Shoot-em-ups are a dime a dozen nowadays, so it really takes something special to stand out in this gaping sea of nostalgic throwbacks. I guess it’s a good thing then that Finnish-based Dreamloop Games know how to make a damn fine game.
Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up (shmup, for short) that basically excels at damn near everything; from its highly rewarding gameplay loop, delicious local multi-player options, and brilliant soundtrack, to its satisfying variety of available game modes, weapons, and powerups, this light-hearted arcade shooter will forever have a home on my hard drive.
The game’s campaign consists of thirty different stages, taking place across ten different environments — a poisonous swampy area with its pustule ridden mushrooms, a never-ending stream of space trash, or along an asteroid belt, to name a few. Each stage is not only aesthetically different, but spew forth their own variety of enemies and nasty traps to hinder your progress.
One stage in particular drops a large amounts of asteroids, forcing the player to dodge projectiles from above, as well as from the enemies ahead. A later stage, which ended up being my personal favorite, spawned numerous lasers that took turns pulsing in a rhythmic fashion, adding yet another obstacle to overcome atop the swarms of ferocious enemies.
Each environment has its own background music that’s honestly some of the best I’ve heard all year. Some hearken back to the energetic earworm tracks of Mega Man 2, while others are more ambient, similar to those found in the Metroid Prime series. The sound design as a whole is top notch, with the zapping of lasers and wooshing of swords playing in to the whole sci-fi package quite well, but I would happily listen to the Stellar Climax OST in my car or while working out. It’s really that good.
The campaign itself is fairly short, clocking in around 2 hours. It’s the perfect length to pick up and chip away at in short bursts, but also short enough to digest in one sitting when you have a few buddies over on the couch. The game is so good though that I wouldn’t be surprised if your friends started showing up more often.
The story is a light-hearted affair, as you’ll find yourself battling against hat-wearing asteroids and a giant disco ball, among other surprises. It’s essentially a cliche, fourth-wall breaking Voltron story about stolen mechs and the group of battle hungry space warriors assigned to retrieve them. If you grew up watching shows about combat mechs and laser swords, you’re going to feel right at home.
I had a blast playing through the campaign, as well as the endless-wave Gauntlet and Challenge modes. I did experience a trivial amount of lag whenever my screen found itself overwhelmed with explosions, enemies, and their constant hail of gunfire, but adding additional players to the game never exacerbating things.
Each of the five warriors have their own special ability, like protecting their teammates with shields, slowing down time, or stunning groups of enemies to gain some breathing room. It’s like an arcade-y Destiny in a sense, adding a layer of depth and teamwork that’ll no doubt have you shouting from your couch as your teammates kill each other, or successfully thwart the big bad uglies. In a genre that isn’t known to focus on teamwork, this was a breath of fresh air.
There’s also a nice variety of primary and secondary weapons, which can be fired simultaneously for maximum destruction. Though most are standard shmup fare, like spread shots, rockets, and grenade launchers, there’s a few unique gems in there, like a pulse gun whose bullets expand the longer they’re on the screen.
The best part about it all is that everything in the game is unlocked from the jump. All of it. No mindless grinding to unlock additional characters, or arbitrary golden weapon skins. Just a game chock full of content with a near endless supply of replay value. And a damn good game at that.
There are upgrades you can buy with points earned throughout the various game modes, which improve things like shield recharge rates and critical strike chance, but not having to slog through painful difficulty settings just to open up a new game mode is a welcome feature.
Speaking of difficulty, Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax borrows from most of the latest sports games by adding in a variety of sliders to tinker with, allowing you to tailor its challenge however you see fit. You can do neat things like turn off the ability to resurrect dead players or turning on friendly fire (hilarity ensues, by the way), or even crank up the speed of enemy bullets, the frequency of power-up drops, and the amount of damage you deal.
If I have friends over who aren’t savvy to the shmup genre, or maybe they’re too drunk to focus, I can tailor the experience to ease them in, or crank it up to eleven and ruin their lives completely. As someone who appreciates trophies and achievements, being able to swing the sliders in my favor has been a godsend for the ones requiring mass amounts of killing, or currency collecting.
Overall, I had a really great time with Stellar Climax. I immediately fell in love with the soundtrack (which, again, is pure ear-sex), but the comedic nature of the campaign, the class-based, responsive gameplay, and plethora of content on tap wrapped it up in such a nice, neat package that it will forever have a home on my Xbox One.
I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about it, honestly. The lack of online co-op support will no doubt be a bummer to some, but I was fine experiencing the game by myself, or locally with my girlfriend. There’s a little lag here and there, but like I mentioned before, it’s a trivial amount. It’s just a really, really great game that I hope a lot of people end up checking out.
Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax may be the biggest sleeper of 2016 thus far. You should remedy that.
*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.
Full disclosure: This review was done using an Xbox One copy of Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax that was provided by the game’s developer, Dreamloop Games. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant.