The first question to hit me after playing Pulstar for a quick stint was "Is this it?" I found myself wondering that several times over during my time with the game. Was what I playing all that Pulstar had to offer? A single cut-scene, one stage, three enemy types, and a slow increase in difficulty? Is this the whole game?
Yes. This is it. The first time you play Pulstar, you’ll see everything it has to offer. This, my friends, truly is it. Except for the multiplayer mode, which is the single-player mode with an extra star thingy on-screen. Pulstar, at the onset, is a game about saving a heavenly body from death by alien creature. In reality, it’s a twin-stick shooter with a planet in the background. It’s the same planet, the same background, the same ship, and the same three alien enemies over and over again.
You can use a single type of ship that fires a single weapon that can be upgraded over the course of each session. There are no new ships to unlock or new specials or ammo types. It’s the tiny star, the tiny stars it shoots out, and the tiny stars it picks up. There is a single special move that slows time down for navigation and dodging during hectic moments. Expect the need for this power-up to kick in right around the third minute of every session.
The enemies themselves are extremely bland. Like I mentioned before, there are only three of them in the entire game. No additional boss-fights, no insane flight patterns. Two of them look nearly the same, and the third feels like it comes from a different artist. The real trouble here is that two of the aliens are so darkly colored that they don’t stand out very well in the already dark background of space. Muted green and brown are tough to see amidst a flurry of fire.
The thing about Pulstar, though, is that it’s a mechanically sound shooter. The hectic moments crop up nicely, the early game paced rather well and each play is rewarding with the inclusion of high scores, personal bests, and online leaderboards. All of that stuff works well. Even the initial promise of a story is something I quite liked. It’s too bad that outside of the first cut-scene the narrative is never heard from again. The star you’re trying to defend? It doesn’t even come into play beyond sitting in the background. The aliens don’t even attack it. They attack you.
If you can look past the troublesomely simplistic design, accept the fact that this ride is brief and repetitive, and get over the feature set that can be politely described as “lite,” there’s a fun shooter to be had here. Pulstar is a snack break of a game, something to play in quick bursts in between larger experiences.
But it lacks the addictive qualities of bigger efforts and there are many in this genre that do the same things Pulstar does with a much better theme. Pulstar simply is. There isn’t enough to it. You might be pulled in by the music or the initial play, but I’d wager that not many would be able to happily sink a dozen or so hours into this before getting bored and moving on.
Add new ships, new weapons, new maps, new enemies, and a few more colors, and this thing goes from less than ho-hum to slightly above average. As it stands now, Pulstar is not a game I can easily recommend.
Code provided by publisher. Review based on PC version. Also available on Mac.
Solid core gameplay
Promising initial narrative
Exceptionally light on variety
Literally hard to see
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