Space shmups are about a dime a dozen, and since the genre has been alive and kicking for decades, it takes something seriously unique to set each title apart. While games like R-Type and Galaga managed to do just that, recent titles have had to work a bit harder to earn their spot in the limelight. Enter Super Galaxy Squadron, the latest shmup to appear on the Steam store and the debut title from developer Nick Clinkscales (aka Psyche Studios).
Although it takes some steps in the right direction by introducing a few mechanics that shake up the standard shoot-’em-up formula and manages to provide intense battles, Super Galaxy Squadron is ultimately too devoid of personality, style and content to be recommended to veterans of the genre.
To their benefit, New Blood manages to shake up a few of the stale genre conventions. Enemies are constantly pouring in from the top of the vertical strip of space you’ll spend hours tearing up, meaning the screen is liberally covered in points, health and upgrades, all of which are dropped by destroyed foes. Health is measured numerically, and pick-ups dropped by enemies can keep you refilled and going strong for entire stages if grabbed at the right time.
Ship upgrades are similarly modernized, with personal customization eschewed for three types of locked upgrades that are also dropped by enemies. Primary and secondary weapon upgrades widen your shots and add some power, while rate of fire upgrades give you a few more shots per second. Rather than keep these well-earned modifications attached to your ship for good, getting shot by an enemy has the chance of making you lose one of your upgrades. Although you can chase it down, it often drifts up directly into the path of bullets, enemy ships or both, leaving you to choose if your upgrades are worth your life.
While this risk-reward system provides an interesting twist in the beginning, it quickly becomes a tiresome and cheap way to lose upgrades that are necessary to make it through to the end. Since this is a bullet hell shooter (no matter how much New Blood insists it isn’t), you’ll be getting shot constantly, often many times within seconds, meaning upgrades earned throughout the campaign can be scattered to the stars within seconds, and at that point you might as well restart the level since your ship is utterly useless without them.
This exemplifies one of Super Galaxy Squadron‘s greatest strengths: when the action gets intense, it’s a sight to behold and a blast to play. Bullets cover the screen, while your lasers/mines/bullets/bigger lasers decimate enemy ranks slightly faster than they can rejoin the fight. To the game’s credit, the action is chaotic and beautiful to watch, even if it’s not enough to carry the entire title.
Super Galaxy Squadron does benefit from a number of unique ships to choose from, however, with 14 options that provide different special weapons and play styles based on their stats. It’s easy to head into Endless Mode and try out each and every ship, figuring out which one suits your style before tackling the short and sweet campaign. Each ship is given a brief origin story as well, which hint at an interesting dynamic between the team and a deeper level of understanding of the story that’s taking place, but the game squanders its plot by barely paying it any mind.
Surprisingly, Super Galaxy Squadron boasts a captivating background, centered on a war between humans and an alien race called the Ceti that originally met peacefully until a small faction of humans destroyed a security force made up of both humans and Ceti. A temporary truce is called, but it remains unstable, with both races secretly building up arms and preparing for retaliation.
I was surprised at how utterly intrigued I was with that story, but it’s all relegated to short blocks of text in between levels, and there is no emotional pull at all throughout the game, even from the fighters that are Ceti deserters. Not every game is meant to be a story-driven experience, but Super Galaxy Squadron fumbled a genuinely interesting set up.
A chance for eye-popping environments to explore is also squandered, with each of the paltry six stages featuring bland, generic expanses of space and not much else. Many of the ships suffer from bland design as well, with some of the boss battles featuring enemies I immediately forgot about after defeating them. The visuals and audio in general are appealing in the beginning, but after a while, repetition kills any interest in the ships and the music becomes grating, although the gameplay audio remains a highlight. Each defeated ship explodes with a satisfying “BOOM!” that still brought a grin to my face after a few hours.
In the end, Super Galaxy Squadron doesn’t offer much beyond a variety of ships to do enjoyably intense battle with. The campaign is meagre, Endless Mode grows old quickly and doesn’t even keep track of high scores, and the added Hardcore Mode plays the exact same as normal with just a few modifications made to the health system. As a base product, it’s a fun game, offering insane battles that are beautifully chaotic, but it just doesn’t do anything to stand out and it certainly doesn’t offer enough of what it does right to keep players coming back again and again.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game, which was given to us for review purposes.
Despite presenting chaotic shmup battles and a variety of interesting ships to wage war with, Super Galaxy Squadron suffers from a dearth of content, failing to bring anything new to the genre or keep players coming back for repeat plays.