A New Challenger Approaches
Developed by Pixelnest, Steredenn: Binary Stars launches onto the Nintendo Switch and into a heavily contested field: the eShop schmup scene. There’s no lack of choice, so if you want to stick out you’ve got to bring your “A” game. One way Steredenn manages this is to implement rogue-like features. I’ll go into detail later, but this design choice for the levels is excellent. There are only eight levels until you reach the final boss, but the amount of variety as you progress is astonishing and you find yourself being surprised even after sinking a good chunk of time into the game.
Just like any schmup you fly around, dodge a lot of bullets, shoot a lot of enemies, take on a boss at the end of the level, and get that sweet, sweet high score. It’s a classic formula and one that Steredenn manages to shake up without making it feel unnatural. The biggest shift is how you progress through the game. The levels are random and there’s so much variation. It might just be a simple change in the enemies to something a bit more substantial like trying to dodge incoming cannon fire from a ship off screen, navigate a asteroid field, and more. The surprises keep coming and it makes Steredenn so addictive. You can play again and again without feeling like you’ve done this before. After spending so many hours with the game I was shocked when I encountered a random boss fight. As much as I’ve played I am sure there is more to see.
The difficulty is spot on. Despite being a rogue-like they did a great job with what levels appear and when. It never feels like you’ve been thrust into a level that should be closer to the end than the beginning. It’s a gradual build up in difficulty and it starts to get steep towards the end. I’ve only beaten the game once, but it never felt unfair.
Ships and Enemies
You start off Steredenn with a basic ship and then unlock more as you progress. All of these have their own strengths and weaknesses and really mix up the gameplay. I say “all” yet I haven’t unlocked the final one, you have to beat the final boss without getting hit to get that one. Each ship can carry two different weapons and Steredenn has an awesome amount on offer. 40+ in fact and the majority of them are great, there are only one or two stinkers. I found a lightsaber today and it just didn’t do the job for me. Just like the ships and levels they vary so much that they alter the gameplay greatly. Flamethrowers, shotguns, bots, lasers, machine guns, rockets, and so many more. It’s just another feature that adds so much variety and each run feel different.
The other side of the coin are the enemies you take on and these come in all shapes and sizes. Simple drones to shoot down, flying chainsaws, reflecting ships, and more. It’s amazing at how much bullet fire and enemies can be on screen at once. The bosses offer a decent challenge, but always seem fair. Once you know their pattern you’ll make short work of them. Once defeated the player then gets to choose an upgrade from choice of randomly selected upgrades.
There is more to choose from than just the standard singe player. You can choose from Daily Run, Co-op, Arena, and Boss Rush. Boss Rush and Co-op are pretty self explanatory. Arena was an interesting mode and quite a nice idea. It allows you to take on a boss with a weapon of your choice. It’s not one to jump into a lot, but I found that the option to practice was a nice addition. Daily Run is one that I thought was a great idea. It can only be attempted once and has everyone go the high score, but having chosen the ship, weapon and path everyone takes. Making sure everyone is on an even field.
Sound & Vision
It’s a pixel-lovers dream and is always a good style to go with to keep the game looking nice and having that retro feel. Design wise it’s lovely, the backgrounds if you ever get the time to observe them are lovely and every now and then you might catch a little reference. Those familiar with Doctor Who might just see his famous Tardis floating around at times. The soundtrack is great and instead of going for a sci-fi feel, Steredenn has opted for that pure bullet hell feel with a rocking soundtrack that is as aggressive as the enemies you encounter. I did have one issue with the visuals and it is a minor complaint. One level had you in an asteroid belt, but it wasn’t clear at times which ones you could collide with and which were in the background. Not a major issue, but a little frustrating.
Steredenn: Binary Stars is a excellent title. Really, really good. It does have a few issues though. I mentioned the upgrades after a boss before and sometimes this system can be annoying. Weapons are split into groups. Bullet, heavy, bot, energy, and others. With the upgrades being random you might be offered ones that are no use to you at all. I feel like a shop would’ve been better. The worst problem is that at the moment there is quite a common issue of the game closing from some kind of error. It’s not incredibly frequent, but there is a good chance it will happen to you and if you are playing casually it won’t bother you, but if you are going for a high score to get on the online leaderboards that can be very annoying.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Steredenn: Binary Stars was provided by Future Friends Games.