, but failure never seems unfair.
Reaching those end of stage letters is not straightforward, however, as after a few levels the game becomes obnoxiously difficult. There’s the usual variety of bullet patterns to contend with, but they frequently combine, crossing into nets that require quick reflexes and careful movement to navigate. Some enemies hurtle on to screen just as you're avoiding fire from something else, others shoot behind them and some seem to be heading off-screen only to then make a horizontal charge in your direction. Getting to know enemy behaviour helps you out, but even as you start to shoot and move out of your current predicament you need to be thinking of how you are going to get out of the next one.
All of this happens on the default difficulty. This default difficulty is labelled 'Extremely Easy', with five tougher settings available and the only way to make things easier being the option to increase your number of lives from three to five. Success, be it a cleared stage or just successfully navigating a tricky section, can feel good, but there’s much that can go wrong during your battle, including the invisible barrier blocking you off from roughly the top quarter of the playfield. Like enemy patterns, knowing the limit of where you can travel can avoid an untimely demise, but it’s frustrating to have to a snake about the screen, when a straightforward loop would work if only the game would let you travel a few pixels further up.
There are some (relatively) easy levels peppered throughout that serve as a break from the chaos; you may still be constantly moving, but it will be less frantic. Extra lives are awarded at certain scores, but there are no continues. HAMSTER’s usual online leaderboards are available which provide some replay value as you aim to improve your score. The Hi-Score mode is essentially a less tweak-able version of the regular arcade one, but the Caravan mode works well as you focus on scoring highly with the five-minute time limit. In addition to simply shooting down enemies, items and some scenery can be blasted for extra points, giving you a number of ways to improve your scores. If you’d like to see how you compare with a friend rather than the leaderboards, alternating two-player is available.
Lacking the bells and whistles of other titles, Star Force provides basic shooting action. With a good variety of enemies (and their attacks) to contend with it can still provide some entertainment, but the difficulty mostly feels annoying, rather than providing an enjoyable challenge. The audio can prove to be a further irritant and although Arcade Archives Star Force can be fun at times, it's unlikely to offer long-term appeal especially with so many high-quality shooters already on Switch.