Our secret as shmup players is that we usually don’t crave innovation. While many other players want their games to be constantly taking leap forwards, we revel in getting more of the same.
Take me, for example, my favorite side-scrolling shooter series is easily Darius. You are a spaceship and fight giant fish, what’s there not to love? I’m always looking forward to the next Darius, but only to get more of what I love: spaceships and giant fish. I like the premise and would be happy to be playing sequels which are fundamentally more of the same until the end of time. Although, my favorite entry is Dariusburst, that one which did innovate, but I attribute that to my love of giant lasers.
Enter Steredenn: Binary Stars, a game that took side-scrolling shooters and married it with the single greatest way of giving users a fresh experience every time within the same game: rogue-likes. It’s funny that no other shmup thought of this combination, but let me tell you that playing a shooter that is different every time you boot it up is nothing short of brilliant.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Mar 8, 2018
Steredenn: Binary Stars is a randomly generated side-scrolling shooter. There is somewhat of a story loosely told at the beginning of the game, but we all know we bought the game to blast some ships with kick-ass music and Steredenn does that in a huge way.
Choose your own adventure
Every run starts with the ship selection screen. There are 5 different ships to select and each of them features a distinct playstyle. For example, the Fortress, is your “tank” ship which can survive a lot of punishment but moves slower then the rest. Tempest is the all-around ship which has an extra slot for melee weapons. The Specialist is trickier to use, as it relies on setting up bots, but once deployed they become monstrous powerhouses. Your approach to the game will vary with each ship, and there is something for everyone.
I like to use Fortress because Rocket Circus is by far the most amazing name for a special ability.
RNG for everyone
You asked for variety and Steredenn delivered. I have mentioned randomness a lot of times so far so allow me to expand a little bit more into the concept.
The game is composed of 7 different stages. The stages themselves are randomly created (or rather chosen from a random pool? I honestly can’t tell). At the end of each level you will face a boss from a list of different bosses for each stage. Stage 1 has 4 different bosses, while Stage 3 features only one. There are secret bosses, but more on that later (I lied, after proof-reading the article I realized I never expanded upon this, so I’ll let you discover it on your own).
Throughout the stages, you will randomly encounter cargo ships which drop weapons for you to equip. The quality of this weapons will define your strategy for the current run. Some runs you will find out that bots might be the winning strategy, while others will be about acquiring a mixture of heavy and energy weapons. The examples I mentioned were some of the routes I took based on my preferences, but feel free to experiment and come up with your own strategies.
I do have to mention that there is an advantage and disadvantage system for weapons in Steredenn. When hitting the enemies, they will flash red (normal damage), orange (reduced damage) or purple (increased damaged). I wasn’t able to find a way of quickly telling which enemy would be weak against which weapon, so I would advise to keep your arsenal varied and switch weapons if you find out the one you currently have isn’t working.
The biggest differentiating factor for each run comes at the end of each level. As a reward for beating a boss, you will be offered a choice between 1 of 5 different permanent perks. Think of them as picking skills from a skill tree each time you level up on an RPG game. Some examples of perks would be reduced heavy damage, increased score and even enabling an auto-firing rocket when you have heavy weapons equipped. Be mindful of your choices, but be very smart as the synergy between your perks and weapons will make or break your run.
More gameplay notes
One of the things that make me happiest about this game is that there is 360 degree movement. I’ve played a lot of old school shmups for this list and most of them feature 8-way movement. That’s fine because of the hardware limitations of older generations, but it has also become much of a staple for modern games and a way to bring parity between stick and pad users. While I understand the intent, I can’t bring myself to justify not having 360 degrees of movement. It works and it is amazing, especially against the more complex patterns.
If you are interested in which kind of bullet patterns the game features, it’s bullet hell patterns.
It surprised me as well, but I’ve grown to love the style a lot. bullet hell patterns are more prominent on top-down shmups. I don’t think I have seen a bullet hell side-scroller before, so it was a welcome surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed.
There is one thing that 100% catches me off-guard all the time, which is enemy rapid-fire. It seems my brain is always expecting the enemies to deliver a rain of bullets, but when they do rapid-fire in my direction is always take the hit. I’ve never been a fan of unreactable fire, and I don’t consider random movement or periodically moving away from the front of an enemy a valid mechanism of defense. Rapid-fire has always felt cheap to me.
There is one aspect I love about rogue-likes and that’s when you are doing “the run”. Usually on a rogue-like there is a certain level which you expect to reach based on your previous successes and your skill level. There are times, however, when you go way past that point and everything seems to be going your way. The drops are perfect, your play is on point and even the game seems to cooperate to push you into new horizons!
The feeling of “holy crap, I’m really doing it!” is one of the reasons I favor the genre a lot, and I feel its combination with the shmup genre is part of what makes Steredenn such a captivating game!
There are 2 features I would have loved seeing though: a way to see your hitbox and precision movement. Usually I assume that my hitbox is the entire ship unless proven otherwise, but from experience I’ve seen that it is smaller than that and I wish I could know exactly what it was so I could maneuver around bullets. The second one is more prominent in danmaku games as a secondary fire, but having a way to move more slowly is always very useful when grazing between enemy bullets.
Different ways to play
Aside from the traditional arcade modes, there are 3 other ways to play: Daily run, Boss rush and Arena.
The Daily run features a set seed for everyone and you have one attempt at doing your best to top the leaderboards. It is very interesting to think about how you would alter your regular playstyle to go for score preks, striking a nice balance between being strong and generating lots of points.
Similar to Daily run, Boss rush features a set gauntlet of bosses. Unlike the Daily run, you can attempt this as many times as you like.
Toilet time: The surefire measure of addiction
There is an internal metric I use when thinking of games and how much I love to play them called the toilet time. Most of us probably do this to some extent, but the most intense gameplay sessions happen at the toilet. The difference for games is how much extra time you spend on the toilet as a result of wanting to do “one more level”. Steredenn passed the toilet test with flying colors, so please don’t take it to the toilet unless you wish to spend 30+ mins there.
It’s also not healthy for you to spend that much time, so please don’t do it.
A god-like soundtrack
Have you ever heard that video game music is great when you are trying to focus or get things done? The premise behind this statement is that the music in video games is designed to motivate you towards achieving a goal. The lack of a vocal track also avoids distracting your brain.
Steredenn is no exception to this statement, with each track being incredibly motivating. If I were to compare it to another game, I would definitely pick Doom 2016. There is something about the style that pumps your blood and ignites a desire to kick everyone else’s butt. Not only that, but it also works as a bridge between failure of your last run and the promise of a better one next. It is amazing the effect it has on resetting your mindset to prepare for your next attempt.
Usually playing a game with high expectations is a recipe for disaster. The image you paint yourself of a game more often than not varies greatly from the game at hand, and this erroneous image is a product of media and people hyping a game that it is not.
Well, that’s absolutely not the case for Steredenn. I had high expectations and it succeeded them big time. Not only did it fulfill my fantasy of being a shmup that I could play endlessly and always have different experience, but it also provided more ways to play than I could imagine. The only thing that prevents this game from being perfect is that the bosses are semi-generic ships instead of being alien-like creatures, but that is 100% personal preference as I love organic enemies.
If you were ever on the fence about buying this game, then by all means do. I can personally vouch for the quality of this game, and it is also incredibly small in terms of file size, so no reason to skip it for storage constraints!
THE RANKING SO FAR:
- Steredenn: Binary Stars
- R-Type Dimensions EX
- Shikhondo – Soul Eater
- Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
- Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)