STAFF REVIEW of Project Starship (Xbox One)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Project Starship Box art You could say I’m a shmup (shoot-em-up) connoisseur. Ever since the early days of gaming, I’ve always been drawn towards bullet hell shooters, otherwise known as Danmaku (which translates as a barrage of bullets). What makes these games addictive is trying to remember the insane bullet patterns while trying to avoid the hundreds of bullets on the screen at one time, so when a game like Project Starship does things slightly differently, it can be a little jarring at times.

Looking as if it was ripped right out from the late 80’s or early 90’s, Project Starship screams indie pet project with its very simplistic and pixelated visuals. This isn’t generally a bad thing, but it can appear very basic at times. That being said, you’ll see all the bullets on the screen while you fly your ship trying to avoid all the projectiles.

You take the role of Garret or Gwen, two different pilots that play the exact same, trying to save the world from evil. While they fundamentally play the same, it seems each can receive different power-ups, at least that’s how it appeared after my dozens of playthroughs. What makes Project Starship unique in the Danmaku genre though is that every run is procedurally generated. This means that you won’t necessarily be memorizing bullet patterns and enemy placements, as every run will be randomized and different. This on one hand forces you to adapt on the fly, but it is a complete crap shoot if you get lucky and have a good or terrible run because of the randomness.

While the core gameplay is like any other shmup with the screen being filled with dozens of bullets, especially on Hard mode where you’ll lose a life, or in this case, a shield, if the core of your ship gets hit. Great shmups have precise controls and you can make a clear distinction of the projectiles you need to avoid in relation to where your ship is. This is where Project Starship flounders a bit. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been hit by something I totally couldn’t see, either from behind me or elsewhere. In the later stages there’s so much going on, not just bullet barrages, that it can become confusing and cluttered on screen.

Of course, you’ll find power-ups randomly dropped from enemies as you destroy them. Some add additional bonuses like missiles or shields, others add an extra life or change your weapon type to something more powerful like shurikens or lasers. Yes, shurikens in space. There’s also an odd voice over that announces when you pick up any of these that seems out of place. This is all well and good, but again, because every run is randomly generated, you could have an amazing high score run one time, and the next, you’ll die before even challenging the first boss.

At certain times you’ll also encounter random sequences called Mad Events. These break up the standard gameplay and usually have you dodging bullet patterns or flying though narrow spaces for a short period before gameplay returns to normal. This is usually not a big deal, I swear there were times where it was unfair and seemed as if it was unbeatable without getting hit.

Normally in games like these you also have special bombs or something of the like that clears the screen of enemies for emergencies. This is included as well, kind of. There are special items you can pick up, but they are odd and not always effective. For example, one of these special items is literally called “TV Doesn’t Work”, and when used, causes a fake static to appear on screen for a few seconds where you’re unable to see anything, but also clearing enemies on the screen. Another has you dialing a phone, but I’m still unsure what this power-up actually does, if anything.

While the game is unique in its visuals and design, it’s quite basic. Funny enough, there’s an epilepsy warning at the beginning, and there’s so much flashing on the screen at times that I completely agree with these warnings. While not often, I did deal with some major slowdown in the later stages when things became hectic on screen, more so when playing Hard mode. You’re simply aiming for a high score, and sadly, there’s not even an online leaderboard to compare how you’ve done against your friends and others.

For around $5 you can experience an interesting Danmku game that is retro inspired but lacks replayability and features unless you want to constantly try and beat your own high score. With an online leaderboard I would have had more motivation to play long term, but you’ll even attain all the achievements in just a handful of runs.

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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