A lot of strategy games can make the brain-work side of playing them so dense that it’s almost impossible to get through the game without hours of practice as you learn to navigate layers of menus and choices. Others, like the new Star Renegades, lay things out in a much more useable fashion. There’s still lots to consider and work with here, but you can jump in quickly and get to the fun side of strategy play.
Story wise, things are not all that complicated with this roguelike RPG. It seems that your solar system is under attack, or at least it will be soon. You start off as the brave and fearless Wynn Syphex, who receives a message from a robot droid sent from “another reality.” This duplicate world to Wynn’s own has already been attacked and vanquished. But with some careful maneuvering on her part, Wynn can save the day.
If things go south, however, she simply needs to send the robo messenger on to the next reality to get another shot at saving the universe. That sets up Star Renegades’ nice little do-over ability as you learn the ropes and work to set the invading hordes back on their heels.
The goal here is pretty straightforward, too: You must battle your way through three planets in the solar system and then take the fight to the invader’s mothership for the win.
Straightforward? Yes. Easy? Not so much.
Gameplay consists of an ongoing series of RPG contests and boss battles between your squad of characters and one or more of the enemy’s robotic foes. But this version of combat isn’t as simple as picking an attack and then seeing the damage afterward. Star Renegades sets up your skirmishes in a series of 60 second timelines. You know what kind of attack your opponent is planning to unleash and when, and you have to choose between a number of possible counters, attacks or defenses.
And here’s where the strategy side of things gets a bit complicated. You have to take into account the foe’s armor levels, weaknesses, resistances, traits and critical effects before choosing your move. Then there’s the speed and impact of your attack to consider. Light hits are very quick, for example, and might stagger your foe’s attack back on the timeline by a few seconds. That could give a fellow teammate in your squad of three just enough time to get in his own slash before the enemy can retaliate.
In that sense your battles become a matter of choosing, interrupting, countering. And you get to see how your choices might play out in that 60-second chunk of time before you actually put them into effect. In other words, you’re given plenty of time to stop and think through your choices before throwing the current 60 seconds into gear.
The game eases you in at first with simple skirmishes against a single large foe. But then the battling chess matches and opposing squads get larger and larger until the screen can, at times, feel overwhelmingly busy. But of course, by then you’ve gotten the hang of things, and the challenge feels fresh and fun.
Star Renegades also adds in a relationship-building side to the gameplay. When night rolls around, your squad sets up camp where it can rest and heal up. Fellow soldiers also receive bonus cards that they can swap to help one another out. Someone might hand over a card worth extra shields over the next two battles or a card that boost a compatriot’s attack, for instance.
When given (as opposed to using them on yourself), these cards also create a stronger bond between you and the others in your squad. A heart meter, between two characters, slowly fills and grants more benefits in the form of better health, damage capabilities and resistances. And a closer tie to another teammate also opens the door to a chance to throw powerful combo attacks together in battle.
Once those ties are maxed out, there’s even a chance to generate a new teammate (something the game calls “progeny”). There’s never any further explanation of how this production came about, but the new preset character combines the looks of both “parents” and comes with a unique skill or two of their own.
Of course, now that we’re talking about alluded-to procreation, we should also talk about any other content parents of young players might flinch from or raise questions about. There’s not much to report. This E10+ game has lots of cute comments between your squadmates. But there’s little that’s offensive in the quipping. The lone exception is one character wo growls out that he’ll send the invaders “back to the hell” they came from. But that was the only place where language flirted with profanity.
A particular robot teammate appears to be rather religious. He spouts things such as, “All praise Lord Botula for delivering us safely,” and he’s jokingly called a “funda-metalist” by another teammate. But the game doesn’t dive deeply into the background of that “faith.”
Characters can die here. And sometimes a fallen friend can even pop up again as a Borg-like transplant in the predominantly robotic enemy’s ranks. But there’s no blood or goop in the mix. (In fact, the pixel-art graphics here are perfect presentation of eye-pleasing color and creative form without spilling out any of the gory side of war.) And if your strategy falls flat and your character dies, that handy reality-hopping drone that we met early on zips off to another dimension where you get to select a fresh trio of characters to start over with.
In the final tally then, this is a game without too many drawbacks. It’s a challenge to be sure, especially in the sense that this is a roguelike game that learns and grows as you play (meaning that no two campaigns ever play out the same).
But a well-made strategy challenge can equal well-made fun. And that’s where this sci-fi battler lands with retro-rockets blazing.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.