Terrible name. Awesome game.
I’ve been playing a lot of terrible shoot-em-ups lately. It’s not just me, either – our own Anthony Spivey discussed on the most recent HPPodcast the idea that the genre might be dead, or dying, and we agreed that it seemed like there might be no new ideas to be had in the shoot-em-up space. Imagine, then, how I felt when Francis assigned me yet another indie bullet hell shmup, and worse – one that was a remake of a game we’d already covered. The fact that the game bore the ludicrously unwieldy title of “Super Galaxy Squadron EX Turbo” seemed to only confirm my suspicions that I was in for a disappointment.
I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Super Galaxy Squadron is great, and this version is the best yet. It’s what so many of these other too-short, derivative indie shmups desperately want to be – fun, fast-paced, endlessly replayable, and chock-full of the kind of charm that made its arcade predecessors great. If you, like me, have been desperately waiting for a new bullet hell game that’s actually worth your time and money, look no further – it’s finally here.
Super Galaxy Squadron began as a simple one-man college project, funded through Kickstarter in 2015. Around this time last year it was re-released as Super Galaxy Squadron EX, a much more polished version of the original. This year’s model, now with a Turbo added to the rest of the title, promises to be the game’s final form, and adds new ships, modes, and features.
It’s these new features that really make the game stand out in an oversaturated market – most notably, the addition of a slow-motion mode called “FOCUS” in game, and referred to by the Steam store page as “Bullet-Hell Time.” At lower difficulty levels, it’s a handy crutch for those who aren’t used to the screen-filling stress of a bullet hell game. At higher levels, the slow-mo mode means that the developers can get away with absolutely ludicrous amounts of projectiles on the screen, and because your FOCUS in limited, it becomes a valuable resource that must be carefully managed if you want to succeed. Either way, it’s an awesome new idea and something that makes otherwise fairly standard shmup gameplay feel fresh and exciting.
When I say “fairly standard”, I don’t mean that in a bad way. Shooting may be a familiar mix of a rapidfire primary weapon, a more powerful automatic secondary, and a destructive special attack, but it’s all done with a level of polish I haven’t seen in far too long. Everything runs amazingly smoothly, with a wide variety of enemies and interesting, fun-to-fight bosses. There’s also a ton of ways to play, from a Casual mode that should make the game fun and accessible for even the noobiest of shmup noobs to a Hell mode that really lives up to its name. Every difficulty level can also be played in “hardcore” mode, which removes the checkpoints and health bar for a more traditional experience lifted from the days where games existed solely to eat your quarters. Throw in a new Boss Rush mode (a great way to improve your skills) and a randomly-generated Endless mode (the best way to play, in my opinion) and Super Galaxy Squadron becomes a package with enough content to satisfy even the most passionate of the “60 hours minimum or bust” crowd.
All that’s to say nothing of the fact that the Turbo version of the game comes with 17 characters, all of which you can play as soon as the game’s installed. And this isn’t just a Ghost Blade-style glorified palette swap either – each character plays remarkably differently, with loads of different fighting styles and special abilities ranging from big lasers to napalm mines to a giant prism that acts as a shield and amplifies the strength of your attacks to something called a “Torpedo Circus.” Each character also has a unique look and backstory, so whether you want to be a badass space pirate, a mutant pile of alien flesh, or even a woman of color (that rarest of game protagonists), there’s a place in the Super Galaxy Squadron for you.
The attention to little details like giving each character a distinct voice and personality is staggering. I know it’s most likely the result of this being the game’s third and most refined release, but when AAA studios can’t be bothered to release remasters that fix glitches present in the original game, let alone improve on them, it’s nice to see a tiny indie studio making them all look bad. I could not find a single technical flaw in the game, or an option that I wished was there but wasn’t (screen shake is optional, which is a blessing to someone as prone to motion sickness as I am.) Playing feels really good – and most importantly, everything is focused on fun.
If the game has a flaw, it’s that the same attention to detail isn’t present in its artistic design. The pixel art graphics are nice, especially in the gorgeous opening cutscene, but beyond that they’re more functional than inspired. Enemy designs are forgettable, maps are made of a simple repeated background, and while the music’s nice enough, selling the soundtrack as DLC does feel a little presumptuous in this case. The story, likewise, feels a bit empty and pointless, although the voice acting is much better than I would expect from a production of this kind.
But so what? The game focuses on gameplay. It’s clear at a glance how enemies fit into combat and how strong they are relative to other enemies, and who cares about the story when you could be playing the far more satisfying Endless mode?
Also, since the last time we reviewed the game, full support has been added for Steam controllers. As one of the twelve people who still uses their Steam controller, I gave it a try, and I can confirm that it’s just as fluid as the game’s store page promises. Ser Flash also tested it with a Razer Sabertooth controller and arcade stick in its EX incarnation, and had nothing but good things to say about it. So however you like to fly your spaceship, Super Galaxy Squadron’s got you covered.
Really, that “got you covered” philosophy is emblematic of the entire game. Whether you’re a new player or a hardcore veteran, whether you like to experience a story campaign or just get to the good stuff, and no matter what sort of shooting strategy you prefer, Super Galaxy Squadron EX has something for you. It may have a few minor flaws (besides those mentioned above, some hitboxes are kinda screwy), but it’s still the best new shoot-em-up in years, and it’s something I know I’ll be continuing to play in my spare time. Plus, the slow-motion mechanic is awesomely inspired.
Seriously, though, what a lousy name. It rolls off the tongue like a cinderblock.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: New Blood Interactive; Developer: Synset; Players: 1; Released: March 6, 2017 ; MSRP: $11.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Super Galaxy Squadron EX Turbo given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.