It’s been nearly three years between the time the Red Star was supposed to come out and when the game finally hit store shelves. Acclaim Entertainment, the publisher behind the NES Simpsons games and BMX XXX, originally picked up the license to Christian Gossett’s graphic novelr. However, right before the Red Star was scheduled to come out in 2004, Acclaim filed for bankruptcy. The fate of the Red Star was in serious question and out of the blue XS Games announced that they picked up the project. This was back in early 2007 and after numerous delays it’s out for the Playstation 2 (farewell Xbox version).
The Red Star is a hard game to describe. I like to say it’s a mix of Smash TV, Contra with a dash of bullet hell shoot ‘em up gameplay stirred together. You start by picking one of two characters either the swift moving Makita who has double pistols or the tank like Kyuzo. Once you select a character you play the game from a top down perspective and you can fire your gun with the circle button. You have unlimited ammo in the Red Star, but if you hold down the fire button carelessly your gun will overheat. Both characters also have a melee attack that you can do by mashing the square button. Makita’s attack has her swing her sickles and then dash forward to finish the combo. Since most of the areas are narrow the melee attack is pretty useful. If enemies get too close you can press X to make a temporary shield appear. Most of the time you’re not going to need any strategy, all you do is shoot at enemies far away and use the melee attack to hit groups of soldiers that approach you. Every now and then a magic using troop will appear that shoots fireballs or has a shield that you need to break through to mix up gameplay. It’s like an arcade game until you get into the boss battles.
Boss fights in the Red Star pit you against enormous machines. Sometimes you’re fighting against a tank, other times ship that shoots huge lasers. Either way you’re up against a mammoth mech that takes up a large portion of the screen and the other part is filled with bullets. The first boss starts by shooting waves of bullets that spread out in patterns like you would see in a shmup. You have to move Makita or Kyuzo in between the gaps while shooting at the cannon, but that won’t take the boss down. You have to wait for it to go through a cycle and expose its flashing core to actually damage it. Later on the boss fights play even more similar to a shmup and one of them seems inspired by the boss in the third level of Ikaruga where you’re trapped in the middle of spinning turrets. As the turrets spin around they spray bullets and create a spiral of death that you have to dodge. The boss fights are the highlight in the Red Star and while they are not as adrenaline pumping as some of the battles in Contra they are still well done. At the end of each level you are awarded a medal and points to boost your character’s stats. You can use these points to decrease the overheat period for your gun, strengthen your melee attack or purchase a new firearm.
While the gameplay hasn’t aged the graphics sure have. Compared to the other Playstation 2 titles the Red Star’s blocky visuals and awkward camera angles don’t hold up. It almost looks like a late PS1 game, which might detract some people from checking it out. Yeah it’s not pleasing to the eyes, but you have to remember it came out late and it’s only $20 instead of being released as a full priced PS2 game. The Red Star really is the kind of game you’re going to love or hate. If you’re into classic arcade games and have a friend to play this with the Red Star is probably your kind of game. If you’re expecting something deep, well that’s not the Red Star. Its roots are in the arcade world and the simple play and shoot stuff you would find in the 1980s, except with 3D models.