There are sometimes when I review certain games where I think to myself that “someone spent a lot of their time and money to make this game.” Contrary to the cartoonish portrayal by angry video game reviewers, game development isn’t easy, and even games that are not the least bit good take a lot of time to create. As such, I sometimes feel bad when I tear into games that are likely made by newbie devs… unless the game is unplayable shovelware then I don’t really care.
Legends of the Universe: Starcore is not quite in the same category of unplayable as Ghostie Quest or 8BitBoy, but holy fuck is it dull. This is another review I have been sitting on for a while since I was swamped with other projects, so I needed to play a bit more of this game to re-familiarize myself with it because it is such a bland game. I will give some credit in that the game was at least competent enough for me to not realize the game was ass until after spending 2 hours on it and being past the point of eligibility for a refund, meaning that Lunarcore has indeed made off with the $0.50 I paid for this game when it was on sale.
The first thing that one will notice when looking at Starcore, is how poorly presented it is. Just take a look at the game’s trailer for a moment.
First of all, the art direction is dull and unappealing. Not only does the player character look like an edited Mega Man sprite, but the backdrops have almost nothing in terms of eye catching visuals. The backgrounds are almost always made up of only a few colors, and those enemy designs are used in nearly every game of this type. The height of the game’s visual appeal is that some areas have a different background color than others.
Starcore is a Metroidvania title, and Metroidvania games NEED to have some element aesthetic appeal in order to be the least bit compelling. In order to make one feel okay with all the backtracking they are doing, the game’s world needs to feel immersive and whole. This is what something needs in order to make finding new areas interesting or to induce satisfaction upon new discoveries. These games were always big on atmosphere compared to the more linear 2D action games.
And no, they don’t need to have Fallout tier world building or scope in order to be competent, and hell the graphics don’t even need to be of good technical quality. What is important is artistic quality. Even the most basic and primitive of graphical games knew how to use their technology effectively and make something that is at least visually appealing. This is the difference between games designed by the pioneers of the game industry, and an inexperienced first timer who wants to make a game like the one they grew up with.
Of course, wanting to create games like the ones you love is not a bad idea by any means, hell it certainly beats the crap out of doing so for profit. The problem with Starcore is that it does not grasp the more subtle aspects of what made titles like the original Metroid appealing. Let me post a few screenshots from the first Metroid for comparison.
Much more visually appealing right? While some aspects of the visuals may not have held up the best by today’s standards, one can see just how much more detail and variety was put into these visuals. There is a much greater sense of contrast and each area does feel totally different. This was how Metroid actually made us feel like we were exploring an uncharted planet… err how it made you feel at least, I wasn’t even born when it came out. Also notice how the black background was used to the game’s advantage and how it left so much up to the imagination. Starcore on the other hand, just has a bunch of patterns that are the just cause the devs thought they would look cool.
The sound effects are often awkward and ill fitting. I specifically remember the sound effect use when you enter a save point to be particularly grating. And then there’s the music. Metroid was known for its strong atmospheric tracks that really drew the player in. The title screen track made players know that it wasn’t just going to be a straightforward action title. The Brinstar theme was catchy but also less harmonic than most Nintendo themes of that era. Starcore’s soundtrack, on the other hand, is great if you like porno synth. Unfortunately for the rest of us, and by the rest of us I mean everyone, dissonant and simplistic techno beats don’t really set any kind of mood.
Jokes about this sounding like the music you’d hear in a bad porn movie or a Nickelodeon cartoon about ducks aside, the music in this game is flat out bad. Yes, one can say that it has a catchy beat, but that’s all it has. It’s the same type of senseless fluff that is used in today’s shitty pop songs. Hell I don’t know if there’s a melody more so than a bunch of mechanical sounds that the devs just thought “sounded cool.” I’m pretty sure that this is the type of stuff that one could create in Garage Band in like, two minutes.
