Pulstar
Gameplay 7
Graphics 7
Sound 7

Pulstar is a very straightforward arcade shooter so depending on your taste you will either find it a refreshing blast from the past or become frustrated after only a few minutes. It definitely packs quite a challenge and the difficulty ramps up very quickly, so quick reflexes and a bit of luck is required to make the most of it. If you enjoyed games like Geometry Wars and Beat Hazard you will have fun with Pulstar.

Gameplay: Straightforward and challenging arcade shooter.

Graphics: Nice, but it can be hard to distinguish the enemies from the background at times.

Sound: The sound effects lack punch, but the music is very catchy

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Pulstar

Developer: Concave Studio, Colorful Media, Emagica | Publisher: Indietopia Games | Release Date: 2014 | Genre: Action / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

If you feel like arcade style shooters have become too bloated and convoluted of late then Pulstar might just be the back to the basics style game that you need. There is a backstory about evil aliens invading your peaceful galaxy, but as soon as the first shots are fired you will forget all about who the enemies are and why they are attacking and focus on surviving instead.

The gameplay of Pulstar (not to be confused with the 1995 arcade game from Aicom and SNK by the way) is nothing new and features a formula first seen in Asteroids or more recently in Geometry Wars. Your ship, or star in this case, is confined to a rather small area and enemies pour in from the boundaries of the stage. You have to dodge and retaliate while staying alive for long enough to hopefully beat your previous high score or make your mark on the leaderboards. You can’t “win” the attack and the enemy onslaught is relentless, so sooner or later you will be overwhelmed and lose.

Recent entries in the genre has tried to add more depth by including features such as levels and perks that allow you to become stronger and survive for longer each time you play, but the developers of Pulstar have opted not to take this route. Instead of grinding away for levels you will have to improve your own skill and become better if you want to last longer in this game. Each time you lose all your lives the game is over and no progress or perks are tallied or awarded to help you in your next run. Some players will find this frustrating considering how tough the game already is, while others will relish in the challenge because it rewards actual skill and not just persistence.

Pulstar is very reasonably priced, but at first glance it still feels al little light on content. There is only a single backdrop for the game and you face a grand total of three different enemy types. More enemy types would probably have made the game feel even more claustrophobic than it already is though. The three foes include a spinning red disc that fires clusters of red projectiles at you, a green plasma spitting enemy and something that looks like a deep space octopus. The enemies are easy enough to deal with on their own, but as the game progresses, their numbers increase dramatically, which will test your shooting and dodging skills to the max. The visuals and audio also become more intense the longer you survive, so the background will begin to become more distracting. You control a bright, glowing star, so it is easy to keep track of where you are amidst all the chaos, but the enemies have a nasty tendency to blend in with the background. This is obviously quite a nuisance, but can be avoided by killing them before they reach the center of the screen where the glow is the brightest.

Initially your firepower is barely adequate for fending off the enemies, but power-ups appear that make your life a bit easier. Weapon upgrades increase the spread and speed of your shots while extra lives also appear if you are lucky. You can also activate a “Pulsetime” power-up which slows down the action and allows you to take down enemies at a much more leisurely pace for a few seconds. You will need all the help you can get though, as the challenge ramps up considerably when you pass the four minute mark. When you inevitably succumb to the onslaught your score, kill streak and time is displayed along with your previous bests for some motivation to do better next time. The online leaderboards offer an extra bit of incentive to improve your score and the game also features some very tricky achievements to aim for.

I found the controls to be very responsive, but as this is a twin stick shooter it obviously plays best with a good dual analogue controller. Playing with a keyboard and mouse is fine, but I found myself being able to achieve much better scores when playing with a controller. The game also features a local co-op mode where you can take on the enemies with the help of a friend, which is great if you find the single player mode too hard. The visuals are fairly simple, but very polished and fit the mood of the game. The audio is also very decent, but while the music is good I found the sound effects to be a bit lacking.

Pulstar might not have a lot of depth, but it packs a mean challenge and plenty of replay value. It is short enough to keep you hooked in short bursts and addictive enough that you will want to have a quick go every now and then to try and beat your previous highscore. If you are not a fan of games where you can see everything it has to offer in the first ten minutes you can probably skip Pulstar, but given the low price there isn’t much risk in checking it out for yourself.

*Review originally published June 2014.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows Vista or higher
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.7ghz, or AMD equivalent
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4600 or higher
  • DirectX: Version 9.0
  • Hard Drive: 300 MB available space
  • Additional Notes: Controller recommended
  • OS: Windows vista or higher
  • Processor: Intel I3 or ADM equivalent
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 450 or Radeon 4770 or higher
  • DirectX: Version 9.0
  • Network: Broadband Internet connection
  • Hard Drive: 300 MB available space
  • Additional Notes: Controller recommended
  • OS: 10.6 or later
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.7ghz
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4600 or higher
  • Hard Drive: 300 MB available space
  • OS: 10.6 or later
  • Processor: Intel i3 or higher
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 450 or Radeon 4770 or higher
  • Network: Broadband Internet connection
  • Hard Drive: 300 MB available space
  • OS: Ubuntu 14.04 LTS
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.7ghz
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4600 or higher
  • Hard Drive: 300 MB available space
  • OS: Ubuntu 14.04 LTS
  • Processor: Intel i3 or higher
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 450 or Radeon 4770 or higher
  • Network: Broadband Internet connection
  • Hard Drive: 300 MB available space

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