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Thursday, 8 March 2018

Review: Steredenn Binary Stars

Review: Steredenn

Pixelnest Studio brings the Switch procedurally generated bullet-hell space shooting action.

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Pixelnest Studio | Nintendo Switch | Digital Only
1-2 Players (Local Only)
Reviewed by: Curtis Chapman | 8th March 2018

Developers Commentary by: Damien Mayance - Pixelnest Studio

* Review Code Provided by: Pixelnest Studio *

Nintendo Play is joined by Damien Mayance , Co-founder of Pixelnest Studio, for the included Developers Commentary.

If you think you have what it takes to dodge, duck, dip, dive and end up unscathed through a barrage of bullets that will take your undivided attention to navigate then Pixelnest’s Steredenn: Binary Stars might just be for you. Released today on the Nintendo eShop, this new Switch release may just be the bullet-hell shooter you never knew you needed in your life.

Arcade games have always provided short bursts of enjoyment, requiring you to pay over and over again for the chance to be at the top of the high score table. Bullet-hell style shooters, or “shmups”, are one of the genres that despite the decline in arcade games over the years have always had a foothold in amusements, with their fast-paced action and grueling difficulty consistently enticing players to invest in a chance to be the best. Consoles have attempted to include these games in their catalog of titles though due to their intended length and consistent layout, have not always been met with strong sales. Steredenn looks to provide the best of both worlds and attempt to remedy one of the genres biggest bugbears by delivering arcade-style gameplay that provides a new experience every time you play.

Steredenn: Binary Stars only contains a singular element of the story, never adapted on and never mentioned again during each playthrough, and to be fair that’s all that’s really needed. You start your mission in a Mothership, getting to grips with the basics in the form of a short tutorial. The moment you set off into space, however, you witness your flying base rendered in two by a laser and are alerted to the presence of space pirates in the vicinity. With that, you set off on your journey to exact justice.

Developers Commentary
Damien:There's no real story in Steredenn. It was a pragmatic choice we made as we are a very small team (2 dev fulltime, 1 2D artist, 1 sound designer, 1 musician) with a tiny budget. But in the end we're satisfied with the way it is now. Maybe we could develop some lore but the few cinematics and backgrounds let the player imagine their own reasons to fight the space pirates.

Steredenn Screenshot 1

Taking on a side perspective with the gameplay scrolling horizontally, the title bears a lot of resemblance to the classic space shooter Gradius; though there are enough additions in the mechanics to Steredenn that ensure you don’t make too many direct comparisons. Unlike most shmups, your craft has a life bar and isn’t destroyed the moment it comes in contact with an enemy bullet, while this sounds like it may make the game easier, being able to take a knock or two is imperative to making any progress through each stage.

Developers Commentary
Damien:It will probably looks weird but we're not really shmup players. I, Damien, personally like a lot Ikaruga, Sexy Parodius and a few other titles. For the life bar, we originally intended to allow "3 hits", where 1 hit from a small rock or from a giant laser would do the same damages.But it was quite unfair, frustrating and too difficult (EGX players from 2015 may remember!) so we quickly switched to the current life system. We still kept the "heal after boss" feature, even if there are now some medkits in Binary Stars..

Level layouts and enemy placements are procedurally stitched together every time the game begins. With a choice of spacecraft, each with their own pros/cons and nearly 50 different weapons spread across 4 weapons types, there is more than enough content to provide a completely different and unique experience every single time you play.

Developers Commentary
Damien:Yes this was intented from the start of the project. We wanted to play with the code of the shmup genre.

Reaching the end of each level will find you face to face with one of the games many over the top boss battles, requiring surgical precision to weave in and out of the strategically placed flood of bullets that form each of the bosses many attack patterns. Besting a boss will award you with a choice of powerups, allowing you to select one to passively add to your ships ever increasing ability.

Most of the bosses also feature several variants that are selected at random, with each boss having their own set of attack patterns. This keeps you on your toes, requiring you to memorize even more attack patterns that you must summon on demand if the situation arises.

If you manage to beat the last boss, the game starts again in a new loop, increasing the games overall difficulty, adding new game mechanics and throwing even more enemy projectiles onto the screen.

Developers Commentary
Damien: The game is infinite. Each loop is harder and has some surprises (like suicide bullets).

Steredenn Screenshot 2

Once you have completed each of the games 7 levels for the first time (no easy task in itself) you are awarded the opportunity to partake in the Weekly Boss Rush Mode. Facing only bosses, you are tasked with dispatching as many as possible, given as many attempts as you wish to try and reach the top of the scoreboard for that week.

After you have participated in 10 runs of the main campaign, win or lose, the game’s most engaging mode is unlocked. The Daily Run globally pits players against each other, giving them one shot and one shot only to rack up the highest score in an identical seed (the generated layout) of the main game, with everyone required to use the same ship and powerups. Each day the scoreboard resets and the level layout changes, giving you another chance to reach the top of the Leaderboard.

Also included is an Arena Mode, allowing you to select which bosses to challenge and which load-out to bring along, allowing you to hone your skills until you eventually manage that flawless victory.

Unfortunately, the game doesn’t feature any sort of outright ridiculous challenges such as a one-hit mode, though based on the masochistic nature of some of the boss battles it would only get used by the truly hardcore anyway.

Developers Commentary
Damien: We thought about a challenge game mode but it was never released. But your idea is a bit different and I like it so... why not? We'll think about it! :)

Steredenn Screenshot 3

Sadly the Switch suffers from content overload in Handheld Mode with hiccups in frame rate occurring when there’s simply too much on the screen for it to handle. The game manages to steady itself fairly quickly each time but in a game requiring pixel-perfect precision in the player movement to navigate the wave after wave of bullets littering playing field, each spike is a roll of the dice on whether you’ll have suffered any damage by the time it stabilises. Docked Mode doesn’t feature any noticeable issues, however, with gameplay being constant throughout.

Developers Commentary
Damien: We made a lot of optimization to achieve a stable framerate so I'm surprised you had some issues. I definitely agree this is an issue in a precise gameplay We made a lot of tests and never had an issue... it may be related to the game being installed on a slow SD card but so far I am not sure. If someone who has some lags can try to install the game on the console internal storage and tell us if it's better, it would be awesome. Be sure this is something we take very seriously..

The games 2D pixel art is fantastically presented in its simplicity, with beautiful animations on both weaponry and bosses. Also featuring a pounding soundtrack that’s perfectly suited to the title, it’s a shame that the short track list, while varied, leaves you wishing there was more of it.

Slight frame rate issues aside, Steredenn is everything you could want from a Bullet-Hell Shooter; A wide array of enemies, ridiculously oversized boss battles, range of powerups and an ever-increasing difficulty loop that’ll keep you pushing further each time, shooting for the highest score. Topping this off with the procedural nature of the level creation makes this an absolutely essential title for fans of the genre. If Pixelnest were able to improve stability in Handheld Mode it would be difficult not to award this excellent title a perfect score.

Many thanks to Damien for his discussion during this review.


+ Frantic bullet-hell action.
+ Unlimited replayability.
+ Engaging leaderboard challenges.

- Slight frame dips in Handheld Mode.

Verdict: Nearly There - Highly Recommended

For gameplay footage of Steredenn, see our see our 10 minute Dive In: HERE
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