Star Ghost is addictive. It’s as simple as that; if you want a game to obsess over and scores to chase than stop reading this right now and go and buy this game.
For those who are still here, Star Ghost is the first game from Squarehead Studios, which is a small independent game developer based out of Wales in the UK with a great pedigree in Nintendo gaming, with the head of the studio having worked previously at Retro Games and Rare. Star Ghost was released on March 10th, exclusively on the Wii U eShop for €8.99/£7.99.
The game itself can be most easily described as a SHMUPS, but to do so would be a disservice to what is a pretty unique and interesting game. It’s a 2D side-scrolling shooting game but, rather than using a traditional control system, (press up to make you go up etc.) in Ghost Star your ship is continually moving at the same pace. To go upwards you hold down the ships throttle and to go down you let go of the throttle. Your guns fire automatically and you are able to aim up and down using the analogue sticks. The control system does enough to make this feel like a fresh, new way of playing a genre that can sometimes feel quite tired and forces you to relearn how to navigate environments that you might think you’re an expert at getting through.
As well as an interesting control scheme, Ghost Star is a procedurally generated rogue-like game, meaning that when you die you have to start all over again and the levels are different every time you play through them, which adds to the challenge, as you’re unable to learn a perfect line or exploit easy parts that you remember and adds to the overall replay-ability of the experience. To help you along your way, you’re able to upgrade various aspects of your ship by spending money that is collected throughout levels or by picking up upgrades that can randomly appear. The upgrades can improve things like your weapons and your health or you can get more specialised upgrades that will give you a regenerating shield or extra powerful weapons.
This adds an extra element of strategy, as you only get the chance to buy one upgrade at the end of each level, so you often have to think hard about what upgrade you really need. As all upgrades are timed and run out eventually, you often find yourself wondering if you can make it through a level with only half life so you can upgrade your firing rate, for example.
Star Ghost looks great too. Both on and off the TV, it’s a very striking game with bright neon colours against dark but pretty backgrounds and a soundtrack which was provided by David Wise, who most famously provided many great soundtracks for Rare back in the company’s heyday. Star Ghost feels perfectly suited for the Wii U Gamepad, allowing for either short burst play or for you to settle in for a marathon score chasing session.
Whichever way you want to play, Star Ghost is a fantastic game that uses a few basic mechanics to hook you in and then blossoms into an experience that is easy to understand but difficult to master. If you’re craving an old-school arcade style game, Star Ghost will keep you very happy and it does enough different to other games of the same genre to make it feel new and interesting.