Steredenn, a pixelated shoot em’ up with roguelike elements has landed on Xbox One, courtesy of PIxelnest Studio. The main draws of this game are the unique boss battles and the fact that the game is supposed to be different every time you play. On the Xbox 360 I imported over half a dozen shmups from Japanese publishers like Cave and Qute, and even more downloaded digitally…needless to say I enjoy the genre. Steredenn is a game that knows its identity, and a great example of a game that doesn’t try to do too much.
Upon firing up the game you are met with a few worthwhile game modes. The first one is the basic play mode where you start off with no upgrades and you try and make it to the end of the level, battling bosses as you go along. Some important things to mention are that you can only fire in one direction, meaning you can’t turn your ship around. Each time you start the game you have one weapon, the blaster. As you progress there will be weapon pickups that can add a secondary weapon to your arsenal; hovering over the pickup will tell you what it is. The different weapons add a lot of strategy and fun to the game, as some are a bit peculiar. I expected to see standard weapons like the shotgun, flamethrower or spreadshot. I was not expecting to see my ship turn into a buzzsaw or a sword for epic melee attacks! I welcome these crazy weapons as it adds to the games charm and they are pretty fun to use as well.
In a typical game you will face some regular enemies for a few minutes before encountering a boss. The only chance to pick up health items is after defeating the boss, thankfully you receive enough to fill your health meter entirely. This is tough because if you take too much damage before the boss its very likely you will get a game over. On the other hand, if you have conserved health you can take a lot more risks in the battle. In addition to health you also have a choice of powerup items after beating a boss. Some examples are: 2 extra health points, +20% score, extra damage, or weapon buffs. Choosing the right one is important depending on your play style. When you eventually die you will be able to see a small map showing you how close to the end you were.
If you are not interested in playing a normal game, it’s worth it to check out the Daily Run mode. This mode is basically you versus the world on a level playing field. The enemies and bosses are the same for everyone, as are the weapons. Your job is to try and beat the level and score as many points as you can to reach the top of the leaderboards. You also only get one try so it’s a real test of skill. I enjoyed coming back to this mode every day and trying to pass familiar names on the leaderboards.
Arena mode is your chance to practice against any of the 13 bosses that you’ve come across. Every boss has different attacks and tendencies and since you never know which one you will face at any given time, it’s important to prepare for all of them. Practicing in this mode is crucial for your success in the main game. It’s important to note that if there’s a boss you haven’t fought yet, you won’t be able to practice against them.
Superplay is a locked mode that I feel many players won’t get the chance to experience, as you have to complete the game once before playing. This mode allows you to choose the seed for the random generator, meaning you can always have the same level type, enemy type and bosses if you so choose.
There is a lot I like about Steredenn, firstly is the controls. Your ship moves quickly and precisely as you avoid projectiles and attack enemies. In a lot of other Japanese shooters there is so much enemy fire that you might think you are getting hit but you don’t take any damage, leading to confusion. Unlike popular “bullet hell” shmups, its always easy to tell if you correctly dodged or took damage in this game. The pixelated style of the game looks great and makes the title stand out among other shooters on the market. And of course the rogue-like enemies, meaning levels are different every time you play, is such a great concept that I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before. The music is also enjoyable, fast paced rock jams do a commendable job of pulling you into the game.
That being said there are a couple aspects of Steredenn that I didn’t care for. I found the game to be a bit too unforgiving. It’s definitely a throwback to old arcade style games where you die often, but I wish there was an easy mode included for us who aren’t as gifted. The game’s bosses leave a lot to be desired, each one attacks differently but they all look too similar. For a game that revolves around the boss battles so much I was expecting them to have distinctive looks. Overall these are just two small gripes and for most people they aren’t likely to negatively impact their experience.
Steredenn checks all the boxes of a quality shoot em’ up game. It has a unique graphical style that looks great and runs smoothly. Tight controls and hit-boxes mean you are never feeling like you died a cheap death or didn’t see a projectile. In a many Japanese shmup games you have a lot of modes that don’t seem very different from one another (arcade, DX, console). Steredenn trims the fat and has a few modes that are all meaningful. I wish the bosses didn’t all look so similar and it can be tough at times but all in all this game is worth adding to your collection.
+ Pixelated graphical style translates wonderfully to console
+ Unique and outlandish weapons
+ Rogue-like gameplay means every play through is different
+ Daily run and leaderboards add replay value
– Most of the bosses look too similar
– Might be too difficult for the average player