Star Ghost is a horizontal side-scrolling shooter from Squarehead Studios, a development company formed from an ex-Retro and Rare employee. It’s a stylish yet simple entry in the genre, accessible for all gamers.
Starting the game thrusts you right in to the action. If you’ve played the rocket barrel levels in Donkey Kong Country Returns, you’ll feel right at home here. The A button is basically the only button you use in the game, which if pressed gives you power to accelerate upwards. Naturally it’s a balancing act in holding and letting go of the A button to be at the height you want. This description and comparison may sound off-putting for some, but don’t let it. It’s actually not as extreme as its influence and is much more forgiving. That’s all there is to your movements, you can’t go forwards or backwards.
To add to the simplicity, firing is automatic. Your ship fires forward at a set rate, the only input you can have is slightly angling the direction of fire by using the left control stick. Pressing up angles it 45o upwards and holding down does it in the opposite direction. It’s not exactly a lot of room for precision aiming, but it’s definitely useful in plenty of situations.
The only other control option is if you hold the left analogue stick to the left. This switches your firing off and pulls out your traction field which can collect orbs and power-ups that might just be out of your reach.
Power-ups are incredibly useful in Star Ghost and you are going to be relying on them a lot. You can often find them after destroying enemies and you will want to pick them up. One power up will increase your rate of fire and another will increase the spread of your shots. These two are definitely the most useful and can be upgraded three times apiece, at which point you feel unstoppable. It’s not that easy though is it? Life never is. The trick being that upgrades only have a certain endurance before having to downgrade to the level below. You’ll need to pick up power-ups all the time, not only to upgrade, but to also refill the one you already have.
Instead of collecting them, you can purchase upgrades in between stages depending on what current upgrades you already have and how many orbs you have available to spend. There are a few other power ups in the game for example, getting homing missiles and a repulsion field, although these are far more infrequent and can’t be upgraded, at least as far as I’m aware.
While stages in each play through of the game follow a few set characteristics, they are for the most part randomly generated. You’ll begin to notice a few patterns here and there which will help you out in recognising what’s coming up but it’s never set in stone.
There is a nice array of enemies to combat, each with their own distinctive individualities that set them apart. Some of them can be a little annoying, especially these little green things that hang out in groups.
Despite its simplicity Star Ghost is quite a difficult game, for me at least. While you do have a health bar that can be recovered via pick-ups, it’s the one life then game over aspect that is especially brutal. There are no continues and so if you die you must start from the very beginning, which can be pretty gut-wrenching especially after making it so far. Apparently there are 12 systems (each with a handful of individual stages) to make your way through, although I’m personally struggling to make it to the halfway point. Saying that, I have improved every single time I’ve played, the in-game tips even say that practice makes perfect. I don’t claim to be an expert at Star Ghost but I know that if I keep playing, I’ll get there in the end. I just wish there was a three-life system or something. If you have enough orbs on you when you die, then you can actually continue, but it’s still really difficult.
The visuals are really nice, if not particularly original. The bright neon colours of your craft and the enemies really contrast with the darkness of space. It severely reminds me of Geometry Wars in certain ways, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The simplicity of it all goes hand in hand with the gameplay.
One of the big selling points of the game (seriously, it’s listed as a feature) is that the soundtrack has been composed by none other than the highly revered David Wise, best known for his work on the Donkey Kong Country series. While at first you can certainly sense the quality of the composer, the soundtrack might not strike you straight away. That is at least until you start humming the main theme song about two days later despite not playing it during that time. It’s surprising how an opinion can change after taking just a little bit of time for things to settle in. I was pretty apathetic towards it at first and now I can’t get it out of my head.
Overall, Star Ghost is a simple but fun and addictive game. Maybe the lack of precision will put off hardcore shooter fans but I certainly found it an enjoyable and challenging experience that I can’t wait to keep playing and hopefully master. I feel the experience could have been improved if there was more than one life available but aside from that it’s a really nice game.
– Simple yet fun and challenging gameplay
– Very stylish
– Somebody get this song out of my head
– One life does feel a little stingy