The first time I died while playing Shooting Stars!, I was greeted by a summary of my score that round and an 8-bit, pixelated vision of the classic Boromir pose that you’ll know from pretty much every other meme on the internet. “One does not simply master this game,” he told me, and I’d quickly discover that he was absolutely right. While I can’t profess to have completely mastered Shooting Stars, I can certainly say that I had one heck of a time while I was trying to.
But wait; why’s Boromir popping up in this game, and what exactly is it about? Let me try to explain; Shooting Stars puts you in control of Tscherno. Tscherno is the game’s hipster protagonist, gliding around atop a pink hover-board and armed with a pet cat who has projectile lasers for eyes. Our hovering hero and his furry friend are fighting to protect the earth from an alien invasion, but it’s far from your run of the mill alien invasion with all of the green slime and bulbous heads. The aliens in this game have disguised themselves as celebrities from the world of music, film and even YouTube stardom, and they’re hell-bent on influencing mankind and taking over the world.
Shooting Stars! kicks things off without any unnecessary fuss or faffing. Immediately, its colourful visuals and pulsing soundtrack grab hold of you and let you know that this game will launch an assault on two of your major senses. The vibrant aesthetics are dialled up to the max even in the opening menus, and this is multiplied as soon as the gameplay actually starts. The same can be said for the soundtrack, which borrows popular notes and tones from other classic games and the whole 8-bit experience takes you on a nostalgic sprint through some of your old favourites.
In terms of content and – I can just about say – narrative, however, Shooting Stars! is less ‘blast from the past’ and more ‘mock the week.’ Everything from the aliens’ chosen celebrity clones to the power ups and weapons available for collection scream 2010’s internet culture, and the references and nods are constantly on point. Even the game over messages and hint screens are plastered with meme references and satirical digs at popular culture and its online heroes, and the whole thing had me grinning with a knowing glee. At times I almost wanted to fail just to see what other references might appear at the next screen or during the next stage.
Shooting Stars does far more than simply hang its hat on all of its laughs and jokes, mind you, and there’s a frantic enjoyment to be had at the centre of its objective. Contrary to how it may look, the game doesn’t simply place you on a moving track and have you edging ever forward into enemy onslaughts. Instead, you can manoeuvre around the arena as the various minions of the alien force encroach from all sides. As a result, this mechanic puts more of a tactical nous at your disposal than the likes of a more stationary title, such as the classic and no doubt influential Space Invaders.
You’ll also find more than a fair share of power-ups and unique weapons on offer in Shooting Stars! In keeping with the tone of the game, these are well influenced by memes and fads, from the deadly pentagram lightning strike to the Instagram camera shooter and its rainbow rockets. Each one adds a massive boost to the amount of damage you can do, but without making Tscherno’s cat too powerful and taking away the challenge for a few seconds. If employed incorrectly these boosts can go spiralling off in all directions and not actually help you at all.
Along with all of the power-ups and boosts, the game offers you a longer term collectible goal in the form of limited cards and useful-in-level ‘Super Foods.’ The cards are a great marker of your progress through the game and can be viewed through the main menus for a few extra giggles, and the super foods add incremental bonuses to your abilities in the game. Shooting Stars! also features two slightly different game modes; regular play sends you into the arena against a random alien celeb and their minions while Daily Run will have you compete against the scores of other players across a single level. There’s virtually no difference between these from a gameplay point of view, but it’s nice to have a couple of separate challenge stages.
There’s no denying this game is immensely fun and wonderfully funny, but it truly pains me that I can’t quite call it perfect. One or two very minor bugs did appear while I was playing, although these never had a negative impact on how I could progress in levels and were mostly just curious instances of missing text or some grainy effects. The only thing that did shade my enjoyment, however, was the unshakable feeling that I may have been playing the game on the wrong device. The PC controls are perfectly simple for a title like this, but I just couldn’t help but feel like it would be better suited to a large touch screen tablet. Again, this is hardly a weakness and in all honesty it may just be my own odd opinion here.
Ultimately, Shooting Stars is a truly enjoyable experience that mixes a harmless yet satirical world with the frenetic action of a more versatile Space Invaders clone. While there could potentially be a case for it being better suited to a touch screen device than a PC, you’ll still get a remarkably fun game whatever you decide to play it on. And since I’ve hardly even been able to scratch the surface of the perfectly scripted and animated references in it through this review, I really do suggest that you make sure you play it on something!
This review was based on the PC version of the game, and a copy was provided to us.
Shooting Stars! is a game inspired by the 21st Century internet generation. It's both an immensely fun and a strangely therapeutic experience; a great experience packed with action and satire in equal measure.