Star Ghost's arrival on the Wii U eShop might appear to be fairly sudden - the game was announced mere weeks ago - but its inception and gestation have actually taken quite some time. Based on the 2015 iOS release Star Drift, this unique take on the old-school arcade shooter concept is notable for the fact that its developer - Rhys Lewis - has enjoyed stints at Rare and Retro Studios, two companies that hold a special place in the heart of many a Nintendo fan.
Such expectation almost sets the game for a fall; how can such a humble project, crafted by just one man, possibly compare to the likes of Metroid Prime, Banjo-Kazooie and the Donkey Kong Country series - the latter of which, as we know, was worked on by both of Lewis' former employers? Despite the level of anticipation, Star Ghost manages to entertain and challenge, and is testament to the capacity of one-developer studios to craft unique and engaging experiences.
As Lewis has himself admitted, Star Ghost is basically the barrel-riding section in Donkey Kong Country Returns writ large. Your ship doesn't fly in a straight line, and if left to its own devices will plunge to the bottom of the screen where it bounces off an otherwise invisible force field. Like the infamous mobile hit Flappy Bird, holding the A button will cause the ship to rise upwards, and this mechanic changes the complexion of the game dramatically. By removing traditional shoot 'em up control, Star Ghost offers a challenge which is unique in the genre. Knowing exactly when to tap and release that button can be the difference between missing an incoming projectile, avoiding a collision with scenery or grabbing that much-needed power-up. There's a skill level involved here which goes way beyond traditional shooters, which allow you to move your craft around the screen at will.
Controlling your craft's upward thrust is just one aspect of the interface. Pushing up and down on the left-hand analogue stick allows you to angle the direction of your guns, but there's a limit on how far you can push them - you certainly can't spin through a full 360 degrees. This narrow arc of fire means you have to link your shots with the current angle of your ship; to begin with, you may find yourself struggling to marry up the two processes. We found that when learning the ropes, it's perhaps best to ignore the analogue stick entirely and instead use the up and down motion of your craft to aim your fire; once you've become accustomed to this, you can introduce the stick for improved accuracy. Trying to use both from the off is akin to patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. To reduce complexity, firing is automatic, but even this makes it feel subtly different to other shooters. In a genre where buttons are often mashed indiscriminately, it's slightly unnerving to find that you very little control over your weapons in Star Ghost. The firing may be automatic but also pauses, however, when you engage your ship's traction field.
While your main weapon remains constant, pick-ups can be used to enhance its potential. Spread pick-ups add more projectiles to a single volley of fire, fanning out from your ship in a wave of laser death. Fire rate pick-ups do as the name suggests, while your traction field - which can be used to pull in pick-ups and other items - can be expanded to fill more of the screen. A repulsor shield has the opposite effect and forces unwanted objects away, while missiles greatly augment your offensive potential. A shield replenishing pick-up allows you to regenerate your health should you take a knock, and soon becomes an essential item. Not everything you come across should be collected, however - viruses shut down your weapons systems and cause the screen to distort unpleasantly; their effect is short-lived, but often enough to leave you wide open to attack, thus ending your run. Power-ups don't last forever, either - they're time-limited, which means you'll constantly be hunting around the screen for new boosts in order to keep your ship in perfect fighting condition. Blue tokens are by far and away the most plentiful pick-up you'll see during your adventure - these are used as currency to purchase weapon power-ups at the conclusion of each stage.
Each level is a short and sweet dash to the finish line, and despite them being procedurally-generated there's not a massive amount of variety on show. You shoot enemies, occasionally navigate through narrow passageways and blast apart the odd asteroid. Sentinel battles break up this pattern; these are boss fights with powerful enemy ships which have a seemingly overwhelming number of weapons at their disposal - defeating them is no easy task, and if you don't manage to take them down within a set time limit they warp away, costing you valuable points.
And points are really everything in Star Ghost; while the game does have a definite structure - with each stage following a pre-determined theme despite being randomly-generated - the ultimate objective is to rack up as many points as possible. Chain together hits and you'll build up your score multiplier, paving the way for mammoth totals. This multiplier can be enhanced further with the Turbo Multiplier pick-up, but taking a hit from an enemy or colliding with an environmental feature knocks your multiplier down to nothing, so keeping that score high becomes a real challenge - especially in the later levels, when the difficulty ramps up considerably. Because the game loops when you complete it, the opportunity to claim a massive high score is limited only by your skill, but because stages are created at random there's enough incentive to keep playing even when you've seen all of the 12 star systems. Sadly for a game which is so focused on high scores, there's no online leaderboard in Star Ghost at present, limiting players to boasting on Miiverse. Lewis has stated that this is something he could potentially add in the future, assuming there is demand.
