Star Ghost is a horizontal side-scrolling shooter from Squarehead Studios, a development company formed from an ex-Retro and Rare employee. It was originally released on the Nintendo Wii U a couple of years ago, which I did review, so please bare in mind that this review is very much the same.
Star Ghost is a stylish yet simple entry in the shoot ‘em up genre, accessible for all gamers. Starting the game, you’re thrusted 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 choose whether to go forwards or backwards, it’s automatic full steam ahead.
To add to the simplicity, firing is automatic too. 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 45 degrees 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 normal 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 a very 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. The only extra lives that you can get is if you have 50 orbs at the time of dying, which can be exchanged for another chance. Had I not told you this however, you would have no idea. Indeed, in my first review I didn’t know this was a thing. The game doesn’t hold your hand at all and there are so many useful, little things that need to be discovered by the player themselves. The reason I didn’t know about the extra life was because I always spent my points between stages. I thought that was the right thing to do.
There are apparently 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, even with being able to buy a second chance or two before depleting my orbs. Saying that, I improved every single time I 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, plus continues.
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 happily enjoyed it on the Wii U, and just as much on the Nintendo Switch. I still feel the experience could have been improved if it was a little more generous with lives or continuing, but it’s still very unique shoot ‘em up for the console.
Game provided by Rainy Frog.