What keeps this game from being just another mindless shooter/brawler is the fact that as you play through the game you will unlock new moves and special abilities. What first feels like nothing more than a button masher, quickly turns into a game where skill and a proper command of your move list will ultimately win the day. You will also need to use your shield (which blocks most attacks for a short period of time) and a powerful burst attack (which can only be used so often and will seriously hurt everybody around you). On top of this you will also need to use points earned in the game to buy new weapons and upgrade your existing weapons/armor. For an arcade-style action game, there's really a lot of depth to The Red Star.
Although the levels are short, the game is surprisingly long. The Red Star comes with 19 action-packed levels. Like Gunstar Heroes and other games that seemingly influenced this throwback, many of the levels are teaming with smaller mid-level bosses. While most of the levels play out in similar ways, from time to time you'll run across a level that does something completely different. In one level you'll do nothing but fight a huge boss. In another level you'll play a Gradius-style 2D shoot-em-up. These breaks help keep the momentum alive, even if most of the game involves you doing nothing more than beating up soldiers and shooting down flying droids.
The game's backgrounds are intentionally gritty, though never to the point where you don't like looking at them. I enjoyed the bombed out Russia, though I'm told that I would like it even more if I was a fan of the graphic novel. As you progress through the game you will run into a bunch of different types of level, including a factory, caves and so on. There is an argument to be made that some of these backdrops overstay their welcome, but you'll likely not even notice since you will have your hands full fighting waves of bad guys.
Given the fact that The Red Star is essentially a six year old game, I was a little worried that the presentation wouldn't hold up. In some ways they don't, especially when it comes to the characters and some of the bosses. However, outside of those minor gripes, the game looks absolutely rock solid. It's not going to win any awards for best graphics, but at the same time it doesn't look woefully out of date. I would argue that The Red Star is visually on par with most latter day PlayStation 2 games.
This is far from a perfect game, and gamers who are just now discovering this throwback will no doubt see its age. The gameplay, while varied, is still incredibly repetitive. If you're not a fan of old school brawlers or shooters then you likely won't find much to like in this game, since you are essentially doing the same thing in all but a few levels. On the other hand, you can save after each level and put it down at any time. I found myself burning out on the non-stop action after a few levels of constant play. After switching over to another game (mostly Half-Minute Hero) and coming back, I was completely refreshed and ready to take on another few levels. Gamers that attempt to beat this game in one sitting will find that it's both hard (especially at the end) and a little too repetitive for its own good. But isn't that always the case with old school shooters?
The Red Star is a perfectly priced port of one of the PlayStation 2's final must-own games. Old school gamers will get a kick out of its mix of Final Fight and Contra, all while not feeling like they were ripped off for what is essentially an arcade experience. This is the type of game I would like to see more of on the handheld consoles, even if that means dusting off six year old PlayStation 2 games. I can understand you missing this game the first time around, but you would be a fool to miss out on this PSP re-release of The Red Star.
More On:The Red Star
Companies: XS Games
Even if you completely ignore its storied history, The Red Star is still an incredible action game that is a perfect fit on the Sony PSP. Fans of both old school shooters and 2D beat-em-ups will fall in love with the merging of these two genre. It not only offers an exciting old school experience, but also offers a lengthy campaign that is worth playing through multiple times. And best of all, you can have all this for a mere $15!
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