Project Starship X – Nintendo Switch Review

Overview – developed by Panda Indie Studio and published by Eastasiasoft, Project Starship X is the third entry in the Lovecraftian bullet hell vertical shooter series. The game follows on from Project Starship and the prologue title Red Death, I will be reworking my previous coverage for both games and they will be published at a later time. The game is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and the Steam service. Links to each version of the game will be available at the bottom of this review.

Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank Eastasiasoft for providing the copy of Project Starship X that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.

Now with the introduction out of the way, let’s get into the review. I will be omitting the story section as there is a free flowing narrative that should be experienced first-hand, so I will be jumping straight into the gameplay.

Gameplay – Project Starship X is a bullet hell shooter that uses a rogue-lite approach to gameplay and progression, using semi randomized level set ups, unlockables and challenging boss battles. I will be covering the core gameplay only, as there are many secrets to discover and I feel that that would spoil part of the fun if I gave away these secrets. This will include omitting discussion of extra gameplay modes. I have chosen this approach as I want to focus on the core experience from the start.

When starting the game for the first time, there will be two characters to select from with more that can be accessed during play. Each pilot has their own strengths, weaknesses and skills that allow them to stand on their own, making them unique to each other. All characters have access to the same range of skills, including the ship blaster, defensive shields (these count as player health) and the X Maneuver which allows players to dodge attacks while also being useful as a form of attack.

Each run of Project Starship X is made up of five stages, that will vary in difficulty and more levels are added depending on the number of completions/milestones reached during play. The stages have their own themes and gimmicks that challenge the player, including a stage on the sun that uses gravity to pull you to the surface and a cave level that turns the game into a scrolling platformer. These unique stages add replay value to the game in each run.

At designated points in a stage, a sub boss will appear to fight the player and a main boss will appear to at the end of the stage, unless in a special encounter but I won’t be spoiling that. Bosses are huge screen filling monsters that will assault the player with a variety of attack patterns, taking more and more skill to overcome the challenges as the player progresses. The stage 1 bosses are simple enough, easing the player into it, but the difficulty can really ramp up quickly.

The randomized elements aren’t just focused on the selection of stages that occur each run, there is also a system called Mad Events that are very dangerous, filling the screen with hazards and much more. These random instances can kill the player easily if great care isn’t taken, becoming an inconvenience for experienced players and a frustration for those who don’t play bullet hell shooters often. The worst thing is that these events can also invert the controls causing more frustration.

During each playthrough, the player can collect items that give upgrades and power-ups. The most common items are the shield and power up, increasing the players hit points and attack power for better longevity in battle. The abundance of collectable items is great as damage comes from all sides, depleting shields quickly if care isn’t taken to avoid the onslaught.

Scattered throughout the stages and dropped by enemies are coins, these are used to buy items from the shop that appears during the run, operated by Shopthulhu. The eldritch shop keep will offer the player three items that can be purchased, but do not attack the shop keep or you may regret it. New items and objects will appear as the player progresses through the game, increasing the pool of items that can spawn during later playthroughs.

There is a lot of humor implemented throughout the game, using a mix of pop culture references and self-aware jokes that combine with the absurdity of the world the game takes place in. The most prevalent instances of absurd humor in Project Starship X is the bosses that the player will encounter during play. For example the first boss that the player will encounter is Zombie Hitler (called Zombie Bad Guy in the PS4 version), which is one of the strangest bosses I have encountered in a game.

Additional references to pop culture include the use of self-aware humor where the game breaks the fourth wall, commenting on the over use of Cthulhu and the lore surrounding it. Alongside the use of popular quotes and imagery, such as the 80’s styled vaporwave aesthetic and “praise the sun” from the dark souls franchise, which shows a passion for gaming culture from the developers.

The last thing to cover is the multiplayer component of Project Starship X. Right from the start of the game, players can access 2 player local co-op with each player using a different hero. This is a fun and entertaining mode that has a major difference compared to the single player experience. When a player has been defeated they can rejoin the battle when a death timer reaches zero if the other player is still alive, rather than outright ending the run for them and leaving their partner alone.

The inclusion of a resurrection timer is a great touch as it allows for newer players to the genre to have fun, with the potential to alleviate the feeling of failure when getting used to the challenge of the game. However, it has to be made clear that the player respawn isn’t a get out of jail free card, as repeated deaths will lead to the timer increasing exponentially and applying more pressure to the remaining player to survive as it counts down.

Now with the core gameplay covered to a degree I am happy with, I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.

Controls – Project Starship X uses a simple control method, with the thumbsticks (both left and right) along with the D-pad being used for movement. The buttons and shoulders are used to shoot and activate the X Maneuver/items. Unfortunately the controls are a little twitchy, as the thumbsticks can lack precision during intense moments so the D-pad is preferable. Aside from the minor flaw with movement, the controls work well with both pro-controller and Joy-Con options.

Presentation – visually the style for this release has a unique hand drawn art style through the use of pixel art for the characters and HUD. The animations are fluid and the designs for characters/enemies have a pleasant charm that makes the game a little more enjoyable. There is only one issue that I have though, which is the excessive use of flashing lights that caused some eye strain when playing the game handheld and could potentially cause seizures for others.

The sound has a high quality to it with a great selection of chiptune style tracks that compliments the theme of the stage that they are part of. The effects have plenty of weight to them and add the additional depth required to tie the sound design together. The last thing to mention is the use of digitized voices for different points, it has a retro charm to it but sometimes the chosen voice can sound like generic text to speech which can be jarring.

Final Thoughts – overall Project Starship X is a decent game that manages to mix bullet hell and rogue-lite elements well, although it does have some flaws to it that can cause a lot of frustration. This release is hard and will punish the player as they try to get used to the game, which can put players off. The cast of characters and bosses that the player will encounter is unique, with the absurd and ridiculous humor adding more entertainment to the game.

I can recommend this title to those who enjoy bullet hell shooters as the game is very challenging, while also providing a good starting point for new players. Panda Indie Studio has outdone themselves with the third entry in their Cthulhu shooter series, the progress unlockables, randomized elements and two player co-op play are great additions to the game creating the best shooter they have made yet.

In the end, I give Project Starship X a final score of 4/5. This game is a ridiculous and fun bullet hell shooter, with self-aware jokes, unlockable elements and a menagerie of absurd bosses that feel like a fever dream on acid. If you want to check this game out for yourself and battle Zombie Hitler(not on the PS4), links to the game will be available below.

Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)

Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)

Link to Xbox One version (HERE)

Link to Steam version (HERE)

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