Gonna be a pretty short one this time, nothing damning, but not a lot of go over. DreadStar is a 2d shoot’em up. It has a pretty straightforward level progression with some power-ups and equipment to collect and level up. In a way, there’s some RPG elements in terms of upgrading your shields and weapons, but it’s extremely light and mostly serves as a way to experiment with new shot types between completed levels. There are more and more expensive ships that can equip more goodies and pack more punch or higher defense. Their existence serves as a good incentive to tackle the higher difficulty versions of levels in order to attain the currency necessary. You have a primary weapon and a Left and Right weapon that can all be customized and fired independently. In game you can always hold down your primary weapon fire, but your LR guns will overheat if you don’t wait a bit for them to cool down. You can also unlock special screen-clearing moves, and that’s pretty much all the wrinkles in play in terms of how DreadStar plays out. Nothing too out there, but what’s there is well polished and should be a challenge for veteran shmup players.
Levels are all structured the same way as far as I can tell: wave one, mini boss, wave two, final boss. There aren’t many missions available, but in exchange, the difficulty is pretty high from the get-go and bosses are pretty intricate. A big component that makes DreadStar feel old school hard is the fact that the health bar you bring into a fight is all you have: there really aren’t any heals and death will result in restarting the level. There’s no insert twenty-five cents to continue here. Fortunately, level design is not randomized, so it teaches you to master and memorize what’s ahead to finish the job. It can be, admittedly, a tad demoralizing constantly restarting just as you made progress, but you are able to buy upgrades to increase your chances at success. I found that it’s pretty difficult to grind for currency, which means that you can potentially get pretty stonewalled. But as they say, there’s no excuse for not putting in the work to ‘git gud’. [Editor’s Note: I fucking hate this term, the Goddamn spelling drives me nuts] I think progression starts to smooth out a bit as you pick up some key upgrades, and I suspect I may have been a tad more impatient than the average player.
All in all, DreadStar gets better and flashier as you progress, but don’t expect a spectacle of a bullet hell game. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but controls are tight and streamlined, though some hitboxes may be a tad unforgiving. I ultimately enjoyed exploring, upgrading, and all the ships, which help DreadStar cater to different play styles. It’s at a good price point too and it has an excellent retro soundtrack.
A review copy provided by the dev.
Hellfirebam has awarded DreadStar the Indie Seal of Approval.