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Nova strike cover art depicting a spaceship and a woman in a spacesuit

Nova Strike (PC review) – A decent shmup trapped in a Roguelike’s body

Key Takeaways
1. Basic shmup gameplay with a customizable ship
2. Clean pixel art and catchy music
3. Quickly feels stale due to repetitive Roguelike structure

Overview

Nova Strike is a vertically scrolling shmup with a Roguelike (technically Roguelite) structure. The game is composed of four chapters with each containing six stages and a boss.

During runs, you can pick up temporary upgrades and new weapons for your ship. Between runs, points can be redeemed for persistent upgrades, such as more equipment slots, that allow you to better utilize the weapons and items found in each stage.

Overall, my feelings about this game were quite mixed, so I'll be breaking this review down into pros and cons.

Pros

One of the most positive aspects of Nova Strike is the clean pixel art. In many shmups, the artwork gets too busy, which makes it hard to keep track of your ship. Nova Strike looks sharp, and its use of contrasting colors keeps things readable. The aesthetic reminded me of late DOS shmups like Tyrian.

Nova strike screenshot. A small red spaceship is fired upon by green turrets.

Clean pixel art and sharp color contrast make for readable action.

Audio design was another strong suit of this game. Most notably, I appreciated how this game uses distinct audio cues for power-up charging and taking damage; this allows you to keep your eyes on the action without constantly shifting your attention to the HUD. The other positive aspect of the Nova Strike‘s audio is the music. It's a catchy yet oddly relaxing synth soundtrack. While it's an unusual choice for a shmup, it helps give this game some unique flavor.

Mechanically, there are a few things that work quite well in Nova Strike. The boss battles are intense, and it's fun to experiment with customizing your ship's load out. Also, despite being procedurally generated, regular enemies come at you in sensible formations rather than random barrages.

A traditional shmup boss battle: a massive pixel art machine focuses lasers on the tiny red ship

Massive boss battles are a highlight of the gameplay. I wish getting to them was less of a grind.

Cons

Unfortunately, all of the positive things I identified above are dragged down by Nova Strike‘s Roguelike structure. Each chapter is comprised of six stages that have the same mix of enemies, the same background art, and the same music. Since this is a Roguelike, you only get one life per run. This means you'll have to repeat the first six stages many times until you get to a boss battle or the next chapter. Once you make it to the next chapter, you can unlock the ability to continue from that chapter when you die. The caveat is that using this ability will consume most of the points that you would otherwise spend on persistent upgrades for your ship.

Having to trade-off between upgrades and continues makes tangible progress come frustratingly slowly and makes the whole game feel very repetitive. After spending a few hours with the game, the gameplay became stale and the music I initially liked became grating.

Select chapter screen. It costs a whopping 1500 points to use a continue.

Considering how expensive the continues are, you have to choose between continuing or upgrading your ship.

Outside of the repetitiveness, there were a few other things that didn't quite work. Playing around with different load-outs was fun, but I often unlocked upgrades I couldn't actually use. I also found the controls for switching between weapons mid-battle to be awkward; I took quite a few hits due to getting distracted from the action when fiddling with weapon swaps.

Another negative aspect of Nova Strike is that it lacks personality. The pixel art may look clean, but the enemy sprites are all fairly generic-looking spaceships. There is also no intro or story to the campaign. While a shmup certainly doesn't need a story, having at least some context or theming around the action can be motivating. Other Roguelikes like Hades or AK-xolotl, effectively encourage you to try another run with their fun casts of characters. Nova Strike really could have benefited from something like that. Its sole character is the item shopkeeper. Who is this guy? What is he doing here? Nobody knows.

Item shop screen. A bearded man holding a little chick is in the corner.

I like how the item shop guy is holding a cute little chick.

Verdict

It's hard to come into a game with enthusiasm only for it to slowly wear you down. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened with Nova Strike. If it was simply a short, but sweet, basic shmup, it could have had the potential to be a satisfying little game. This had the potential to be a satisfying little game, if only it was a short, but sweet, basic shmup. However, the developer's decision to stretch out its limited content by using a Roguelike format just didn't work for me. If you absolutely love Roguelikes and need another shmup, you could do worse than spending $10 on Nova Strike, but you could also do much better.

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
Quick View
Title:Nova Strike
Release Date:Jul-27 2023
Price:$9.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating:Everyone
Number of Players:1
Platforms:Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, Steam, Epic
Publisher/Developer:Nacon/Sanuk Games
How Long to Beat:TBD
Recommended for fans of:Retro PC shmups
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.

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