It’s not wise to judge something by its outside appearances, but in this case I should have trusted my initial thoughts more. There are good ideas present, but Wings of Bluestar doesn’t execute them well.
Type: Single-Player, Coop
Developer: Shinu Real Arts
Publisher: Shinu Real Arts
Release date: 13 Oct, 2020
Honestly, it was the visual design of Wings of Bluestar (WB) that made me hesitant to pick it up in the first place. I wasn’t fond of the graphics, in particular how the character portraits looked, though the gameplay footage wasn’t much better. With there being no negative reviews so far, and reading the comments and highlights of the game, I thought I’d look beyond the surface level and give this game a chance. Besides, I was curious how much the dialogue choices would matter, if at all, as that’s not something I recall seeing in any SHMUP I’ve played.
At first glance, WB plays like most SHMUPs. You’ll pilot a spaceship, which dies in only 1 hit, collecting power-ups to boost your abilities, and taking down waves of enemies. However, there are some twists with the mechanics. Instead of gathering drops from enemies you destroy, your primary weapon powers up simply from damaging enemies. Between the 2 ships you can choose between, one emphasizing defense, another focusing on offense, they only have 1 primary weapon available each. The power-ups you obtain don’t change out their main attack, but instead provide them with 2 add-ons, which can be rotated to fire at enemies coming from different directions. The ship piloted by Aya can rotate them 360 degrees, whereas Zarak’s rotate outward 180 degrees. Since Zarak emphasizes firepower that’s all he has available, but Aya also gets a shield that will absorb a few bullets before it breaks down.
As you play the game, you’ll earn Risk Points, which act as a currency you can buy stuff with in the shop. Most of it isn’t that interesting, such as a Sound Test and Gallery, with the Gallery having several pictures to buy, but it also has Boss Rush available. What will be of greatest assistance is the extra credits you can purchase, so you can continue playing until you learn enemy patterns well enough. There are 4 difficulty options as well: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Super Hard. These will apply to all game modes you play, such as Story, Arcade, and Training, with all of them being self-explanatory.
There are a few control options available for WB, since it allows 2 people to play at once, and it worked just fine with my controller. Movement is controlled with either the ‘D-pad’ or ‘L joystick,’ with ‘A’ firing your weapons. You can hold down the ‘B button’ to build up a charged shot that destroys enemy projectiles. The ‘shoulder’ buttons rotate where you fire the add-ons. One big problem with WB is that without the add-ons, you can only fire straight in front of you. However, with parts of the game scrolling vertically, and enemies coming in from behind, you’re at a great disadvantage when you can only fire in one direction. Surprisingly, there aren’t any bombs either.
I only played the game as Zarak, so I don’t know what the story was like from Aya’s POV. However, I wasn’t very impressed with what I saw of Zarak’s plot. He suffers from the common malady of amnesia, yet remembers all that is needed to fly a complicated spaceship skillfully enough that this army puts him on several missions. As you clear missions, the same thing keeps happening in the story. He slightly remembers more while he’s asleep and being contacted by a mysterious woman, complains of headaches often, and his superior officers talk about his condition behind his back as he’s heading out to fight on their behalf. Even though the mission briefings could be an opportunity to further develop what the enemy forces are like, their goals and strategies, or what your own priorities are, you wind up learning very little at any point. Your army only seems to respond to what the enemy does, but can’t provide any meaningful intel because your sensors are jammed every single time. Too bad this technology doesn’t work on space ships, or they could just jam all of our systems.
Every so often you’re given a choice between two things to say, but when you first play through the story, you’re only given the illusion of choice as you aren’t able to pick the other one. Not only is this already annoying, but when you pick the canonical or correct one, you’re given extra credits. Why even give me the choice if one is clearly right and the other is wrong? His story expands with more information upon another playthrough and choosing the right dialogue options. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch the presumably improved ending, because while playing the last stage, after beating the mini-boss, the game wouldn’t transition into the next area. I scrolled all the way right, came to a closed door, and waited several seconds for something to happen, but it never did. I restarted the stage, trying it again, and I was unable to advance. Having beaten the story once, I know it worked before, so I don’t know why it didn’t this time.
When I got the bad ending, I was very annoyed, because I acted based on what the game told me was going on. This super computer from another world got salty at humanity not wanting to give up its free will and do as they were told. Then, with human beings getting along with each other, it draws first blood by destroying an inhabited city and declaring war, because it has to make sure humans don’t fight each other. Yes, you read that right. With Zarak repeatedly asking for clarification and information, which the antagonists insisted they’d only provide if he first “returned” to them, when it was clear they had forcibly experimented on him, I refused to comply. I’m not walking into a trap that obvious. However, attacking them leads to the planet getting bombarded to the extent civilization is sent back hundreds of years, thanks to a back-up plan this computer had. By the way, this “very intelligent” computer is fixated on humanity evolving. Another great step to meeting your goals, BRAIN.