While the learning curve might be considered harsh, Star Ghost harks back to the good old days of the coin-op era where repeat play yields better results as you slowly but surely hone your skills and concoct new tactics to survive. Initially it feels quite brutal, a fact which no doubt has something to do with the unorthodox control scheme. However, like the best game experiences, Star Ghost slowly but surely opens up as your own skills and confidence grow; masterfully controlling the momentum of your ship while simultaneously directing your guns at a wave of enemies is incredibly satisfying - even more so when you're able to combine this with deftly collecting pick-ups to maintain your ship's slowly-decaying weapons.
Star Ghost's impeccable presentation is made all the more remarkable when you take into account the small size of the team behind it. The visuals owe a lot to the seminal Geometry Wars series, with lots of neon lines and flashy explosions. Levels are somewhat basic, with environmental features being little more than straight lines, and enemy types repeat throughout. Still, there's enough visual flair here for the typical player, and this extends to the excellent use of speech. Keeping track of your shield and weapon power is hard when you're focused on avoiding incoming fire, so the friendly female computer constantly keeps you informed, stating when weapons are at full capacity or have dropped down a level. While we're on the subject of visuals, it's worth noting that Off-TV is enabled by default, mirroring what's happening on the main screen - the game doesn't attempt to make clever use of the Wii U GamePad's display outside of this.
On the audio side of things, Star Ghost's connection with Rare and Retro is increased by the involvement of David Wise, a near-legendary name in video game music circles. Wise was Rare's in-house composer for many years and worked with Retro on creating the fantastic soundtrack to Tropical Freeze. The spaced-out and retro-sounding music used here is the perfect accompaniment to the on-screen action; despite the low number of songs they never outstay their welcome, with the main theme being a particular highlight. Sound effects - such as the gentle hum of your ship's engines when you engage thrust and the abundant number of punchy explosions - enhance the aural experience even more.
Star Ghost is an assured eShop debut for Squarehead Studios, and shows that quality breeds quality; the combination of a former Rare and Retro staffer with one of the most iconic video game musicians of all time has resulted in a game which initially seems quite simplistic, but has a surprising level of depth, replayability and charm. While it's true that the core gameplay doesn't possess all that much variety, the stern challenge calls for a level of concentration that is rarely asked for with modern games; merely surviving is tricky enough, but when you add in the allure of improving your score, it's easy to become hopelessly engrossed. Having said that, if the notion of tirelessly striving to improve your own personal best doesn't appeal then you might find your interest in Star Ghost is fleeting - especially as bragging rights are hard to enforce with this title, as an online leaderboard isn't included at launch.
Still, this is a minor point in the grand scheme of things, and fans of old-school shooters will lap up the nostalgia - both from the gameplay and the presentation - while those players who weren't around during the 'golden era' should surely appreciate the unique control mechanics which reward perseverance and skill.
I'll get it eventually. Looks pretty neat.
This sounds pretty cool.
I'm price sensitive for digital games with a relatively short lifespan, so not sure that I'll buy... but I am interested.
Hmm, sounds good! But yeah I'll add it to my watch list but don't think I'll buy it just yet.
Add to watch list like the other comments. Will buy but not yet.
I'll be buying it to support Indie devs on Nintendo platforms. I'm old school and R-Type is in my top 10.
Yeah, I may get it, but my watch list is already huge...
I did a review of this too. It's pretty awesome!
For me this read like a 7, as I'm not really one for trying to beat own score. I'm sure I'll pick it up down the line though.
Will get this eventually. Love shooters like this. Geometry Wars is a lot fun.
Got this today and have already had a 2 hour solid session on it. It's extremely accessible and definitely worth supporting this indie developer on Wii U.
Played it a bit at lunch break. I like it. But now I want to play even more "Geometry Wars"!
Is there an Off-TV mode? I hope so
Buying today. Was planning on it even before learning of the review and price.
Bought this today and played it for a bit. It's very seldom eShop releases have such polish and big attention to details. Sure, it's not a big game, but nevertheless...
@Chandlero Yes, the Gamepad mirrors the TV.
Yay! A new 'shmup'!
Totally buying it!
I'll take a serious look at this once I get further through my back log! Simply no point starting anything new if it's 6 month's before I can play it.....
"Sadly for a game which is so focused on high scores, there's no online leaderboard in Star Ghost at present, limiting players to boasting on Miiverse. Lewis has stated that this is something he could potentially add in the future, assuming there is demand."
How in the world there wouldn't be demand for online leaderboards at least, in a high-score oriented shooter???
And it's a huge point, not a minor one.
Now I don't know what to do, I'll probably leave it in the eShop
I will definitely get this soon, however, I'm ordering a new video card tomorrow and I just preordered 2 PSN titles and I have Pokken Tournament and 2 amiibo releasing this Friday so it'll have to wait a couple weeks.
