Star Successor is a fun, energetic, frantic and completely bizarre shoot 'em up from the makers of Ikaruga

User Rating: 8.5 | Tsumi to Batsu: Uchuu no Koukeisha WII
Believe it or not, shoot 'em ups were once the dominant force in the video game industry, and no, we're not talking first-person affairs. On the contrary, we're talking about games which typically cast the player in the role of a tiny ship tasked with taking on wave after wave of enemies as the screen filled with bullets and your chances of survival became excessively slim. Usually simply progressing as far as you could was the name of the game; reaching the credits was a legendary accomplishment.

Games like these saturated the market to an even greater extent than first person shooters do today, partly resulting in the first negative backlash against gaming in the media as a boring and repetitive hobby. Of course now they are a thing of the past; relics of a forgotten age, cast away into the realm of the occasional xbox live arcade release, or worse still, the amateur browser-based flash game.

In steps Treasure to show our modern, cinematic, 'realistic' games how it's done with Sin and Punishment: Star Successor (or Successor of the Skies in the UK); a game as charming and enjoyable as it is utterly baffling.

Gameplay consists of your standard bullet-hell scenario as found with cult classics like Ikaruga, wherein the player must survive against increasingly nightmarish volumes of enemy attacks which eventually all but smother the screen entirely. In order to make success reasonably possible, you are armed with a number of techniques to assist you in your efforts at surviving each encounter. A melee attack allows you to destroy enemy rounds before they strike you, complemented by a dodge button which effectively evades danger by granting you a degree of invulnerability.

This sounds simple, and indeed it is, but mastering the game and advancing through its later levels requires split-second skills in reading the screen and knowing when and where to dodge, lest you find yourself diving into the midst of a enemy attack in your endeavor to evade another. To master the game and rack up the most impressive high score, players will also need to develop instinctive melee-attack skills to deflect rockets and other hazards back at their enemies for maximum effect, all the while avoiding the continuous danger with well-timed dodges.

The gameplay appears simple in theory, but offers an amazingly complex and satisfying experience in practice thanks to a level of intensity we simply no longer see in modern video games.

The game's frantic, old-school action is complemented beautifully by its equally nostalgic, maddeningly bizarre universe and aesthetic. This a game for those of us who enjoy turning a corner in Wolfenstein 3D only to encounter a raging Hitler with two mini guns for arms. It's a game where giant mutant creatures harass you only to then morph together into one enormous, angry, laser-shooting monstrosity. To explain exactly what makes it all so strange would be to spoil the magic but, needless to say, the variety and sheer creativeness of the each encounter is unrivaled.

Equally baffling is the game's storyline which, much like the insane world in which you must battle for survival, offers up its own brand of bewildering occurrences with a straight-face at all times. Irony and sarcasm are not to be found here. That giant bird is shooting laser beams out of it's wings and at no point is that meant to be a funny thing.

The narrative is fairly ambiguous and open to interpretation, allowing for some degree of replay value for alternate endings and further efforts to figure out just what exactly is going on. Sharing your interpretations of the game's events with a friend who appears to have played a completely different game is almost equally as enjoyable as playing the game itself.

Replay appeal is further bolstered by two playable characters to tackle the campaign with, each with different abilities and play styles, as well as a co-op mode which allows you to traverse the game's many stages as a tag team duo. While online leaderboards are provided to great effect, the game unfortunately lacks online co-op of any kind and, strangely, local co-op is limited to only one playable character, with the second player granted only an on-screen reticule.

While these additions would have been welcome, they're unlikely to significantly impact your enjoyment of the game which, for me at least, was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish and likely an experience which i will play again and again for years to come.

Star Successor is one the last of a dying breed; all the more reason to enjoy its wonderfully fun, frantic and thoroughly bizarre universe while you can.