The amount of flash-esque shooters that spawn daily on the Xbox Indie Marketplace is sickening, and it’s understandable if people shy away from these games. You can get the same experience emulated from any number of online gaming sites, so for one of these titles to warrant you actually paying for them it has to be pretty special. Astralia at first comes across as one of said games, but if you give it a little bit of time, it’s worth getting your paws in to.
Taking control of a rookie pilot in training, you’re tasked with stopping an attack on ally soils by the aptly named Space Monsters who interrupt your lessons with your friendly AI. You’re thrust into a one man crusade against the evil little blobs, trying to uncover what they are and why they’re attacking. It’s a simple storyline, but that’s essentially all you need for a game of this calibre.
In all fairness, you have to give props to the developers; it doesn’t follow the prototype set out by games of the same genre and does try something a little different. Instead of flying about shooting everything in the usual twin-stick style that has been tried and tested a million times, the game focuses more on building droid-style units to fight at your side, letting them take pot shots at enemy units while you aim your sights on the bigger enemies like the hives where enemies spawn from. To purchase these droids, and also to purchase ammo and to use any perks the ships has, the player needs to mine a material called ‘Materia’ in order to fund their outgoings. This combination of strategy, resource management and a standard shooter works pretty well, and while the controls at first might not come that easy to some, once you’ve gotten your head around everything you’ll be well on your way.
As far as strategy is concerned, you are limited in your options, but the ones available can give you a fair bit of control over the battlefield. Surrounding the screen are four bars controlled by four different buttons on the control pad; it’s a little complicated to explain, but once you’re playing you’ll be able to get a grip of things. Each bar controls a different aspect of your ship or your droids, for example, one bar may be configured to choosing your weapons, while another will be responsible for your current build actions. Watching what your resources are getting spent on is extremely important, as spending too much money on something that isn’t a necessity can leave you ammo-less in the heat of battle.
You can spawn up to eight units at one time, and you can put these in various formations depending on the battle you’re currently fighting. Formation-forming and looking after your droids are where most of your resources will go, but you will also find that using weapons (bar your standard gun) will drain away precious points that can be spent on other things. A ‘slow down time’ feature is also available at the flick of a button, which doesn’t drain your resources, but does need time to reload itself after use. It’s useful in bigger battles (which is actually, most of them), as it gives you time to plan stuff out rather than riding guns blazing to almost certain explosion-based death.
Your ship’s weapons are pretty standard guns, lasers and rockets, but they do pretty well at taking out the enemy. At time you can feel pretty outnumbered though, forcing you to spend more resources on the more useful weapons than the cheaper options. This is mostly down to the exceeding number of units that enemy hives produce. Taking out a hive will however take out any units associated with that hive, and any units that are destroyed spew off a handful of resources for you to gather.
The whole game gives off a very retro feel, from the little enemies which spawn from the little hives, to your little ship with its little droids. It’s all small, top-down shooting and plotting from the off, with the ship and monster sprites having all the charm of an 80’s classic done up to modern standards. It’s a nice, sharp, fresh look though, and space certainly looks good in the world of Astralia. It’s especially pretty when the battles get larger, and seeing some of the bigger ships enter space really gives you a feel of just how big the battlefield is.
Astralia improves as the game goes on; the battles get bigger, new build options become available and the story unfolds at an enjoyable pace that throws in interesting new characters and situations that give Astralia an edge over even some bigger budget titles available. While it’s for the most part simple stuff, Astralia is engaging enough to be considered a ‘proper’ title. The very early levels are, on the surface, a little bit dull, but as the game unravels the battles become more thrilling, with different enemies changing how you play the game and strategies needing to be swapped to cope with the enormous amounts of monsters filling your screen. Get used to the controls and Astralia is well worth a stab if you’ve got a few quid spare in your wallet.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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