Bad things happen in space. The further you go, the crazier it gets. Panda Indie Studio and Eastasiasoft are inviting players onto a cosmic journey of bizarre and unexplainable proportions with Project Starship X. The latest offering from Eastasiasoft and its winter showcase of games. Spaceship shooters are seeing a strong resurgence in 2021, with Twitch even adding a shmup category to its services. Spaceships may all follow the same formula of dodging, shooting, and destroying deadly enemies, but every shmup provides something different to the established formula. Project Starship X enters a popular genre with its absurd visuals, roguelike elements, lightning-fast gameplay, and stellar music.
Project Starship X is an upgraded version of the original Project Starship. Released in 2016, Project Starship was a fast and furious spaceship shmup with swift gameplay and an impressive visual palette that boisterously uses a retro style. Project Starship made strides on Steam and a positive impact on players, praising its visual feel, but most importantly, its twist on the established gameplay formula. Project Starship uses random events and procedural generation to shake up player’s expectations and keep players challenged to constantly adapt to changing situations. Project Starship X greatly enhances this core element, with many added features that have it almost feeling like an entirely different game. This includes new characters, secret unlockables, more levels to encounter, and more random events.
There isn’t much of a premise, other than to defeat the bad guys and save the universe. It sounds easy on paper, but it is anything but. Every eldritch creature in the cosmos will come for the player. Flying skulls, deadly crabs, giant eyeballs, corporate zombies, the list is endless, and the danger is hauntingly bizarre. The darkest and most sinister forces of the universe are out to destroy humanity, but what they didn’t count on is your ability to pilot a ship. Through 5 stages, and 14 different level orientations, players take the fight to the furthest reaches of space.
Project Starship X introduces four characters to the mix and an additional character with a wholesome Cthulu. Each ship is different and features different shots and shot spreads, providing a different playstyle, depending on the player’s preferences. What’s common for all ships is the dash ability. Dashing spears players through obstacles and enemy shots. There is an unlimited supply, but the timing and use have to be just right to survive the most diabolical challenges. Dashing also allows players to obtain powerups, shields, and extra lives. In some cases, the ship can auto-dah towards a particular item. This can be rather difficult to see in the sea of vibrant color and animation, but keen-eyed players should be able to spot these instances with no problems.
Project Starship X sends a lot at the player but doesn’t go too far. As chaotic as everything is on-screen, ships and objectives are clear and understandable. Each playthrough is a randomized path, and each level can be completely different from the next. On a repeat playthrough, levels, enemies, and boss fights can change unpredictably. The challenge keeps players ready and prepared for anything that may come across their paths. Each level, however, is packed with secrets and random moments called “Mad Events.” Some levels offer hidden areas that lead to secret sections of a level, filled with powerups, and alternate paths. These prove useful for staying alive. Mad Events are moments within a level that break away from the rest of the path to provide a challenge that players must overcome for rewards and survival. One level involves traveling through tunnels and another involves interfacing with larger ships to survive endless bullets.
Project Starship X is a Saturday Morning Cartoon gone to insane levels. The game plays as if every energy drink in the fridge has been drank. Colors bounce off the screen, enemies fly in from all angles, and lighting-fast gameplay leads to absurd levels of action and excitement. Every explosion results in a violent screen shake and the visuals contain that vibrant line blur to mimic the game being played on an old-fashion television. The surprise of the level design and the sophistication of the visual design keeps every single session incredibly and unendingly exciting. Most video games, especially for those that have been playing games for a long time, always have a sense of what to expect, but Project Starship X is so wildly unpredictable, it’s refreshing. There was no idea what would happen next, and few games give that hard-to-attain sensation. This gameplay experience is bolstered by a remarkable soundtrack by novtos, which keeps the experience new, yet nostalgi. Almost as if the game is being played on a super-charged, demonic NES. It’s worth noting that for those distracted by various visuals on-screen, the options menu provides choices to reduce screen shake, among other choices.
Short But Sweet
What can be greatly appreciated with Project Starship X is how dedicated to fun and discovery it is. The game encourages players to simply play and focus on the chaos and the fun. Most games hammer home tutorials before the game can actually begin. For Project Starship X, the goal is simply to play and figure things out on one’s own time. As the genre is a shmup, learning the game isn’t terribly complicated, but it is in the level design and boss fights where players need to learn and adapt. Project Starship X is about pure, insane fun.
What few problems Project Starship X has is swept away by the sheer enjoyment of the gameplay and game mechanics. It’s strong and quite replayable, but the only real flaw is that Project Starship X could use perhaps twice as many levels or so. However, spaceship shooters were never meant to have hours upon hours of content. Spaceship shooters are meant to be quick bursts of crazy, wild arcade action, and for the price, Project Starship X has plenty to keep players coming back for more. Still, given the wild imagination of Project Starship X, I would love to see more of what the team could offer, given the simply wild imagination of Project Starship X.
Project Starship X is bursting with vivid imagination and loads of fun. Its artistic styles and colors leap off the screen, while its gameplay keeps players coming back for more. This game is a strong reminder of the artistic capabilities video games have to offer. It’s also a stronger reminder that games can be about insane, mindless energy, which translates to great enjoyment. Whether you are a spaceship shooter expert or this is your first time playing a shmup, this is a voyage you don’t want to miss. Through this wild conundrum of elements, Project Starship X is a short but wild cosmic quest.
Project Starship X was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 Computer Entertainment System thanks to a key generously supplied by eastasiasoft.