In space, no one can hear you scream, but that diva of a fission bomb sure wants you to hear her sing.
Genre: Action, Rogue-lite
Developer: Turbo Pelvis 3000 inc.
Publisher: Turbo Pelvis 3000 inc.
Release date: Jan, 2019
Fission Superstar X pits its players in the shoes of a mad scientist straight out of a cartoon. The good doctor made a fission bomb, and supposedly it can talk. While we should not assume the gender of a bomb, she allegedly self-identified as Celine, and she wants to be a superstar on tour across the solar system. To help her radiate her beauty, our antihero plans to help her achieve her dreams, whether the rest of the galaxy is ready for her explosive tunes or not.
The gorgeous pixel art graphics are a perfect fit for the story, looking like comics or cartoon spaceships straight out of the 80s. The crew you can recruit sports a perfect villain face, from bloodshot eyes to straight up evil ants. The rather junkyard-scrap looking ships coming at you appear almost as if made of haphazard chunks of steel and iron fitted with guns, and I was once killed by a space biker riding a chainsaw. There is even a space whale whose flesh you can tear off bit by bit. It’s all completely bonkers, and I love it.
Gameplay wise, this is a rogue-lite. You play, you die, you get a few points to improve your starting crew on your next run. If there is a more meaningful permanent progression, I have not seen it yet. Actually, progression might be what I have enjoyed the least so far. There is a progress bar to show how many levels there are, and I felt like I was so far from the end that I was barely moving forward. And while the first few levels were extremely easy, there was soon a sudden difficulty spike and I would lose everything during a single fight.
I felt like the long adventure was sort of at odds with the simplicity and fun of the gameplay. At first, I thought “Here is a rogue-lite that lets me enjoy myself rather than pressuring me to be super-fast and super-perfect” since the base game mechanics are very easy to grasp. The spaceship is controlled with WASD (there is also ZQSD for French keyboards) but it moves rather slowly and instead of shooting straight like in any shoot ‘em up, all canons are aimed with the mouse. What is rather interesting is that the ship itself can block the sight of the guns, so right at the start shooting straight is impossible: it’s a blind spot. Additional crew has to be recruited, up to four members, so all angles are covered. Since at any given time each canon can only shoot what it can see, it adds a layer of positioning, whether to shoot an enemy with the right weapon or to remain in an attacker’s blind spot. Due to this, despite their apparent simplicity, I have not felt that the combat was repetitive, and I enjoyed the light strategy replacing the usual twitch reactions required in these games.
Each crew member has its own stats and might be better at aiming, defending or at their class-specific skill, such as healing for a doctor or repairs for an engineer. They are recruited at very funny space disco bars in between missions, or maybe you would rather make a stop at a ship upgrade facility or at a weapons dealer to replace your canons.
After each battle, the player can choose one skill to use or a little upgrade, and then choose one of several paths. The paths let you pick whether to stop at the disco bar or the repair shop, but they can also indicate a new danger such as an ion storm or a deadly police ship. Since there is a lot to choose from, there is a degree of control over your run rather than being at the whim of RNG.
Fission Superstar X lets you be the bad guy in an action-packed space shooter rogue-lite, and I enjoyed the simple yet effective strategizing combined with enjoyable mouse controls. For now, I was not entirely convinced by the balancing, but it might only be my personal taste to wish for bite-sized fun rather than a long haul through the confines of space. Nonetheless, we have here a nice indie title to keep on our telescopes, it’s a great sight.