Inside a Star-Filled Sky Review
There's nothing quite like a super challenging retro-style shoot 'em up. The genre that captivated gamers back in the 80s was known for its punishing gameplay, and over the past couple of years, we've seen the shmup make a triumphant return. Inside a Star-Filled Sky from indie developer Jason Rohrer is similar to shooters that challenge you greatly, but it's also completely different. It's the type of game that will make you think, and it will probably cause some serious sensory overload ... if you understand it.
When I first played Inside a Star-Filled Sky, I made the major mistake of thinking it was going to be like most modern shmups. Unfortunately, it was this erroneous state of mind that prevented me from enjoying the game early on. I played for a few minutes, expecting a challenge and a quirky new mechanic, and for a while I didn't see either because I thought I was playing a by-the-numbers shooter. It wasn't until I exited the game, read its description on Steam, and went back a day later that I truly realized what Inside a Star-Filled Sky was about. And then it blew my mind.
Beginning the game is the usual round of shooter business, and you're tasked with getting from point A to point B. Along the way, you encounter numerous enemies, and it's your job to gun them down as you head toward the goal. At first you can simply bypass the baddies and reach the end of the level with nary a scratch, but as you get further into the game, it's pivotal that you pick up items and take out enemies. Power-ups range between health, spread shots, increased bullets, and more. You can only carry three items at a time, and deciding which three to carry adds a nice think-on-the-go mechanic that ups the tension, especially when you're being chased by powerful enemies in the tougher stages.
The key element in Jason Rohrer's wonderful brainchild is the ability to enter everything around you. You can enter power-ups and change their features. You can enter enemies and change their health and weapons. You can even enter yourself and change your very own vitality and armament. It's not as simple as it sounds, though, because inside each of these entities are completely different levels with their own enemies and power-ups. And in case you haven't caught on by now, you can enter these elements, as well.
Inside each level lies another level, and inside that level are even more levels. It's an ongoing series of stages that gets progressively harder, requiring you to change things up and explore practically every item in sight. Because of this, Inside a Star-Filled Sky is an endless game. The game consists of countless stages and meta-stages, and there are countless areas to see and play through. Of course, because of the recursive nature of the game, you'll never get to see them all.
But that's OK because Inside a Star-Filled Sky isn't about seeing every level or killing every enemy. Inside a Star-Filled Sky isn't about trying to reach the endgame. No, this offbeat shmup is about exploration. You must explore the depths of the worlds within the game you choose to explore. There are absolutely no confines here, no boundaries to stop you, because every level in the game leads to new levels. This is in no way your typical shooter--while the shooting is certainly awesome, it focuses more on making you think in new ways as you attempt to reach the end of each level. It's surreal, it's insane, and it's a true work of a genius.
Visually, Inside a Star-Filled Sky is a pure joy to behold. The game's 2D graphics are conveyed through beautiful bold colors and solid shapes. Every level is like a work of art, and within each of these masterpieces are colorful hues adorning vibrant environments. Though the game gets demanding due to its difficulty, it's always easy on the eyes. Additionally, the game features an enjoyable musical theme that constantly loops. You'd think this theme would get repetitive, but it's so serene that it pleases as you traverse levels and blast enemies.
Inside a Star-Filled Sky is definitely a tough-as-nails shmup. It approaches the genre in a unique manner that is riveting and completely mind-blowing. There's challenge here and a defined style of play for gamers who are into that sort of thing. But if you come into this experience expecting those attributes, you probably won't enjoy the game as much as Jason Rohrer intended. If you don't have a definition for what a shooter should be as you begin playing this magnificent indie game, you will definitely get a lot of satisfaction out of it.
Inside a Star-Filled Sky is pretentious, exorbitant, and profuse. It's a total masterpiece, and a game that anyone with an open mind should download. More than anything, though, Inside a Star-Filled Sky is a journey through itself, with an endless number of journeys within each of those journeys. You have no clue what I mean by that, do you? Play the game, and it will all make sense.