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The Red Star (PSP) artwork

The Red Star (PSP) review

"The Red Star stands on its own, with or without the name and skin based on the comics. It just doesn't stand very well."

I could start this review by telling you a bit about the comic book on which The Red Star is based. I could tell you all about Makita's rush to save her father, about Troikia and Kar Dartha and the Skyfurnace R.S.S. Or about Maya's guardsman, Kyuzo. I could tell you about all all of these things. I won't, though. This is a review of the video game. As far as the video game is concerned, none of that stuff matters.

Oh, sure, there are references to characters and places from the comics. I can see them in there somewhere. Your commanding officer, Urik, does you the common courtesy of telling you why you're going from level to level, shooting or slicing generic soldier after generic soldier, crawling along metal grates from point 'A' to point 'B.' You won't bother to read what he has to say, though. If you haven't read the comic book you won't understand any of it, and if you have read the comic book you may very well be offended by the word salads that he throws at you before every level. That's okay, though; The Red Star stands on its own, with or without the name and skin based on the comics. It just doesn't stand very well.

The Red Star video game was first released way back in 2007 for the PlayStation 2 as a budget title. 2007 was not a great time to be releasing a PS2 game, of course, so the folks at XS Games decided that a PSP port was in order (someone should tell them that PSP ports of PS2 games are SO 2006). This new version of the game is more-or-less exactly the same as it was in 2007, except for the tragic loss of the PS2 version's co-op multiplayer mode.

The Red Star plays like a mixture of classic Final Fight-style brawlers and Ikaruga-style shmups and comes complete with the option to throw up a pitiful little forcefield that shatters after sustaining hits from three or four bullets (not very much at all when you consider how many bullets you'll have flying at you at once in this game). You'll be able to choose from three playable characters, each with different strengths and weaknesses. That was the intent, at least, but the game seems to be designed to highlight each character weaknesses rather than strengths.

Kyuzo is the big, slow brute. What he lacks in speed, he sadly doesn't make up for in strength. Sure, he can knock enemies around like rag dolls, but there are times when it feels like there's no way that you can possibly dodge enemy shots. When they're coming at you in waves and moving faster than you can, there's not much that you can do besides take a hit or two. Makita, on the other hand, is quick as a bunny but also as weak as one. She has little problem dodging and weaving out of the way of oncoming bullets, but she lacks the ability to interrupt most attacks. She'll dash in and start scratching away at an enemy, but once he starts getting ready to charge, Makita pretty much has to stop what she's doing and start running around to avoid it. That dynamic may sound reasonable, but it really feels like she should be able to just kick her enemy in the crotch or something in the three or four-second window between the start of the charge and the actual attack. Characters feel gimped and strengths merely amount to the absence of any obvious weaknesses in one area or another.

The biggest problem with the game, though, is that winning or losing doesn't seem to come down to whether you're playing well or poorly. It has more to do with whether you're playing correctly or incorrectly. Your gun is your best friend. You will want to shoot everything. Gunners? Shoot 'em. Melee fighters? Shoot 'em. Bosses? Shoot 'em a lot... except for the enemies you can't shoot. Certain enemies (indicated by red circles at their feet) simply cannot be shot. These enemies exist to provide you with things to whack. You don't use melee attacks because they're better against certain enemies. You use them because they're the only thing that works against these enemies.

At the end of each stage, you're awarded points to spend on upgrades. The levels are long (too long for a handheld game, really, and there are no checkpoints) and you can only access the upgrade store before you save and move on to the next level. This seems annoying at first. How are you supposed to know which upgrades will be useful before you see what's ahead? After a few levels, you realize that it's pretty easy to figure that out. If an upgrade would have been useful in every level up to that point, it will probably be useful in the next level. That's because every level is pretty much the same. There are a few types of regular enemies that are given palette swaps and more health to disguise them as new enemies later in the game. You will develop a play style in the first level (shooting everything except the things that can't be shot, like I said before) and stick with it until the end. Most of the levels even look the same. You're going to spend a lot of time looking at brown metal floors. Sure, there's a little variety that kind of catches you by surprise (like an enemy that teleports and fires homing energy balls at you, and a level where you take control of a fighter jet to go up against an obscenely large tank) but those things pass and you end up right back on a brown walkway shooting soldiers with two-bladed swords.

The game isn't all bad, though. Its biggest strength is its array of bosses. There are tanks, flying battleships, gun turrets, and massive weapons that defy classification. These are almost worth the price of admission. Getting to them is kind of a drag, but once you reach them, you'll enjoy them. Few things are more satisfying than successfully avoiding fire from sixteen gun turrets simultaneously, especially when they surround you in a circle. The very first boss is a battleship that will rotate and attack you in a number of different ways, depending on which side is facing you. That's exciting, and such encounters only get better from there.

The Red Star is not a game I can recommend to everyone. Any potential recommendation depends on what you're looking to experience. As a complete package, the game certainly falls flat. Fans of action titles will be disappointed by the repetitive combat and fans of the comic will feel like they wasted their time and money on a game that would work just as well (if not better) if it was its own property. If the game had been released as a collection of boss fights (for $5 rather than $15) it would be well worth the price. As it stands, though, The Red Star has a little too much bad (and a lot too much blah) to let the good shine through.


Roto13's avatar
Freelance review by Rhody Tobin (March 30, 2010)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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