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Steredenn: Binary Stars (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Renan Fontes 08.03.2018

Review for Steredenn: Binary Stars on Nintendo Switch

Randomisation, as fresh as it can make a game feel, can be a dangerous crutch when it comes to design. Procedural generation allows for most roguelikes to consistently feel 'new' on each run, but, too often, that's at the expense of thoughtful level design and enemy placement. This approach to design, while hit or miss, could actually be a big boost to many skill-based games. Take the shoot 'em up genre, for instance; with so much emphasis on honing reflexes, a random approach to enemy placement and level design could actually accentuate those elements without compromising any design elements. Touting itself as a roguelike shmup, Steredeen: Binary Stars does just that.

Too many roguelikes are bogged down by randomness, but it's hard to imagine Steredenn: Binary Stars would have actually been better with traditional design elements. A carefully crafted campaign with thoughtful enemy placements would certainly make for an enjoyable game, but it would lose out on all the chaos currently present in the shoot 'em up, along with potentially compromising the skill-based gameplay with memorisable patterns. As is, Pixelnest Studio has managed to make a rare roguelike that benefits completely from randomisation.

While the main mode follows a linear form of progression, stages occurring in a consistent sequence, how each level plays out is almost entirely random. Enemy placements are constantly changing between runs, weapon drops are never consistent, and multiple stages feature a rotation of bosses in favour of one boss per level. On paper, this could go either way as a positive or a negative. It would have been easy for Pixelnest to call it a day with randomly generated enemies and a few bosses to fight to spice runs up, but it has made each random variable feel as though it's a natural part of the experience. Even though it's incredibly unlikely due to the difficulty, were someone to complete the entire game on their first play-through, they likely wouldn't be able to tell anything but weapon drops were random. That's a testament to how strong the core design is.

Screenshot for Steredenn: Binary Stars on Nintendo Switch

A roguelike shoot 'em up is a pairing so genius that it's hard to believe it doesn't occur more frequently. Shmups are inherently skill-based, necessitating good reflexes to survive, let alone master. Deliberate level design doesn't hurt a good shmup by any means, but it does add in a layer of predictability. Muscle memory certainly is a skill in and of itself, but it downplays the importance of natural reflexes. By just randomising enemy placements, reactionary gameplay is emphasized above all else, leading to an experience that is more skill-based than it would have been otherwise.

Of course, there is also a difficulty spike involved in removing definable patterns, which can be overwhelming for some. The only way to get better is to genuinely just get better. There are no workarounds. That doesn't mean there aren't ways to ease up the challenge, however. Of the dozens of weapons, just about every single one will be useful in some instance. Since the ship can carry two weapons at any given time, there's a fair amount of strategy at play in regards to quick weapon switching. Since weapon drops are random, each one is valuable. They don't stay long, however. If an enemy drops a weapon, there are only a few seconds where it can be grabbed, tested, and then either kept or swapped out for the now previously dropped weapon. The ideal tactic is to build an arsenal where both weapons can play off of each other and make up for any of the player's shortcomings.

Screenshot for Steredenn: Binary Stars on Nintendo Switch

Since enemies have tiers of weaknesses in regards to weapon types, it's important to make sure the loadout remains varied. There are six types of weapons to choose from: Bullets, Energy, Heavy, Contact, Bots, and Shield. Each one has its value, but it's not particularly smart to fly around with two weapons of the same type unless absolutely necessary. Another important aspect to consider is which upgrades to take throughout the campaign.

At the end of each stage, bosses drop five upgrades to choose from. Some are specific, influencing a certain weapon type's attack and drop rate, but others are more creative and greatly help benefit the journey. Health can be permanently added to the run, bots can be attached to the ship for some extra firepower, and one upgrade actually builds a shield around the ship, so long as they aren't firing at enemies. Along with five different ships to choose from, there's a considerable amount of customisation involved in the main game.

Screenshot for Steredenn: Binary Stars on Nintendo Switch

As for additional modes, Arena and Co-op are the most substantial pieces of side content Steredenn has to offer. Arena allows players to customise a loadout and practice against specific bosses, something incredibly useful given the boss rotation in the main game, and co-op simply allows for local multiplayer. The lack of online is a massive disappointment, but it's to be expected with the typical indie title at this point.

One of the biggest downsides is the lack of aesthetic variety present in the enemy and boss design. The stages themselves pop with colour and the sprite-work is excellent, but there's a uniformity to the enemy design that hurts more than it helps. It can be a bit bland seeing the same shades of grey so often. Thankfully, they offer a good enough challenge and die quickly enough most of the time where it's not a major problem.

With a host of new content and a great core design, Binary Stars is the definitive Steredenn experience, blending roguelikes and shoot 'em ups together into one concise, addictive product.

Screenshot for Steredenn: Binary Stars on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Surprisingly, thanks to, and not in spite of, its roguelike elements, Steredenn: Binary Stars takes what would otherwise be a decent shoot 'em up and turns it into a highly addictive frenzy where each run is heavily affected by whatever weapons are found along the way. Instead of feeling like a poor replacement for traditional game design, the random nature of each stage, along with weapon availability, serves the shmup genre incredibly well, emphasising the importance of quick reflexes and downplaying success through pattern memorisation. Enemies, and bosses, especially, could have benefited from some aesthetic variety, but the challenge they offer is consistent and fair enough where that's easy to overlook. Steredenn is a wonderful shoot 'em up with plenty of replay value to go around.

Developer

Pixelnest Studio

Publisher

Plug In Digital

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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