The PlayStation Network has seen a plethora of top-down shooters since its materialization in late 2006. It began with Blast Factor, the average yet enjoyable cellular shoot-em-up with innovative motion controls. Next came the beautifully addictive Super Stardust HD, a game that caused many (including this reviewer) to brave many a late night attempting to best the dauntingly lofty scores on the ever-growing leaderboards. Next to grace the network came the melodious Everyday Shooter — a shooter you certainly don’t see every day. Now, as the first self-published game on the PlayStation Network, NovaStrike flies into the fray, but does it manage to stand out from the pack?
The title is quite generic from a plot perspective. The “Draelus” invade mankind’s colonies and you have to eradicate them. To be fair though, it’s not like anybody plays a game like NovaStrike to experience a captivating storyline, they’re looking for appealing, exhilarating gameplay. For the most part, NovaStrike offers just that.
If you don’t feel comfortable jumping headfirst into the campaign, a non-required (but recommended) tutorial will inform you on the basics of the title. My one qualm with the tutorial is the lack of a voice actor. While this actually applies to the entire game, the tutorial is especially heavy on text. I don’t want to be reading while I’m trying to direct my craft, especially if I don’t yet know how to properly play the game.
While playing the tutorial, you’ll discover that NovaStrike isn’t a true dual analog shooter. You control the “scythe,” a sophisticated fighter that combines both human and Draelus (alien) technology. Despite its advanced abilities, the ship doesn’t have immediate turn speed, acting more as a true aerial vehicle than the crafts of other top-down shooters. The controls are fairly straightforward; the left stick directs the scythe, R2 and L2 fire your primary and secondary weapon respectively, R1 and L1 cycle through your primary and secondary weapons (again respectively), X activates the crafts afterburner (boost), and the right stick directs your multi-directional omni-cannon.
Now, being in a fighter pilot rather than a 360-degree directional craft, it would be a shame if you were confined to dogfight in small, confined areas. Fortuitously, NovaStrike allows you to pilot the scythe throughout the game’s seven vast areas. This isn’t a rail shooter, you’re free to fly wherever you’d like. You will however be prompted in certain directions in order to complete certain objective-based missions. Missions generally take either an offensive or defensive form; take out the Draelus base, protect the human colony and so on. The missions aren’t always so straightforward though. Sometimes you’ll have to protect moving human crafts by, for example, destroying explosive kamikaze pilots. Another time you’ll be tasked with razing Draelus anti-air weaponry before a human fleet flies through. Though occasionally repetitive, the unique mission structure sets NovaStrike apart from otherwise similar titles on the PlayStation Network.
During your encounters with the Draelus, you’re provided with the fairly hefty arsenal of two ground-focused weapons and seven aerial armaments. You won’t always have to rely solely on your munitions though, as oftentimes allies assist you in your objectives. While they’re certainly helpful, amidst heavy conflicts, not shooting your allies can be tricky.
Conversely, shooting your enemies will prove a challenge. To restate, the widely varied enemies — including bosses — are remarkably intelligent. They’ll dodge your head on assaults, swoop behind you and take you out. Such aptitude is both a blessing and a curse. Nobody wants to play a game with shoddy AI, but on the other hand, it’s often tough to stay alive while being attacked by Draelus swarms. Actually, tough is an understatement. This game is hard. Players will definitely be discouraged by the standard Soldier setting, and will undoubtedly drop down to the slightly more forgiving Recruit. Even on Recruit, NovaStrike is by no means easy. While each of the seven stages are approximately 10 to 20 minutes in length, expect to get halfway and fail several times before you succeed. At least this lengthens the would-be brief title.
What better way to take on such stages than cooperatively with a friend? Regrettably, no such option is available. While we wouldn’t expect competitive multiplayer from a top-down shooter, coop would have been an advantageous addition to the title. While Tiki Games has stated that they plan to update the title with a plethora of tweaks and features, neither offline nor online cooperative play is available at this time, which is a true shame. You can, however, attempt to best your friends on the title’s online leaderboards.
Regarding NovaStrike’s presentation, it’s merely acceptable. There are certainly some nice touches, such as the subtle shift in perspective whilst afterburning or the colorful water refraction, but overall, the title won’t impress on the level of a PSN title like Super Stardust HD. One guilty pleasure worth mentioning – damaging an enemy just enough so that it doesn’t explode, but rather falls out of the sky and plunges into the ocean (the game uses Havok physics). As for the audio, the explosions are brilliant while everything else simply fades into the background.
While it’s not my candidate for downloadable game of the year, NovaStrike is a solid experience that’s a great jumping-off point for Tiki Games. Although the harsh difficulty and lack of multiplayer may offset some potential players, the open areas and unique mission structure make this one worthy of several hours of your time.