“Shield critical!” Words that would strike fear into the heart of any intergalactic hero, but a phrase that becomes more of an immediate concern when you are carefully weaving your advanced starship between a marauding Metagon war fleet.
Astron is in danger, and, as the pilot chosen to fly the Star Ghost, you are their only chance of survival. Tasked with patrolling nearby jump gates, you must deplete the Metagon horde before it has chance to reach the planet.
This procedurally generated shoot-em-up marks a Nintendo eShop debut for Squarehead Studios, an independent game developer founded by Rhys Lewis. Prior to his newfound venture he worked as A.I. Lead at Retro Studios, a long career that has seen his worked credited across games such as Banjo-Kazooie, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Donkey Kong Country Returns and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
That is most certainly an illustrious list, and Star Ghost is all the better for it thanks in part to the experience built from their development. Yet it is Donkey Kong’s jungle capers where a more direct relation can be drawn, in that Lewis had created the control scheme for the riotous rocket-barrel sections.
That scheme makes a return in Star Ghost, where, as the Flight School will take time to teach, sees players manoeuvre their craft by either holding the A Button to thrust upwards or releasing it to descend. It’s deceptively simple and easy to grasp, even if there will be genre fans who would have liked the option to have more direct control.
Your weapons activate automatically but can be aimed with the Left Stick to direct your fire toward advancing waves of Metagon ships. Whereas, if you click in the Left Stick, you can engage a traction field to scoop up any nearby Metagon resources. As is the case with the arcade classics that it serves as a throwback to, this simplicity in approach encapsulates the gameplay experience to a tee.
As you move between sectors, everything becomes decidedly more difficult whether that be in narrower corridors, negotiating asteroid showers or taking laser barriers offline before you slam into them.
The Metagon resources that you collect help to ease an otherwise aggressive difficulty spike, whether that be in improving the fire rate, bullet spread or restoring the Star Ghost’s shields. However, not all resources that are dropped are beneficial, with viruses temporarily taking your weapon systems offline.
Encounters with the Metagon war fleet’s more menacing Sentinel ships prove to be a lasting highlight, which is like dancing with death as you dodge their attacks before seizing your chance to retaliate.
As you reach the jump gates positioned within each sector, you will have the chance to purchase such upgrades with currency amassed through destroying enemy ships – successive destruction without taking damage increasing a score multiplier. Your overall score is based on enemies killed, resources nabbed and your remaining shield, and it is here that replay value appears as you look to repeatedly beat the leaderboard.
The clean graphical style, if minimalist, is accompanied by a retro-infused soundtrack penned by incomparable David Wise, while Michelle Sundholm gives an assured performance as the player’s guide.
If there were any complaints to raise, it would be in the fact that players are only given a single life per run. Once your shields are neutralised, it’s a Game Over screen that greets you and it is straight back to the start. That punishing challenge will be welcomed by many, but can easily frustrate in equal measure for those not wanting to spend as much time honing their skills.
Star Ghost has left us blindsided, having seemingly struck out of nowhere with its hypnotic arcade charm. A polished experience that will push your piloting to the test, it is an effort that amounts to a commendable debut and a joyous addition to the genre.
Version Tested: Wii U
Review copy provided by Squarehead Studios