I’ve already expressed some of my distaste with the game’s art design, and playing WB didn’t change my first impression. Seeing more characters and their expressions further emphasized that I don’t like the aesthetic of how the figures look in this art style. Even though they sport striking uniforms and hair colors, I find their facial features flat, with some pictures looking worse than others. This also extends to the gameplay. The enemy ships look alright, as they have enough animation that they don’t look like cardboard cutouts. However, though I think it’s going for an anime style, or at the very least a convincing, futuristic sci-fi look, to me it looks like a teenager’s sketches. It has enough features to give the impression of a sci-fi setting, but it doesn’t stand out that strongly.
With my own tastes not in line with the game’s graphics, I do have to give the creator credit for making all of this by hand. It was this feature, which in part ironically made me interested in WB, in spite of not being a big fan of the end result. A developer that would spend this much effort on the visuals at the very least wouldn’t be making a rushed, no effort SHMUP, which is all too common on Steam.
When listening to the music in WB, it’s par for the course. It’s lively enough to match the action of a SHMUP, though the instrumentation is too standard to come across as futuristic or pertain to the space setting very strongly. I’ll admit that the boss theme gets closer to that than the stage music though. The sound effects are more on point, as weapons and explosions are less subjective to match well.
- There’s enough variety in enemies, stage layouts, etc. for this to feel like a complete SHMUP. Also, if you’re good at bullet hells, Super Hard would be about right for you.
- The developer is updating the game to fix bugs and make improvements. Considering how much more it needs, I think it should still be in Early Access.
- Being able to play Coop is a nice touch.
- The game is poorly balanced. When you’re fully powered up, you can kill enemies so effectively, they don’t even show up on screen. Super Hard makes regular enemies more threatening as they fire more aggressively, and some explode into bullets, though I think their HP remains the same as they still died quickly. This difficulty also gives bosses enough defense to last a while and hit you with tough bullet patterns, but it doesn’t take long for them to be destroyed if you’re at max strength. I guess that’s why they have timers, so that if you don’t kill them fast enough, you fail.
- When you’re navigating through the menu, a light flashes as you go in and out of different sections. It’s not merely annoying, it’s so bright it’s painful.
- All of the typos make the game look sloppy.
- You can buy additional credits from the shop, though you have to increase the amount in the options to All for this to take effect. I’m not sure what the ceiling is on how many can be purchased.
- If you get stuck on a stage or boss, it’s helpful to practice against them by either going to Training or Boss Rush.
- I didn’t utilize it very often myself, but the charge shot destroys enemy projectiles.
I can’t say that my temper is so mellow and tranquil that I never get angry with video games, but it’s been a while since playing one has gotten me so aggravated. Although the story was fairly cliché and illogical, getting a lousy ending for acting on the information provided seems pretty insulting. Especially when I suddenly get a new pathway to a better one simply because the second playthrough allows me to pick dialogue options previously blocked to me. When I don’t even get to see that ending because the last level bugs out on me, I become completely apathetic to whatever the story is anymore. I would say that the game ran a bit smoother when I wasn’t recording it, but the playthrough where I got stuck was one I didn’t record, so that wasn’t a factor.
The biggest issue I have with WB is that it’s horrendously inconsistent. Stages play at different speeds, with noticeable slowdown, if you are fully powered. Dealing with tight corridors, with enemies set up to box you in, are the greatest hazard in the game compared to bosses made of tissue paper. The reason you play through a stage in a SHMUP is to test your mettle against a boss, not so you can blast it for 10 seconds and call it a day. You’ll be starved for an add-on power-up, because the game is designed around you having the ability to shoot behind you, and not be able to get one, while other times enemies will drop them in groups of 5 in multiple waves. Danger icons flash on the screen to warn you of incoming threats, but not all of them. I don’t need a warning that a wall I can’t miss is coming up, because I’d have to be suicidal to stay that far to the right on the screen. However, when the same enemy types from the same area spawn in, and some don’t warrant the same warning that earlier ones got, I don’t see the point of occasionally warning me but making me fend for myself otherwise.
WB tries to create a system where you’d play the game repeatedly, but without a worthwhile payoff. At most, I think you’d play through the story of both characters, and perhaps challenge yourself on a harder difficulty level just to see what it’s like. Seeing as how you’re stuck with 2 ships and static weapons, there’s nothing available to change up the experience. With only 8 stages and no alternative game modes available, you’d be done in a few hours. I might have recommended this game, on sale, if it were a clean, smooth game. However, as of 12/2020, it’s a mess and I don’t recommend getting it.