Utter madness: that's what Super Stardust HD is all about. Whether or not you consider that a good thing or not is largely dependent on your feelings toward shooters of the bullet-hell variety. Though even if you're one of the many crazies who adore those kinds of masochistic punishment, I'm more than willing to bet that you haven't experienced something as brutal and infuriating as Super Stardust HD -- at least in the dual-joystick shooter sector. The sheer intensity of the action here is as exhilarating as it is maddening, and though you'll frequently feel compelled to quit, its fast and furious action is almost hypnotic in how it manages to constantly call you back for more no matter how much abuse is inflicted upon you. It's there where Stardust HD's brilliance lies.
Let's just get this out of the way right now: Super Stardust HD is brutal. In fact, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I daresay it's one of the most masochistic dual-joystick shooters ever created. Not because its relentless with its flinging of enemies, mind you (though it doesn't hold back in that regard), but because the game so often obfuscates the action that you can barely keep up with what's going on around you. If you've ever played a shooter of this type before, you'll understand how horrifying of a concept that is.
The source of obfuscation here lies in the game's primary foe: meteors. You see, Super Stardust HD takes place on the atmospheres of small planets and charges you with protecting them from the onslaught of space debris. Your only means of combating them is by shooting them, thereby causing them to crumble in a sort of Asteroids fashion, making the play-field all the more treacherous in the process. Navigational troubles alone aren't what make it hard, however. If that were the case the game wouldn't be so gosh darn hard. No, instead, it's the bright particle effects that accompany the crumbling of meteors that make it hard due to their tendency to clutter the screen with a dazzling display explosions. When there's only a few meteors to contend with that's not such a problem; they barely manage to distract. It's when the play-field is littered with rocks that it becomes troublesome, as explosions begin popping up all over, each vying for your attention as you try and stay focused on forging a path forward. As you can imagine, keeping focus is difficult to say the least given the strong temptations to divert your eyes toward the showers of particles. but not at all impossible.
|You'd think fighting off ice cubes with a string of fire would be effective,|
but not so much.
Amongst all the chaos, Stardust HD expects some measure of strategy be employed in the form of weapon usage. There are three weapons available, all of which are self-explanatory: the rock crusher, the gold melter, and the ice cutter. Each one is meant for usage solely against the rock type listed in their title. You need not adhere to their intended purpose, of course, and use the rock crusher against blocks of ice, but doing so would only result in a faster death due to the increased time it takes to destroy rocks. Swapping weapons is, in the grand scheme of things, one of the easier facets on account of multiple rock types seldom being mixed. But as things get more and more frantic -- enemies spawning in all over frequently, rocks falling in every few seconds and massive numbers, and nary a bomb, shield, or life pick-up in sight to provide any sort of breathing room -- the last thing you want is to be swapping weapons, especially when enemies start adopting the weapon specialization, too. Throw in some power-ups and points tokens into the mix and you've got yourself some intense, frenetic action.
Keeping up with all that, crazy as it sounds, is exhausting. I often felt like I just ran a marathon after some particularly intense rounds full of close encounters. Keeping your cool in the midst of dodging rocks, foes, and bullets isn't easy, as the action overwhelms quickly and doesn't ease up, which in turn makes you incredibly prone to slip-ups. The screen-clearing comfort of bombs alleviate some of the intensity, but not long enough to lend much solace. It's extremely exhilarating when all goes well and your able to survive the onslaught, and even more satisfying when your efforts put you above your friends on the leaderboards. It's in those instances that the game truly soars.
The problem, however, is that the action is a little too chaotic for its own good. If it was simply left at throwing numerous hazards your way, the game would have been plenty fine as is. But that it adds a bunch of bright visual distractions is simply fiendish. That's certainly helpful toward achieving the level of challenge expected from these shooters (that is, "hellish"), but it's an excessive effort here. Visual distractions coupled with sheer numbers and old-fashioned challenge is far too much, resulting in success feeling more up to luck than skill on account of all the variables.
|Just try and find the spaceship in this picture: I dare you.|
The other problem lies in the amount of content. Super Stardust HD offers five levels to play on in both Arcade and Planet modes -- the former progressing through the five levels in succession while the latter sticks to only a single level. Each mode and stage has its own set of leaderboards, which lends a good replayability incentive in the form of competition. Cooperative play also provides a good bit of fun, though the restrictive view of the action (players have to remain in close proximity of each other for the camera to move about the field) hinders the fun. On the surface, that sounds like a reasonable sum of content given the $10 price tag -- and it is. It just would have been nice to have an extra mode or two tossed in for some added variety and lasting appeal. A couple downloadable add-ons that are available may remedy that. but it doesn't change how limited the standard package is.
Don't get me wrong -- Super Stardust HD is still a fantastic game in its own right. Though heavy on the intensity, the action is exhilarating and exciting, not to mention tons of fun once you get the basics down. Leaderboards give it a strong lasting value for those with a competitive side, and overall the game is a bargain at only $10. It tends to frustrate as often as it does entertain, though, making it geared toward those with a high tolerance level for challenge. If a bit of punishment is your idea of good time, however, Super Stardust HD is a more than serviceable choice.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”