Bullet hell shoot em ups are usually a niche genre that seems to come primarily from Japan. While many western games have successfully included elements of this genre, the truth is that if you want to experience the true thrill of bullet hell shooters, you have to go across the Pacific Ocean. Or you did, until Legacy of the Elder Star launched.
Long ago there was the Elder Star, source of all life and the Big Bang. However, the evil Infinite Robot Legion has decided to destroy the Elder Star. And so they extinguish it and shatter it into four pieces, giving one to each of its four fearsome generals. The Elder Star is not without recourse, however. That is where you come in. You are the Cosmonaut, protector of the Elder Star, and nothing will stop you from shooting your way through the robotic hordes to recover each piece of the Elder Star, and re-kindling it. Frankly, considering the genre, this is already far more plot than I expected, and it works really well. There is even little flavor text between levels I found truly endearing.
But story is not what we are here for in bullet hell. Legacy of the Elder Star will have the Cosmonaut fight through five stages. He will dodge enemies, and their projectile, occasionally defeating mini bosses, and of course, a big boss at the end of the level. Legacy on the Elder Star is unique in that it is controlled with only your mouse, a design choice that works incredibly well. Movement is precise, and the controls intuitive. Initially it seems like Legacy of the Elder Star will be happy following the standard modus operandi of the genre and allow you to focus on dodging while mindlessly holding down the left mouse button. However, it becomes evident pretty soon that this game has a few tricks up their sleeve. The right mouse button will allow you to use a chosen secondary attack, most of which will also provide you with temporary invincibility that allows you to damage enemies while escaping tight corners.
The story mode takes about half an hour to complete, and your reward for doing so is to unlock new weapons, secondary weapons, and abilities. No weapon is truly objectively better than other in this game, rather they seem to suit different styles of play. While your starting machine guns shoot fast projectiles, the shotgun will fire a group of pellets that deal more damage, making it slower but far more lethal if it hits. This means that any weapon is viable, and you can mix and match between the three main guns, secondary weapons, and abilities for something that suits your style, or for something out of your comfort zone if you want more of a challenge.
Beating the story mode will also unlock different game modes. The first one is practice mode, which as the title indicates, it is meant to practice your skills. Gauntlet will have you facing the all of the bosses in succession with only one life to defeat them all, which is no easy feat. There are also daily challenges that will give you one life to try to get the highest possible score, though you can replay them as much as you want during that twenty four hour period. However, the daily challenge does encourage you to do your best during the first try, as it provides a very generous first time bonus the first run, meaning that to really compete for a spot the leader board, you have to aim to make your first try as good as possible.
One of the things that perplexes and annoys me the most is that I am still not clear as to how the game calculates your score. It seems that sometimes I’ll have a run where I’ll feel like I did very well and yet still end up with a weak score, meanwhile my highest score was achieved during what I presumed would be an awful run. This lack of transparency in the scoring system is an issue because the truth is that the key of the longevity of Legacy of the Elder Star is trying to beat said high score, and trying to reach the top of the leaderboards. The story can be finished fairly quickly, and while I appreciate that the game allows you as many lives as you need, I do wish there was a little more choice on the types of difficulty. The position of the enemies does change every time you play it, preventing you from memorizing the game and keeping you twitchy, but I wish there was more to the story mode. A difficulty option with limited lives and a special ending, level or boss would have gone a long way to giving the story mode more replay-ability, because as it stands right now pretty much everything can be unlocked within two hours or so.
Do not let this complaint scare you off Legacy of the Elder Star, though. The game runs like heaven, and controls wonderfully. This great performance is complemented by some excellent art and art direction that makes the game feel really unique. The music is also fantastic. You know a great video game soundtrack when you notice it when its gone, but you know a great soundtrack when you find yourself listening to it outside of the game. Legacy of the Elder Star‘s soundtrack is definitely in the latter camp. I would not hesitate to purchase it if it were for sale.
Despite some complaints, Legacy of the Elder Star is a great entry for the genre. It performs great, it has a simple but effective control scheme that makes it as much an ideal entry point to the genre as an enjoyable twist for bullet hell experts. While I do feel the story mode is lacking on content, the daily challenges and the gauntlet will be able to provide that challenge for experienced players. And of course, if you like to compete to beat a high score, then this game has essentially endless hours of gameplay to offer. If you are at all interested in shoot em ups, or if you are even curious of the genre and would like an excellent game to pick up to get into it, you should absolutely take a look at Legacy of the Elder Star.
This review is based on retail PC code provided to us by the game’s publisher.