STAFF REVIEW of Nova Strike (Xbox One)

Friday, September 8, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Nova Strike Box art I absolutely adore shmups (shoot-em-ups). You know the ones, where you’re usually a spaceship flying either horizontally or vertically while the screen auto scrolls, trying to avoid a screen full of bullets as you make your way forward, usually to kill a massive boss at the end. Nova Strike, developed by SANUK GAMES and published by Nacon, is no different. Easy to pick up and play, Nova Strike adds a little more to the tried and true shmup formula by adding some roguelike elements and persistent ship improvements.

Normally this is where I would describe the story, usually involving saving the world or galaxy from some kind of alien invasion as you take the conquest on by yourself, but that’s not the case here. At least from what I can tell, there’s no narrative here at all. Starting the game you’re simply thrown into the first mission guns blazing. No tutorial, no warmup, just start blasting the ships coming at you as the screen scrolls vertically. Given the shmup genre, this will be sufficient.

I did notice that even the first handful of enemies took a few hits to destroy, as normally cannon fodder are destroyed in single shots, but that wasn’t the case here. This gave a feeling of my ship being weak, having only a single blaster. When you go inevitably lose all your shields, health and blow up, starting a new run will look slightly different, as the maps are procedurally generated. While it didn’t feel like a drastic difference, it added at least a little variety where you’ll normally become bored of the first few levels replaying them over and over again.

The main hook with Nova Strike is its roguelike elements where you earn currency earned each run that can then be used to install permanent upgrades for your ship, making each subsequent run slightly that much easier. Each Chapter is split into several small levels, with the final having a massive box to try and defeat. As the screen scrolls vertically automatically, you and your small ship must defeat enemies in your path without trying to take damage, which is of course much easier said than done.

Enemy kills reward you with coins and resources that can be used to improve your health, shields, damage and more for that run specifically, or saved to use at your home base for permanent upgrades when you do eventually get destroyed. Each level only last a few minutes tops, though it can sometimes feel like longer. At the end of each level there’s anywhere from one to three portals where you can choose what type of additional bonuses you want in the next, like more coins, bonus weapons or resources. The game doesn’t do a good job at explaining the differences, but it’s self-explanatory for the most part.

Each enemy type has different attack patterns, though they are simple enough to recognize and avoid. Where the challenge lies is when the screen is full of enemies, all shooting different patterns are you try and avoid everything while blasting enemies. Now and then you’ll reach a point in a level where the scrolling pauses until you defeat all enemies on screen. Smooth controls can make or break a shmup pretty quickly, and thankfully it’s decent in Nova Strike. Taking enemy bullets will lower your slowly regenerating shield, which, when depleted, will then take your health away quite quickly. As you begin the first time playing and without any upgrades, you’ll die quite quickly with a few good blasts, eventually coming more powerful as you equip upgrades.

You simply need to hold ‘A’ to fire your weak primary blaster, though at least you have unlimited ammunition. You’ll find an assortment of different secondary weapons randomly appear from destroyed enemies, the coolest feature being that you can actually see them attach to your ship and able to equip and swap between two. Secondary weapons are limited in ammunition and much more powerful, ranging from lasers, electricity, missiles, spread shots and more. At the end of stages you’ll also sometimes get shops where you can also spend your coin on secondary weapons if you want as well.

Even though there is only a couple Chapters, them being broken into several different short levels makes it feel longer. That and the fact that it’ll take you a good handful of deaths and upgrade purchases to eventually be able to reach and defeat the final boss. The boss battles are the highlight, as they are massive and require some nimble maneuvering to avoid their attack patterns. While not terribly exciting, the bosses are at least a welcome change from the standard enemies you'll repeatedly blast away.

You’ll want to make sure you have some upgrades before attempting these bosses though, as health, shield boosters and refills were the only way I was able to survive the battles early on, as was having plenty of secondary ammunition. They are all multi-tier battles where they change form or do new attack patterns, adding many more bullets on screen than the regular levels.

Regardless, you’re going to die at some point without some upgrades. The Game Over screen will show you how long your run lasted, how many enemies and bosses killed, coins collected and more. This is a roguelike though, so starting over is part of the process. At least some of the resources you collected in the last run will persist, allowing you to purchase upgrades from the shop at your home base between runs. A really interesting feature with this is that if you’ve already maxed out your upgrades, you can spend coins on starting at specific chapters rather than having to start all the way at 1-1 each run.

While you can purchase a handful of secondary weapons, you’ll want to most likely prioritize the skills and passive buffs. Your ship has a finite amount of Chip Slots, and each add-on or perk costs a set amount from one to three depending on the bonuses granted. Obviously the most powerful will cost more Chip slots, so it’s a matter of balancing what upgrades you want and what caters to your playstyle. I preferred the passive upgrades and ones that focused on defense, but you could make a more aggressive build if you wanted.

To make things even more intriguing, you’re only able to install one of each type of upgrade. The categories are Stealth, Weapons, Movement, Repair, Health, Defense and Resources. Mix and match to make a unique build, making your next attempt so much easier each recurring run thereafter. With a maximum of 9 Chip Slots, the best upgrades will require three to equip.

The pixel art is done quite well, and even though there’s little variety with having levels procedurally generated each run, there’s just enough detail in the backgrounds that adds some flair. Sure you’ll not be able to really focus on much else other than bullets and staying alive, but the ship and enemy design is done well. Even with the chaos that ensures in this type of game, my ship never really became lost in the heat of battle as I tried to avoid every bullet on screen. As for the audio, it’s serviceable though unmemorable. It’s got a little beat to dampen the silence, but after a handful of runs you’ll likely want to put on your own music on.

Roguelikes are meant to be played over and over as you slowly make overall progression each time. This works when the gameplay is addictive and you’re constantly teased with the next upgrade to feel more powerful. While great for short sessions with a run or two here and there, Nova Strike is perfectly serviceable, but with only a couple Chapters to complete, it doesn’t feel as though it will have a long shelf life in my played rotation. Not bad by any means, it simply feels like a generic shump, though the $10 USD price tag is about right for what you get content wise.

**Nova Strike was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 5.7 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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