This horizontal shooter features more than a few gimmicks. The exact figure is up for debate – some are more predominant than others, while shoot’em up veterans may feel like some of its ideas are on the verge of becoming commonplace within the genre.
We can probably all agree that the ability to concentrate fire at a sacrifice of speed is a gimmick; the kind you may expect to find in a typical Japanese shooter. It’s an ability that gives you that extra burst of firepower, used only during those fleeting moments when you aren’t being pelted with bullets. Although it vastly reduces manoeuvrability it can get you out of many sticky situations, requiring skill to use effectively.
Alternatively, there’s a laser beam weapon that eats into limited energy reserves, best used for dealing damage to large targets.
Missions roll out in a modern, non-linear fashion, using a not particularly gimmicky 3D cockpit view as a mission select screen. Dialogue between crewmates takes place here, filling in the story. The titular star is the last sun in the galaxy, now under threat from an alien scourge out to control its power. You’re the last line of defence – a trio of ships with slightly varying stats, out to stop an entire galactic army.
Ship stats improve after every mission, dolled at random by ‘re-rolling’ available options before a mission starts. This gives Final Star a very slight RPG slant. Gold and scrap metal can also be used to bolster armour and gain new weapons – improvements that moderately increase chances of success.
Missions can be played in any order, with three or four of varying difficulty usually available. There are also repeater missions which bestow great rewards but become more difficult after every successful run.
Without a doubt, the 3D cockpit is home to the biggest gimmick of all – a puzzle mini-game, entailing matching up identical gems while keeping skull icons apart. It’s a place to grind for new gear, essentially, awarding one new upgrade per stage. It proves to be a slow-burning affair that couldn’t ever hope to stand on its own, but it still acts as a decent distraction.
A very welcome distraction, in fact. Final Star is hard going, intended to test the skills of those highly experienced with the genre. After the introductory stages are out the way the difficulty level swiftly rises, giving very little time to acquaint with the core mechanics.
The health system, in particular, is different to other examples within the genre. Because the crafts have different amounts of HP, there’s no pre-set amount of damage they can take (i.e. – two or three hits). Instead, HP is shown in digits – the longer you collide with a bullet, the more damage you’ll take. Or rather, the larger the bullet the more damage received.
Coupled with the fact that it’s often hard to tell when you’re taking damage, it made us yearn for a more traditional set-up. If only the joypad vibrated when taking a hit, instead of vibrating whenever an enemy is shot down.
Now bear in mind that this is a shooter of the ‘bullet hell’ variety. It’s not uncommon to be faced with turrets that lock onto your position, enemies that drop bombs from above, tricky to avoid bullets resembling small shotgun-style pellets, and the standard hypnotic waves.
There is a lot of stuff to take in, avoid and react to. One early boss took us over an hour to beat, prompting us to save footage and re-watch it closely to examine where we were going wrong. It quickly became apparent that their bullet formations were randomised, often resulting in clusters of missiles neigh impossible to avoid. No wonder we struggled.
We have no issue with Final Star being difficult. Pretty much every modern shooter relies on such ‘old skool’ sensibilities as memorising attack patterns. However, this is yet another example of something that throws you straight into the thick of it without letting you gradually improve your skills to become more adept in a graceful manner.
The only way to eventually prevail is to fail miserably numerous times beforehand, making it an experience that’s not exactly welcoming. It doesn’t even have the decency to throw an extra life or a few continues your way, giving hope of making it that little bit further than before.
We don’t doubt that Dynamic Voltage Games has a lot of love for classic shooters of yore – heck, we even find the game’s low-budget look rather appealing, recalling the days of early CGI rendered shooters – but they would’ve done well to pay closer attention to what makes the age-old classics from Konami, Irem, Cave and Treasure so masterful.