Ah, nothing like a good bullet hell Shmup to get the gaming blood flowing. SophStar has been a joy to play these last few days – even as it kicks my ass over and over. It’s tough, but also grants players various ways to play to help overcome the challenge.
We play as Soph, a highly capable fight pilot who also happens to be able to teleport short distances. Using one of ten craft – Reyka, Nina, Arobe-D, Hirane, Dumont, Dumont, Rigby, Katha, Z2, or Leo – each with their own perks and drawbacks, we must scroll the vertical screen laying waste to anything that moves. There’s a tale about finding her forgotten past but in all honesty we’re not here for the narrative now, are we?
We’re here for the hectic action; and man, SophStar wastes no time in getting to that. The opening level gives us a minute or so to get into the swing of things, before a mid-level boss signals the opening of the floodgates. From here on out we’re just bombarded by enemies constantly. I played for the most part on Intermediate (the default) but a quick go on Brutal saw my credits drop to zero within minutes. There are six difficulties in total, so I’d recommend knocking it down to Beginner or even Child to start out as otherwise it can feel a bit deflating to get wiped out over and over.
As I mentioned though, we’re given several ships to choose from. It’ll take some time to find a favourite but each feel distinct thanks to the perks and drawbacks associated with them. My favourite so far is Leo, with his main weapon being a barrage of homing missiles that find their target with ruthless efficiency. The drawback here though is that we have no real say over who is being targeted; could be an enemies closes in on us while we’re still shooting at one on the other side of the screen. I found my flow with this craft much easier than the others, even if some of them have whacking great flamethrowers as their main weapons.
In addition to the attack is that Teleport ability. Craft also have their own versions of this, with various pros and cons too. Going back to Leo and his teleport charges very slowly, but when activated leaves a massive black hole for a few seconds that sucks enemies and bullets in, preventing us from harm. We lose the points we’d have otherwise gained from killing them outright but when the screen fills up, sometimes this is a necessary sacrifice.
These two aspects combined are our way to survive the onslaught, and the actual act of putting them to use is a lot of fun. Seeing enemies explode as they come careening towards us, or finally downing a tough boss after what feels like thousands of bullets is exactly what I come to Shmup’s for, and SophStar delivers in spades. I did find that sometimes the action can get a little obscured behind the artstyle, but that’s also down to my reactions not quite being what they were.
Speaking of which, the game looks lovely for the most part, with chunky 2D sprites and colourful presentation. As a vertical scroller, those playing on a regular screen will have familiar borders either side of the gameplay (these can be changed via several visual options) and we can even increase the zoom of the gameplay area. A Tate mode if available for those that wish to play this way too, though I’ve not been able to set this up, as much as I’d like to.
In addition to the main campaign, we also have a few other modes of play; Score and Time based challenges, and an Endless mode, as well as an Ultimate Challenge mode (which I must admit I’ve not unlocked yet – need some faster hands). The stand out mode has to be the Cadet School though. Here, we’re given specific challenges to beat to rise up the ranks. These feature the likes of get a certain score within a tight time limit, or survive without shooting for an amount of time. The challenges are brief but fun, with some of the later ones I’ve tried proving to be a real challenge.
Those looking for tough, but fun, arcade shoot-em-up action should absolutely check out SophStar. It plays well, offers a great challenge, and has a decent amount of extra modes to check out when we’ve been beaten down for the fifth time in a row in the main game.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.