After clearing the first stage in Strania: The Stella Machina, Einhander popped into my mind. The mech you pilot in G.rev’s vertical scrolling shooter handles like the Astraea Mk. I, you know the ship that carries two different gunpods at the same time.
You start the first stage with two straight shooting handguns. Hold down the fire button down to shoot a stream of bullets. As you scroll upwards through the level, circular ships flying in vertical lines come towards your robot. You could shoot through them, but I went straight to the pre-equipped sword. See, the mech in Strania actually has three weapons, which you can cycle through. While powerful, the sword forces players to fly close to an enemy to land a hit. With waves of enemies diving towards my mech, this wasn’t an issue.
I was rewarded for slicing through saucers with points and powerups. Strania: The Stella Machina has a bunch of guns (but only one melee weapon) and all of them are better than the pea shooter you start the game with. Vulcan fires a wide spray of bullets. Lasers pierce through enemies. Reflect shoots two streams of bouncing bullets at a 45 degree angle. Rockets are slow firing blasts that explode on impact. Missiles shoot projectiles that lock-on to targets. While grabbing two lasers is effective against some bosses, you’re better off with two different types of weapons. Which ones? That’s up to you and part of Strania’s strategy.
G.rev is pretty generous about giving you the necessary firepower guns at the right time, though. Seconds before the game floods the screen with enemies as you soar through space at lightspeed you have a chance to pick up two vulcan guns, the optimal weapon for a counterattack. In the second stage, Strania puts players in the middle of a maze. The screen still scrolls, so you have to weave between walls while shooting at enemies. Fortunately, there’s a Side gun that shoots bullets to the left and right. You can grab this or the Direction gun (which fires bullets in the opposite direction you move in) before entering the mini-maze. Piloting your ship through narrow corridors is one of the game’s challenges.
Dodging bullets is another challenge. However, Strania: The Stella Machina rarely fills the screen with bullets even when you’re in the middle of a boss battle. Maybe I’ve played too many bullet hell shooters, but the amount of projectiles on screen in Strania is manageable. I never felt overwhelmed by flashing dots. Bosses give visual cues before they attack too. For example, one boss in deep space flashes where it will fire lasers before shooting them. This gives players just enough time to hide. An earlier boss battle has players blast a squad of mechs. One of them soars towards the screen, above the fight, and tries to crash into your mech. In small spaces, like this boss fight, two swords are handy. You can do a three hit combo with an energy wave finisher if you have swords equipped in both arms.
I haven’t mentioned Strania’s scoring system yet because aside from earning bonus points for sticking with the same weapons, it is fairly straight forward. The key to maxing out your points is the game’s O/D system. This meter fills up with each enemy you shoot down. You can trigger it as a defensive mechanism for temporary invincibility, but it’s actually a scoring gimmick. Turning on the O/D system also activates a score multiplier and if you’re fast enough you can increase it beyond 2x.
Strania: The Stella Machina has online leaderboards, but they’re only active if you play through the game under default conditions. That means no continues and only three armor points (you can earn extra armor points by defeating a boss). Like other Xbox 360 shooters, you earn more continues by playing the game and eventually even players who haven’t touched a shooter in years will have enough credits to press through to the final stage. What’s neat is the weapon system gives Strania a bit more replay value. You could go try and go through the game using only swords or if you’re really daring the bomb (a gun that fires behind you only).
Stania: The Stella Machina comes out on Xbox Live Arcade worldwide tomorrow.