|Dev: Beatshapers Limited|
|Pub: Beatshapers Limited|
|Release: April 5, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild fantasy violence|
by Josh Wirtanen
Maybe I just have a really dark imagination, but to me, floating free in space in a tiny little ship without boosters is a terrifying concept. Yet StarDrone takes this very idea and makes it into a lighthearted sci-fi physics puzzler with a few pinball elements tossed in.
StarDrone has players launch a small spacecraft that, by some design flaw, was built without any method of propulsion whatsoever. Instead, this thing is controlled by an electric grapple that can change the direction of the craft by latching onto nodes. Those of us who have taken courses in astronomy know that this is a horrible idea, but apparently the spacecraft builders in the world of StarDrone haven't considered the fact that things are pretty far apart in space. I suppose you could argue that this particular craft wasn't built for deep space travel but for short journeys amongst densely-packed asteroid fields. And to that, I have no snarky retort. But I still think that a grapple is a weird way to steer a spacecraft.
Logistics aside, there are a few issues with the controls in StarDrone. In the earlier levels, the simple control scheme feels fairly intuitive: grapple the closest node by pressing X. But in later stages, when precise timing and aim are essential, you will often find your craft grappling the wrong node, hurling you into a mass of spikes or even into deep space where you will eventually be swallowed by a black hole. (Heavy emphasis on the word "eventually." There were a few times that I found myself floating off in space for quite some time before the black hole finally got me.) Your ship will grapple whichever node is the closest to you, no matter what. Even when it makes absolutely no sense.
However, StarDrone was originally a PC game that launched a couple years back. I tested out the PC version for myself and felt that using the mouse to select which node to grapple felt a lot more intuitive than the grapple-whatever-is-closest method that comes with using the Sixaxis. But after playing both versions of the game, I have to admit that the fact that this game was able to make the transition between such vastly different control schemes without changing any major design aspects is very impressive.
The goal of StarDrone varies with each level. Some levels have you collect a certain amount of stars, others have you collect various pieces and eventually assemble them. Some levels want you to kill a certain number of bomb-like enemies, and others require you to simply reach the end, clearly marked with a glowing goal marker.
For players with slower reflexes, there is an option to control the speed at which you play the game. Some of the control frustrations will be diminished if you adjust the game speed slider, though they won't ever completely vanish. Strangely, I found the faster game settings to be much more comfortable, and I felt it was a lot easier to time my grapples on the fastest speed rather than the lowest.
The visuals have that science fiction vibe that a lot of 1980s arcade top-down shooters had. You know, that vibe that's not really appealing to people who don't care for sci-fi or even hardcore sci-fi fans, yet was still overused in video games of the 1980s. It's not a Star Wars or Star Trek or StarCraft look, but more of a carnival in space look. In fact, it strangely reminds me of a cross between Super Mario Galaxy and the Casino Night stage of Sonic 2.