"As you wander about, beams of light sometimes begin to rise around your body and you won’t be able to move. In terms of plot, this means one of the ships is asking the armor you wear for assistance. In terms of gameplay, it means you’ve just been invited to a mandatory random battle. Before you can resume whatever you were doing, you must pilot your craft through a side-scrolling shooter stage."
Years ago, an alien force paid Earth a visit and destroyed most of the planet as we know it. Content with the destruction, they left us behind to nurse our wounds. Now mankind is itching for revenge. We’ve studied this other race, and we’re confident that we can kick their butts if they ever return. Then, one fateful day, they do.
Sigma Star Saga, a shooter/RPG/adventure hybrid from the developer of Shantae, chooses this moment to put you in control. As the captain of a special squad of pilots, you take to the skies with one objective: defend the people you love from this horrific menace. Then, things go awry. Your friends are shot from the sky and finally, it’s just you against a massive alien ship. In a last-ditch effort, you manage to blow the machine apart. Its pilot escapes to the sky and you return to base, devastated at the loss of your comrades.
Your superior doesn’t seem to mind, though. He actually congratulates you on the victory, and asks if perhaps you’d like to take place in a special reconnaissance mission. Still stinging from your defeat and anxious for a chance to avenge the death of your friends, you agree.
Weeks later, you wake in a strange new world. It seems that part of your mission involved being injected with a near-fatal dose of serum. Now, you must adapt to a hostile alien environment where even your own armor seems anxious to take a bite out of you. Because you’ve been adopted into the society of the very aliens you wish to slay, things are tense. You must wander through hostile planets and menacing skies if you want to win the day. Does the game sound good so far? It should. Unfortunately, the premise outstrips the actual experience.
Consider the basic progression: you start a new chapter, more plot elements are revealed, and then you wander around a planet battling enemies. After a boss encounter, you backtrack to your ship to file a report. For much of this, you’re confined to an overhead perspective. Your character moves rather stiffly and he has to be lined up just right in order to shoot his opponents, or else his bullets will just fly ineffectually to the side of the target. In a way, it feels very much like the more tedious aspects of the old NES classic, Blaster Master.
That game never had random battles, though, while Sigma Star Saga has them out the wazoo. As you wander about, beams of light sometimes begin to rise around your body and you won’t be able to move. In terms of plot, this means one of the ships is asking the armor you wear for assistance. In terms of gameplay, it means you’ve just been invited to a mandatory random battle. Before you can resume whatever you were doing, you must pilot your craft through a side-scrolling shooter stage.
Sometimes, this simply means blasting down a mini-boss. Other times, it means you must dodge and weave through a stage populated by bugs, gun turrets, hovering icicles and whatever else the developer chose as the theme for the planet you’re exploring. There are around five or six set pieces for each planet, and you never know which one you’ll see when a random battle commences.
You also don’t know which ship you’ll be flying, which is where this game’s problems begin. Sometimes, you’ll have a perfectly capable craft that responds to your every command. It capably weaves through narrow passages, between barrages of bullets, or whatever. Other times, you’ll be placed in charge of what feels like a constipated freighter. This is bad because if you hit a rock wall or collide with an enemy vessel, your life meter will drop significantly. If it falls to the bottom, your game ends and you return to the last save point.
This might not seem so bad at first, but give it some thought. Suppose you’ve been exploring the planet for awhile, battling through one side-scrolling deviation after another. You’ve gone up a few levels and you’ve also managed to find some hidden items in the overworld map. Suddenly, you’re ripped into another encounter and for whatever reason, you’re in charge of a floating hunk of junk. Your life meter springs a leak and suddenly, the last half-hour doesn’t matter at all because you have to do it all over again.
This is a problem no matter how many levels you build, too. Every time you die because your ship wasn’t responsive enough, you will feel cheated. In a role-playing game, this would be the equivalent of a power surge just as you’ve finished power leveling and are headed back to the inn to save your game. When it happens in Sigma Star Saga, you might feel like taking a mallet to the cartridge. About the only reason to keep going at such times is the plot, which is actually interesting.
I know what you’re thinking: “Plot is the main reason to play a shooter? A shooter?!” You’re right to think that, but I swear that it’s true. As you progress through the adventure, you’ll begin to care not only for the main protagonist, but also for the aliens he meets along the way. Not only that, but the twists that are going on behind the scenes—at first only alluded to, then thrown at you like sticks of dynamite—really keep a person on the edge of his seat. Good and evil aren’t always black and white here. Various shades of gray pop up all over the place.
As long as I’m talking about strengths, I should also mention the weapon system. As noted above, you can find various upgrades throughout the maps you’ll explore. These upgrade your offensive capabilities in three categories. Some change the basic direction you shoot, while others affect the behavior of your projectiles when they collide with a target. It’s possible to mix and match to your heart’s content, provided you’ve found sufficient weaponry. In this manner, you can find a set-up that fits your personal style. It adds longevity and variety to the game, and may keep you entertained for quite awhile.
It’s just a shame the game gets so cheap sometimes. Otherwise, I would have enjoyed it so much more. Sure, it’s not amazing in any one area. The environments all feel generic, the music gets tiresome and the side-scrolling stages grow tiresome quickly because they keep repeating. Even so, a few tweaks would have made Sigma Star Saga something truly special. I blame the aliens.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (August 22, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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