When I was asked to preview Starr Mazer, I thought I would be playing Imagos Softworks' highly ambitious point-and-click adventure game that features SHMUP style gameplay sections. What I really played was the game’s surprisingly addictive and highly challenging prequel, Starr Mazer: DSP.
Starr Mazer: DSP is a SMHUP or bullet hell style game that places you in control of procedurally generated ships and pilots, which features a number of unique weapons and specials. The objective of the demo is simple, destroy literally everything that pops up on screen and reach the end of the level before you run out of ships (lives). Just don’t expect to beat it your first time because this game is designed to kick your ass every chance it gets. Featuring procedurally generated enemy formations, each attempt I took to beat Starr Mazer: DSP’s first level felt different and I couldn’t predict what would be coming at me next.
The most addictive part of Starr Mazer: DSP is the ability to purchase your own squad of powerful ships when you die, which are acquired using your score as currency. Depending on how well you performed with your first squad, you're able to obtain ships from three different tiers of power. The big advantage to picking higher tier ships is that they can take multiple hits before being destroyed, they have increased speed and they can build up score easier then others. The downside is that these ships take up a lot of your currency, which forces you to think whether you should invest your points in more quality ships or a bigger variety of them. This mechanic also gives you the opportunity to specifically deploy what weapons and supers you feel fit your playstyle the best. For example, I purchased ships that used the death blossom or infinite salvo super because of their sheer power and ability to clear the screen with ease.
It took me around 20 attempts to beat Starr Mazer: DSP’s preview build. During my first attempts I couldn’t help but think that the game was way too difficult. The biggest problem I experienced was that my primary weapons always felt incredibly weak. It was taking multiple hits to destroy even the weakest of the enemies on screen and I felt like i had no defensive options to protect myself, outside of a time stopping super. The real problem with my weak weapons was that I was always spamming my super and using up my entire power meter. Once I realized that my weapons would get stronger the longer I held back my strongest attacks, I became closer to defeating the boss with each new attempt.
There is still a distinct lack of defensive options though. I personally feel that the time stopping super is worthless because my ship’s speed is also affected, so my priority in the game became to out fire my enemies by flooding the screen with projectiles. After getting hit by an enemy and managing to survive the blast, I found it really unfair that there wasn’t a decent recovery time and that I could be hit again almost immediately after. This harshly affected my momentum at times and it was easy to see ships fall one after the other because I couldn’t get the chance to recover properly. I feel these problems I had could be solved with the inclusion of a force field, which could add another layer of depth to the combat by using up my power meter.
Starr Mazer: DSP surprised me. I was disappointed at first that I wasn’t going to be able to try out the point-and-click adventure sections of the core game, but DSP hooked me with it’s incredibly addictive combat and it’s unpredictable enemies. The game feels amazing to play and it gives you a great sense of mastery as you progress. If the quality of DSP is anything to go by, then Imagos Softworks has an amazing IP on their hands and I eagerly anticipate the release of both of their awesome games.