STAFF REVIEW of Fission Superstar X (Xbox One)

Sunday, May 26, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Fission Superstar X Box art Do you enjoy space shooters? What about roguelites with random generation of enemies? Do you thrive on a very difficult challenge with permadeath for when you screw up? If you answered yes to these questions, then Fission Superstar X is THE game for you, developed by indie creators Turbo Pelvis 3000.

Sometimes when a story is so absurd and over the top, it makes it better than when it’s trying to be super serious and comes up short. Such is the case with Fission Superstar X, a tale about a jaded Doctor Leopold that hails from Planet X. This mad scientist has created a massive Planet destroying bomb, lovingly nicknamed Celine, and the main target is Earth. Earth is very far away from Planet X though, and you’ll need to make stops along the way, including Pluto (it’s still a Planet damnit!).

Generally lifeforms don’t take kindly to being blown up, so everyone will attempt to stop you and shoot down your ship along your way across the solar system. It’s a silly story, but it’s fitting, as the gameplay is what you’ll come for more so than any narrative.

As for its core gameplay, Fission Superstar X plays out like a standard side scrolling space shooter, though like any good roguelike, when you die it’s permanent and you begin all the way at the start. Combat is interesting though, as you begin with a standard turret near the top of your ship, with options to purchase and add one on each side of your ship as you progress. What makes the shooting interesting though is that you can only physically shoot at angles that your turrets can see. This means that you’ve only got about a 45 degree angle of coverage on each turret side, which makes sense, but adds a lot of challenge.

Once you have a turret on the top, bottom, front and back, shooting down enemies will become much easier, but until then, you’re defenseless on sides with no turret, making the first few levels a challenge. This is due to the randomness of enemy placement. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and they’ll appear from off screen in an ideal spot, within your turrets range of sight, but other times, you won’t be so lucky and will have to attempt to maneuver your ship so you are able to shoot them down.

This means you need to constantly be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, but also figure out how to avoid enemy turrets and weaponry as well. The AI seems smart enough to know where its weapons are placed and will make it challenging to get out from their weapon's ideal positioning. For example, maybe an enemy has a chainsaw on the bottom of their ship, which does massive damage, so the AI will generally know to try and stay above you so that it can attempt to kill you. One on one isn’t too bad, but when you get a few levels deep and have multiple enemies at once, you can get shot down in a matter of seconds if you’re not careful and take them out swiftly. This isn’t even factoring the special levels that also have debris, like floating space cows or cars, which needs to be avoided as well.

This is where your shield comes into play. This shield will allow you to block incoming projectiles, push away enemies and even tractor beam in cash and pickups from blown up enemies. So why not just always have the shield going then? Well, your ship also has an energy meter, tied to not only your shield use, but your turret firing as well, so it’s a delicate balance of offensive and defensive you need to find.

The ship you begin with will be very basic and as you progress from planet to planet, but should you decide to blow it up after defeating its boss instead of making it all the way to Earth, you’ll unlock new ships, but keep in mind this will end your run just like a regular death would. While I liked the idea, sadly the newer ships seemed to be just cosmetic changes and had no added statistical benefits (though there was an achievement).

That’s right, you’re going to have to survive many levels to get to each of the Planet’s bosses, of which are incredibly challenging. To put it into perspective, after about an hour or two of trying over and over and finally making it to Pluto and defeating the first boss, I got a rare achievement that only about 5% of players had unlocked. That’s how challenging Fission Superstar X is. Get used to the first two planets though, as getting further than that is truly an accomplishment in of itself.

Levels last anywhere from one to three minutes, and once you survive, you’re given the option of what you want to do next. Do you repair your ship, heal your crew or boost their shields? Also, you’ll pick from a list of random vendors that sell weapons, shipyards and crew recruitment. In the beginning you’ll want to recruit ASAP so that you can fill all four turrets and defend yourself on all sides, but this costs money, as does upgrading your weapons. You don’t get many of the super cool weapons until much later in the game, but again, good luck making it that far without a dozen hours of practice and the RNG gods on your side.

So many times I was shy just a bit of money for the crew member or weapon upgrade I wanted, so be sure to spend wisely. This doesn’t factor in that if an enemy or boss completely destroys one of your turrets, it’s gone until you buy another crew member. Interestingly, when you pick what you want to do after a completed level, it will also show the length of the level (one to three minutes) and how many jumps ahead it’ll put you closer to the Planet and its boss (again, one to three). Usually the shorter the jump the shorter the stage length, but it seems completely random. I tended to go with the largest jumps and shortest times so increase my odds of survivability, but again, the RNG gods can be in your favor or completely against you.

There’s a lot of strategic balance you need to take into account. At the beginning you’re given a few DNA points to create your pilot and improve their skill, aim or armor every time you start anew, and when you recruit new crew, do you spend more on someone that has more armor or aim, or save some money for upgrades and hope you can last another level or two until the new vendor option appears? Again, randomness plays a huge part, so you may get lucky, but don’t always count on it.

When you do finally upgrade your ships weaponry, have a great crew and are taking out enemies almost instantly, Fission Superstar X is a ton of fun. Conversely, the opposite is true as well, as a bad run will make you question if you should give it another go. It would have helped if many of the mechanics were explained much more clearly, such as DNA points and how to get more, or how many jumps it takes to get to the boss, but you’ll figure it out in time with dozens and dozens of deaths and start overs.

The artistic design of Fission Superstar X is wonderful. Enemies are unique and varied, seeing them explode is even more wonderful, as are crew members, ship design and even the backgrounds in space as you zoom from stage to stage. In motion is all seems to work and flow together nicely, coupled with a fitting chiptune soundtrack that has me bobbing my head every time I visit a vendor or recruitment area.

There’s a lot of depth and strategy to Fission Superstar X, it’s just a shame that the difficulty is so astronomically high that most won’t get to experience most of it before giving up, as it will take some dedication to make any real progress. Even with constant death and restarts, I enjoyed my time carrying out Doctor Leopold’s orders, well attempting to, as I’m still working on trying to blow up Earth.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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