Most shmups ask you to shoot your way through hordes of enemy ships while dodging gunfire. Stinger asks you to do this while juggling. The cute, goofy exterior of the game hides just how challenging it can be, as while it may be hard to take smiling shoes, flying phones and whirling donuts seriously, they're all highly dangerous. If you're hoping for power ups to get you past these creatures, you'd better get good at multitasking.
Konami headquarters is in flames, with aliens having kidnapped the old man in charge; you may be wondering what for, but these aliens clearly have a strange attack strategy. They've animated swirly shapes, TVs and other odd, cute objects and sent them to attack the planet and the player. It doesn't seem like much of a fleet, but once the first bloodthirsty ringing phone homes right in on your ship and blows you up, you'll learn a little respect for this force.
Silly as they are, these creatures can take you down in a single careless instant. Part of that is because of some flaws in the player's ship. It's slow, slow, slow, so unless you've started dodging well before a shot or ship is coming your way it's going to be very hard to avoid it. This problem is compounded because everything in the game is particularly colourful and bright, which works well with the game's cheery, silly aesthetic, but can also make it really hard to see bullets coming your way. Slow ship plus hard-to-see shots makes for some challenging times.
Your ship doesn't fire very fast, either, or have rapid fire. Every shot requires a press of the button, which can get exhausting but is manageable. The bigger challenge is that you can only have so many shots on the screen at one time. Hitting an enemy makes a shot disappear, but missing means you're stuck waiting for the bullet to go-off screen. You can have four or five shots going at once, but firing and missing means a split-second delay before you can fire again, so you could have an enemy flying in your face in that moment you can't fire. It encourages players to fire sparingly and take careful aim, which is great if you're looking for a challenge.
You also have a secondary shot that comes out when you fire. This shot drops down in an arc, and these are what you use to take out enemy installations on the ground; you can't hit them with your regular shots. So, you have to aim these shots as best you can while also shooting down the enemies in the sky, and because of the arc it dictates how you have to fly. A small squadron of ringing phones may be flying your way, but a weird face on the ground could be spitting bullets at you. Which do you prioritize, and how do you best place yourself to hit both enemies? Positioning and careful shot choice becomes key, and makes for a much more intense game than other shmups that would just let you spray bullets everywhere.
A big issue is that your ship has a huge hit box - one that seems a little bigger than the ship itself at times. It's very easy to slam into an enemy you thought you were going to just skirt by, and when combined with the slow ship and firing rate, it can make for some unfair deaths. It's especially bad against the boss of level three (an angry faucet, this game is strange), whose bubble shots seemed to still cause damage even after they'd left the screen. It's not to the point where it feels like there's something wrong with the game, but it does force you to give your enemies a wider berth than you may be used to.
The enemies are ruthless as well. They all seem to move a little faster than you do, and many of them have some homing capabilities. They'll seek out your current location or adjust their flight path in some way. Whatever an enemy is doing when it enters the screen, it's typically going to be doing something different when it leaves it. You need to be prepared to dodge whatever new thing the enemy does, which is difficult to do with such a pokey ship. It's still doable, but you need to be paying close attention.
You may not be paying much attention, though, since Stinger uses a unique power-up system. Instead of just shooting pods and collecting a new gun, you have to bounce bells around the screen by shooting them. The bell, for the most part, is only worth points, but every five hits turns it into a different power-up. As a warning, though, if you hit it after it turns into a power-up it turns back into being worth points.
So, not only are you weaving around enemies, guiding your shots so that they hit things in the ground and air with your varied weapons, but you also have to keep a bell bouncing in the air while keeping track of how many times you've hit it. It's a lot to manage, and in later levels becomes incredibly difficult to do all at once. The power-ups you get from those bells can really help you out, but until you really know the level you'd better get used to the basic shot.
The Wii U's restore states make it easy to keep trying the same area until you get through, although death happens so fast in this game that you may find yourself reloading the same area multiple times just to survive. The original game does take steps to make your life easier as well, though, as it gives you infinite continues to try each level. Between the two systems you can learn each level with time and practice.
Each level has a charm and variety that makes it fun to replay, even when dying constantly. Green fields filled with churches (a LOT of churches) give way to the sea and Egyptian deserts, all filled with the game's bizarre, hostile menagerie. Each level has its own foes with their own attack patterns, so every stage means new visuals and new attacks to learn. The stages also alternate between vertical and horizontal areas, changing up how enemies approach and how your shots work (you have a targeted shot for ground enemies in vertical stages, thankfully). It's always fresh and creative, and will keep the player from getting bored with the shooting or visuals.
The music isn't, though. The same couple of songs play through most of the game, and while they're cheery, upbeat tracks, they can get old after a while. It's far better than most other games that have limited soundtracks and stays pleasant to listen to throughout, but it still shows an odd lack of creativity in a game that was overflowing with it in every other aspect.
Stinger asks a lot of the player. Dodging ground and air installations while positioning yourself just right to shoot back is quite difficult, and gets even harder if you're risking your life to bounce a bell around to get a power-up. It's a busy game, and despite its cute visuals will provide a solid challenge for players. It's funny and charming when it's not mercilessly killing you, and is still a lot of fun even as your poor ship's soul leaves its body.