That is the key problem with Starcore as a whole; it lacks the necessary finesse to create a game that is legitimately engaging. The game is certainly playable, but when you have dozens of retro inspired Metroidvania titles on the marketplace, why would anyone pick this? The only reason I played it was because of how cheap it was on sale and because I hold a natural interest in the obscure. To further prove my point, I decided to search the Metroidvania tag on Steam and see what came up, and there were over 160 of them, including games like Axiom Verge, Ori and the Blind Forest, Steamworld Dig, Owlboy, Guacamelee!, Dust: An Elysian Tail, Salt and Sanctuary, Bunny Must Die, Rabi Ribi, Hollow Knight, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, Shadow Complex Remastered, Outland, Teslagrad, Strider, Rogue Legacy, Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit, and Cave Story+. Who the hell is going to pick Starcore over all those?
Ah yes, but I have not touched on the gameplay yet. It is entirely possible for a game to look and sound like ass but still be fun. It’s just that those with the talent to make a game fun know how important presentation is. To answer the question, no, Starcore is not the one special indie title to look and sound like ass but be fun despite this. The game tries to copy Metroid’s formula, but only seems to copy it on a base level; and even then it’s to a fault.
First of all, you start out with all of your gear only to arbitrarily lose it all after the tutorial explains how to use them. All that this does is ensure that when you do get your equipment back, you will forget how it works… which they explain once you do get them back. One could say that they were doing this just to set up the story, but that’s not how the original Metroid worked; it just threw you right into the game. Oh, but that’s what Super Metroid did (infinitely better mind you) so it must work here! Well if that’s the case, then why the fuck do you not have the long beam by default, and why can’t you shoot upwards, downwards, or diagonally? I did not get far enough to know if you got them as upgrades later, but even if you did, you should have them from the start.
Also of note is that the game is WAY too generous on extra health. In Metroid, you could only get more HP by killing enemies and hoping they drop HP, or by saving. In Starcore, that is also the case, you you have a lot of silver boxes that you break open by shooting or hitting with your head even though this isn’t a Mario game. You have a higher chance regain HP than you you do the game’s currency (what a surprise that this game has something that wasn’t in Metroid). Some of these rooms have multiple rows and columns of boxes, and most player will instinctively break them all, which will leave you with twenty HP drops at the point in the game where you have three HP and most enemies only take off half an HP box from hitting you. Additionally, the game has an arbitrary limit on its currency which you will hit before you even reach the first place you can spend them.
Gameplay wise, it is a bit difficult to properly discern what makes Starcore so boring despite it not having particularly frustrating design… aside from the complete lack of charisma or any sort of imagination involved. I can point out other individual flaws like how one automatically gets put on top of a moving platform they jumped to even if they did not land on top of it, or the fact that one can jump while falling if they didn’t gain their air by jumping, or the fact that you happen to have a robot pod that gives you hints and says “hey” and “listen” exactly like Navi except in a more robotic low pitched. Truthfully though, neither of those are the problem.
The core problem (no pun intended) with Starcore is that it’s just not engaging. There is nothing that makes me want to keep playing. I normally am one to under emphasize presentation if there are other factors that heighten it, but there is not a single positive presentational aspect of this game. Everything about this game is just flat out boring. It isn’t utterly horrendous, but it’s just kinda… there. To be honest, it was surprising just how much the poor presentation took away from this game, as I normally don’t give a fuck about graphics. Playing this game, however, just reminds me that without any attempts at presentation of immersion, you’re just pressing buttons in front of a static television screen, and that roughly sums up what playing Starcore is like to me.
I guess if there was one criticism I needed to give to make the core gameplay better, it would be to make it more challenging, and I mean I don’t mean “challenging” as in a bunch of cheap deaths and check point starvation, I mean to actually design a fun game. Starcore is utterly soulless, and one feels no sense of accomplishment as they progress, it’s just an “eh, whatever” type of feeling that occurs. Games are works of artistic expression, and thus they exist to elicit certain emotions. Unfortunately, Starcore only makes me feel like I want to play something else.
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