By – Steven Smith

Elder Star Review He

The Retro trend in indie gaming has brought some new ideas to the classic arcade style Shoot’em up (or SHMUP) genre. These side scrolling bullet-hells were never for the feint of heart. When I was a kid, games like Raiden and R-Type required fast reaction time, faster reflexes and a good supply of quarters. Modern SHMUPs have been trying to add to this classic formula by changing ship controls and giving the player weapon upgrades. Now you can change directions for precise aiming, level up your ship and weapons in pseudo-RPG style or even turn your ship completely around and scroll the screen in different directions. However, as the complexity of gameplay increases, does the SHMUP genre become less accessible and more niche? According to Josh Sutphin of Kickbomb Entertainment, whom I met at the 2015 Salt Lake City Games Con, the answer is Yes. So, how can the SHUMP be simplified without losing the core mechanics that fans of the genre love? The answer from Kickbomb Entertainment is their upcoming title Legacy of the Elder Star.

The biggest change from other SHMUPs is that all controls in Legacy of the Elder Star, from movement, firing of weapons and even weapon selection, are done with the mouse. Controlling the character with your mouse is as easy as moving the cursor on your computer. If you feel the mouse controls are too fast or slow the mouse wheel can be used to adjust this sensitivity on the fly. Clicking the left mouse button fires your primary weapon while the right mouse button is used for your secondary weapon system. When the time is right you can activate your special weapon by pressing both mouse keys at once. There are no key combinations or fancy maneuvers to to learn, just the same simple mouse operation you already use when navigating around on your computer. This makes for an extremely short, gradual learning curve that even the most casual of gamers and conquer. If for some reason you are unable to use the mouse controls, all of the mouse button commands can be performed from the keyboard as well.

For the more hardcore fans of the genre, Legacy of the Elder Star will offer some additional features, such as Crafting, Archives and Bounties. Crafting is how you will unlock new weapons. To craft a weapon you will need to collect specific components and a set of blueprints. Components are found by completing in game challenges, such as defeating a boss within a time limit or finishing a level without dying. Finding the blueprints will be a bit more involved and is accomplished in the Archive section. Going into the Archives will give you specific quests to seek out important data, which will then be used to unlock blueprints. The Bounties system will have an additional set of challenges, which are much harder to achieve than those used for crafting components. These might include reaching a specific point total or kill rating within a certain level. Your reward will be upgrades for your weapons. The Bounties section will also store leaderboard information for showing off your high scores.

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When I spoke to Josh, one of his key points was that the weapon choices and their upgrades would all be very balanced. Once players have upgraded or crafted a new weapon, they should never feel that their older versions are obsolete. There might be a better weapon choice for a specific situation, but there will never be an overall “best” weapon to use. While playing the demo I could easily see how committed Kickbomb Entertainment is to that vision. I was given a choice of two each for primary, secondary and special weapons which I could try out over three different levels. The primary weapon choices are dual pistols or a shotgun.The shotgun fires a powerful barrage with each mouse click while the pistols fire a continuous stream of less powerful bullets while the mouse button is held down.

I could play through any level with either weapon selected, but levels full of small, quick enemies were better suited for the dual pistols. The shotgun was perfect for the bigger, tougher targets. The options for a secondary weapon were even more distinct. The Swarm Missile allows you to mark up to six targets while holding down the mouse button, releasing the button fires a series a missiles into each one. The other choice is Star Dash, while holding the mouse button down your character becomes invincible. In this state you can destroy enemy units by simply crashing into them. Destroyed enemies become little white dots which fly to your ship, these add to your total points and also fill your ability meter. A full ability meter allows you one use of your special weapon, which is referred to as a special ability in the game.

The two abilities I played with were Beam and Rocket. Beam shoots out a large solid beam that damages anything in its path. Rocket fires a single missile that damages all enemies on the screen when it hits something, however it is possible to miss your target completely and the rocket flies harmlessly off the screen. Again, this goes back to the concepts of accessibility and ease of play that the developer values. The Rocket ability can be much more powerful if used properly, or completely useless if not. Better and more experienced players would benefit by completing the challenges to unlock this weapon. At the same time, newer players will have an easier time using the Beam ability without worrying about having a lesser weapon. Each Special Ability has it’s own advantages.

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Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Support?

The demo I have played already shows a lot of promise and Kickbomb Entertainment has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help get the game completed.  Fans of the genre should definitely be checking this game out. The simplified control scheme does not take anything away from the classic shooter experience while the added features and challenges will give you a bit more to think about when playing. Making a game that appeals to a wide audience across differing interests and skill levels is not easy, but from what I have seen Legacy of the Elder Star is approaching this challenge the right way.

Legacy of the Elder Star Demo Technical Summary:

Elder Star Review Sum

  • Time Played – 1 Hour
  • Resolution Played – 1680 x 1050
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – No
  • Control Scheme – Mouse and Keyboard
  • System Specification – 2.93GHz Intel i7 870, 4GB RAM, GeForce 9800GT
  • Game Acquisition Method – Alpha Build
  • Availability – Kickstarter, Steam Greenlight
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
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