Gameplay and especially soundtrack-wise it looks fantastic but I am not too much into trying to beat my own scores so without online leaderboards I will unfortunately have to give this one a pass. If they are adding them through an update then I may change my mind because in this day in age I expect them in a score chasing game, especially considering that nearly every score chaser I have played on Xbox has them, so why shouldn't the ones on Nintendo systems?
Looks and sounds very retro and just what the Wii u needs! I'm in!!
Update: now that I've played it I do like it a great deal but why in the world did they choose the "flappy bird" control scheme???? Ugh!!!
Oooh Twinstick shooters are my JAM! Will buy tomorrow.
The game is just fun! I have been playing it for hours last night.
@Ryu_Niiyama It's not a twinstick shooter. It's quite different, and more old-school than that.
@Chandlero Yes, I've found it extremely addicting! It even moved me from playing TP:HD. Pure fun!
I found it started off pretty good, then just got too slow and repetitive to be worth bothering to have to start all the way from the beginning due to no continues. A bit of a disappointment in the end, tbh.
I love all the details that developer Rhys Lewis put into this addicting game! The soundtrack by David Wise is catchy and makes the whole experience a real enjoyment! I grew up playing all sorts of retro games, so I knew I'd love this one! It's an honor to voice the game. My two boys think it's pretty cool that they're Mom is talking to them through it! Ha! ~Michelle Sundholm
This game is very slick. Well done Squarehead
All I can say is that this game feels like you are playing something special.
Addictive gameplay, love the balance between preserving weapons or traction. Difficulty ramp up (and balance) is fine; I think the people saying it's too slow to start have zero patience for anything. That being said, a Hard mode would be a nice unlockable to start the game off at the third sector's difficulty for those who've beaten it.
I grew up on these types of shooters and never grew out of them. High production values, especially for a one-man studio! Impressive. $9 well spent. Thank you, sir.
@Kilroy I agree with starting at Sector 3.1 would be a nice idea for a hard mode. However that would be a really hard mode, since you would not have any pickups or credits saved at that point. The way I see the two first planet systems is to collect as much as possible (since later on, it becomes more and more about survival).
Is not looking bad at all, same for the staff ^^,
Yes will buy this one, though i cant find any info about the price, maybe ill wait for a little discount, sinds i have 100ish of game on my to playlist (͡ ͡° ͜ つ ͡͡°)
aaaah never mind it's:
10th Mar 2016, £7.99/€8.99 (UK/EU)
10th Mar 2016, $8.99 (USA)
20% off and im sold then [̲̅$̲̅(̲̅ ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°̲̅)̲̅$̲̅]
@defrb Ye where has all the information gone about games? Sort it out NL!
Thanks for telling the price. I might buy this one once I have enough money on my eShop account. I want to support games with David Wise's soundtrack.
Not to rain on this party, but this plays like an iPad game not worth more than a few bucks. The graphics, effects, music, voice acting are all great . . . but I find the game play to be truly lacking. All you do is push ONE BUTTON . . . that's it. Float up or drift down by pressing and releasing A. Firing is automatic.
I so wish I could use the sticks to obliterate everything on the screen, but instead I'm focused on this float mechanic that I don't even understand in real terms.
It's a bit simplistic. I'm surprised it isn't an iPad game since the controls fit, but a lot of cool stuff on iPad is ruined by the free to play business model so getting it on the Wii U is nice.
@bluedogrulez Uh...you aim and shoot with the left analog stick, it isn't automatic lol.
Nice review and nice score! I also like the trailer. I don't know if I download it though since I am not a fan of procedurally generated levels. Maybe someday if it gets cheaper.
@Neko_Ichigofan : I played it again last night and stand by what I said. All you do is push A. Ship fires automatically and the aiming is based on ship position (which, again, is determined by pushing A). Sorry, but this one button game is no where near an 8.
There are some risk/reward elements such as saving up or adding firepower to the ship. With enough cash on hand, you get an extra life which is handy. Later in the game you need to position the angle of your shoot better to make it through.
This game is overrated, considering that the excellent high-score challenge Star Soldier-R on wiiware only got a 7. https://www.nintendolife.com/games/wiiware/star_soldier_r
According to the scoring-policy this game should have been a 6 - Not bad. It is a bit lazy, with no online high-scores, no sharing images to MiiWares, They could have had alternate buttons for thrust, considering so many games on the Wii U has thrust elsewhere.
I do think it´s worth spending a couple of hours on this game though and it worth picking up for a challenge.
Score 6 - Not bad
I do NOT like the flappy bird style controls!!! What were they thinking there? Someone explain? I still like the game though but not doing you're own firing is weird and definitely takes getting used to!!
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