Review: NovaStrike

Any self-funded, indie-developed game that appears on the PSN is worthy of our attention; The dedication deserves that reward.  But, despite marketing efforts designed to make us buy based on anything other than gameplay, we’re not really hoodwinked that easily.  NOVASTRIKE deserves attention because of its genesis, but does it deserve anything more?  Well, while all but hardcore shooter fans may wish to wait for a demo, at a shade over £6 Tiki Games’ NOVASTRIKE offers plenty of punch-per-pound.

That punch comes from more than the staple of any shooter, weapon and enemy variety – of which there is plenty, but from the way Tiki has crafted a sequence of levels that play out like epic space battles from a Sci-fi film.  You’re no longer the lone star-fighter, you’re joined by competent AI-enabled starships and plunged into the midst of some top-down, fantastically frenetic fire-fights.

Each level is basically open – you use your rechargeable afterburner to zip around the level – but certain areas are set aside for mission objectives.  The objectives often dictate which of your weapons will be best employed, but there’s a trade-off because no matter the objective there are always enemy fighters zipping around trying to send laser-death streaking your way.  Refreshingly, the objectives aren’t compulsory in order to complete a level.  Not only does this help keep the game flowing, but it reinforces the feeling of taking part in a major space war; You might not win the battle, but you can still win the war.

NOVASTRIKE provides your little ship with a couple of default weapons, but there are many more to be collected from dead enemies as upgrades.  Accessing the weapons is a matter of pressing the correct face button or d-pad direction, and then your primary or secondary weapon is selected as appropriate.  As with lots of systems like this, you tend to find your favourites and stick with them, but with limited ammo and decent differentiation in the effectiveness of the weapons you will need to switch.  However, until you learn to switch to the correct weapon it can be frustrating, as the fire-fights are chaotic and switching to a bomb when you need a cannon is never good.  In fact, it’s often easier to stick to the default weapons and just ride it out as you need a fair degree of contortionist skill to keep switching, rotating the ship, and using the afterburner.

It’s in the control of your ship that NOVASTRIKE starts to show some rough edges.  YOur ship is always moving forwards – quicker if you use the afterburner – and the left stick controls rotation.  But with a little nudge bringing about a short, sharp movement, and holding the stick in place bringing about a smooth movement – almost like a mouse cursor – fine control is somewhat tricky to produce.  It’s a system that becomes easier with practice, but never feels truly comfortable.

Further compounding this control issue are the twin gremlins of your ship being so small and of there being so much going on on-screen.  It’s often easy to lose your ship and get entranced by other ships and the hails of laser fire.  Too often you’ll be trying to bomb some enemy bases only to get completely lost as to where your ship is and bomb some ocean instead.

Of course, having so much on-screen action leads to an intense game and shows off the variety of the graphics.  There are plenty of enemies to contend with, all very well animated.  The sound tends to grate after a while though, as your ears tire of hearing the incessant drone of a machine gun for five minutes straight.

Tiki Games deserves praise for entering the shooter genre with a game that brings a new feel to anything currently on the PSN.  The shoot-outs, with nippy fighters zooming in-between the larger ships, are fun to be a part of, and the grand sense of an ongoing space war is well crafted.  Where NOVASTRIKE impresses less is its control.  It simply requires too many digits to ever feel in total control and the less-than-precise ship movement can prove an annoyance.

So, Tiki Games got our attention, but is NOVASTRIKE worth more than that?  Well, we’ve enjoyed our time battling the Draelus, and for the price tag it’s hard to argue against the value.  There are issues that need addressing, so perhaps with enough attention Tiki Games will be able to deliver a sequel?

Click here for screenshots.