Super Galaxy Squadron Review

So when the Steam store-front dutifully recommended Super Galaxy Squadron who was I to refuse? First impressions were promising. The chunky, plasticky pixel art enemies call to mind the 90s output of genre master-developers Cave, as well as childhood memories of playing with Transformers (or cheap knock-offs…). Vast, cosmic scenery scrolls by with aching slowness reminiscent of the venerable Star Soldier series and the trick of framing frantic action against such tranquil backdrops remains effective all these years on.  Then there’s the explosions – great, lurid bursts of orange and yellow accompanied by deliciously crunchy sound effects that border on white noise and punctuate a suitably catchy soundtrack of chip tunes and power metal guitar solos. Clearly Psyche Studios have done their shmup homework.

Controls are tight and the 14 selectable craft, each with their own firing patterns and unique special attacks, add a welcome dash of variety. Showers of bonus items jettisoned from destroyed enemies that require deft manoeuvring to hoover up and a rudimentary combo system bring a simplistic tactical layer to the chaos. It’s testament to the developers’ art chops that even at it’s most chaotic the swathes of firepower, enemy ships and bonus items never blur into each other. Most importantly it just feels good to blow stuff up.

Bullets everywhere

There’s considerable talent on display here which makes what I have to say next all the more frustrating and baffling. Super Galaxy Squadron suffers from game breaking balance issues at the most basic level. I’m no shmup ninja but armed with little more than a healthy appreciation of the genre I cleared normal mode without dying on my first play through. An overly generous damage gauge and plentiful health pickups completely rob the game of challenge. Switching to hardcore mode lurches to the opposite extreme, a single hit sending you back to the start of the level. It’s admittedly thrilling at first knowing the tiniest mistake will cost you everything but this soon wears off. The end result is painfully exacting rather than challenging, especially as enemy formations and bullet patterns remain identical to normal mode.

Action is fast and frantic

There is some consolation in the form of an “endless” mode, playable on both normal and hardcore difficulties, which throws wave after wave of ships at you with increasing frequency until the entire screen is permanently awash with enemy firepower. It’s ridiculous, broken and hugely entertaining.

[Edit: Updated after feedback showing author made mistake with regards to leaderboards]
Balance issues aside there’s also a general lack of polish – online leader boards hidden away in the Steam overlay, clunky menus and the fact that you can activate your special attack even after your ship has been destroyed all show a general lack of care. Again, confusing in a game that does so much right with such panache and I hope Psyche Studios make good on the promise shown here in future games.

As a snack between more refined shooters or an easy way into the genre for newcomers and rusty veterans, Super Galaxy Squadron is a lightweight, flawed but still enjoyable game. Players looking for something deeper should look elsewhere.

 

3 Replies to “Super Galaxy Squadron Review”

  1. Shame this doesn’t hit the sweet spot. As bad as I am at these types of games, I do enjoy them.

  2. What version of the game was reviewed? There has been a patch released (1.0.5) that fixed quite a few of the game breaking issues. Since that release, I have not had any issues with the stability of the game, unless you are referring to something else?

    The Steam version does in fact have leader boards for Arcade mode and Endless mode which function well.

    I do not understand the ‘clunky’ menu critique. The menus are incredibly straight forward, and do not offer enough choice for them to be considered clunky. So I’m interested in how you found them clunky.

    It’s also worth mentioning that all proceeds of the game are going to the Child’s Play charity fund.

    Although it does play like a shmup bullet hell game, it also was never advertised at bullet hell difficulty. So normal mode would indeed be easy for any veteran of the genre.

    However, you then go on to criticize hardcore mode for being too exacting, which is exactly what a bullet hell difficulty style game would require. This appears to be a criticism against the genre of bullet hell shmups, and not so much the game itself. If this was your intent, it is worth mentioning as it sounds currently to be directed at the game.

  3. @Kit,

    Hi Kit, I’ve just checked again and you’re right there are Steam leader boards found through the Steam overlay. I’ll have the review text amended to reflect that.

    I can confirm it was version 1.05 that was tested. I had no issues with stability, the game ran fine – the major issues were with game balance. The vast majority of shmups, bullet hell or otherwise, stick to the 3 lives with bonuses scheme. With the two difficulty modes on offer in Super Galaxy Squadron, writing as a shmup fan, I felt the game suffered from this design choice.

    With the menu clunkiness I found the key binding of space for “back” counter intuitive and there’s some inconsistencies, for example you can start a game with the Continue option using space which caused me a couple of false starts – it’s a minor gripe but one that stuck with me when I wrote the review.

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