Review: Shooting Stars

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Hey, I just shot Donald Trump–ermmm, I mean ‘Ronald Grump’–in the face with a laser-eyed cat!

Now there’s a sentence I never would have imagined writing in my lifetime. It’d fit right in with one of Conan O’Brien’s “Things That Have Never, Ever Been Said” sketches.

Thanks to Shooting Stars, you have an outlet to relieve your daily life stresses by blasting all sorts of celebrities and pop culture icons into pixel art oblivion.

In the game, you control a hipster on a hover board named Tscherno, who zips and zooms around the screen armed with his trusty feline firearm to blast away invading aliens that have disguised themselves as music and movie superstars, game characters and developers, YouTube personalities, and politicians, each serving as a main boss that comes out to play at the end of each stage. Some of the big, bad bosses include the likes of Shia La Beef, Lady Gogo, Kanye East, Gabe Oldwell, Justin Belieber, The Block, PewDerPie, Ciley Myrus, Starlett Brohansson, and of course, the aforementioned fat-mouthed presidential candidate. These aliens are all led by the biggest, baddest boss of them all, the indomitable Nuck Chorris.

Developer Bloodirony’s humor covers a full spectrum of pop culture parodies, Internet memes, and political satire, from the enemies and power-ups to various menu screen texts and graphics referencing quotes and characters from movies like Anchorman, The Big Lebowski, and Lord of the Rings. The memes are pretty old and the spoofs are doled out in heavy handed fashion, but it’s all so silly and sort of self-deprecating in tone that it’s fairly easy to overlook how forced the constant attempts at humor are. Nothing in the game is likely to make you laugh out loud, but plenty of moments will draw a grin with an eye roll, or perhaps spark an inner chuckle.

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As an arcade shooter, Shooting Stars most closely resembles the classic Space Invaders, except in this game you aren’t restricted to lateral movement on a fixed plane along the bottom of the screen. Standard laser cat projectiles only shoot upward at enemies that swarm in patterned waves from the top and sides of the screen, but you are free to move up, down, left, or right anywhere within the field of play, bringing greater elements of vertical-scrolling bullet hell chaos to the experience. Sometimes it’s a better strategy to fly up the screen and dodge until the coast is clear to move back to the bottom and resume firing. You’re given three heart containers to start (with opportunities to pick up additional hearts as well as bullet proof vests to absorb damage) and each hit incurred knocks half a heart from the life bar. Like any old school arcade game, the lone objective is to amass a high score before running out of hearts, building up combos along the way by destroying successive enemies without getting hit.

Each run, either in standard “card hunt” play (in which there are random card drops to collect, just because) or the daily run mode (to post online leaderboard scores), is an endless gauntlet consisting of a randomized sequence of levels and celebrity bosses. Every sixth level concludes with a showdown against supreme leader Nuck Chorris, at which point the game continues on and on and on until you die, the difficulty and speed steadily ramping up at the start of each six-stage chunk.

Amplifying the overwhelming absurdity of the experience, power-ups in the form of super foods and ultimate weapons randomly spawn like loot drops from downed foes. Ultimates are powerful secondary weapons that operate on a cooldown timer, meaning they’re best used judiciously, at just the right moment to deliver maximum impact. The ultimate weapons come in a wide variety of fun abilities, such as stormtrooper clone droids, homing missile cat paws, super freedom sheep that fly up the screen like a flock of Supermen in a V formation, a rainbow-powered protective shield providing temporary invincibility, a mega rainbow laser beam (aka a “recycled unicorn fart”), and flaming Facebook like button thumbs that rain down from the sky like social media napalm. Super foods, on the other hand, provide passive upgrades, like hamburgers that increase the spread of the standard cat laser, sizzling bacon strips that add duplicate, chain-reaction bullet spray on enemy impact, a tasty Indian Pale Ale that quickens the cooldown timer for ultimates, and ice cream that automatically shoots out a bolt of electricity to shock enemies that come within a certain proximity. Super food passives stack to build an increasingly powerful loadout as you go, but only one ultimate can be carried at a given time.

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Given the randomized nature of the levels and power-up drops, at times there is an element of luck involved with scoring a good early draw of super foods and ultimate weapons, as well as catching an ideal sequence of bosses–each boss has different attack types and patterns, and some are definitely much easier to contend with than others depending on when you face them in the difficulty loop. But ultimately the only way to a top score is pattern memorization and skillful reflexes for dodging through the sea of enemy projectiles. Unless, of course, the game glitches like it did on me one time where all of the super food drops remained permanently stuck on the screen instead of going to the inventory, which meant I was able to repeatedly pick them up and essentially multiply the effect of each power like a cheat code. Honestly, though, it got to the point where I had so many additional projectiles shooting up the screen that it became impossible to see, so in the end it was more of a curse than a blessing. My best run of 46 superstar bosses killed, a max combo of 812 kills, and a high score of 990600 was all skill, baby. (I’m still after the 1000 kill combo as the only remaining achievement I haven’t earned yet.)

Very little distinguishes one run from the next in terms of core gameplay and presentation, so the randomized elements help to at least keep things fresh by avoiding a level progression that becomes too predictable. I’ve pumped 10 hours into the game so far (if this were the real arcades, I’d hate to guess how many quarters that would equate to), and yet on certain runs I still continue to encounter parodies or references I haven’t seen before. There isn’t much to the game as far as different modes or complex mechanics, but as a fast and frenzied two-button arcade game Shooting Stars is suitable for quick bursts of high score ’em up action with a strong enough one-more-try hook to lure you back.

Turns out, blowing obnoxious celebrities to smithereens in video game make believe land is a fun way to blow off steam in real life!

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Fun modernization of the Space Invaders formula
+ Silly mix of celebrity mockery, political satire, and Internet memes
+ Colorful pixel art, flashy particle effects

Cons:
– Attempts at humor may feel too forced for some
– Could use some additional mode variations

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac (previously released on mobile devices)
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Developer: Bloodirony
Release Date: 1/19/2016
Genre: Arcade Shooter
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: Steam, App Store, Google Play

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!