Review: Gyrostarr (Wii)

by Travis Woodside on

Gyrostarr has the distinction of being a game I purchased specifically to review, so it was looked upon with scrutinizing eyes from the very beginning. Had it been a woman it would have developed an eating disorder early on. I believe, however, that it’d opt for binge eating as opposed to hardcore anorexia. A game like Gyrostarr likes to bite off more than it can chew. Then the large bits of bone it tried to choke down don’t digest well and you end up with some good food that doesn’t settle. My initial notes were actually quite positive. I was surprised by this little game from developer High Voltage Software (makers of upcoming title ‘The Conduit’). But just two weeks later my initial glee is replaced by a solemn indifference.

A simple score based shooter, Gyrostarr spends most of its time meaning well and not going the distance. You may call it a ‘schmup’ if you like, but it’s really more of a ‘schmorp’ like Tempest before it. You have a ship that flies (or drives?) along a set curved track while you blast other ships and obstacles for points. While the game is divided into levels, the experience is supposed to be about how many points you’ve earned and not about the journey to the end. The game features a ton of levels, too, each adding more enemies than the last as well as more speed to your ship. As you fly drive through the tracks you collect power ups ranging from mission specific energy to temporary weapon upgrades (triple shot, rapid fire, etc) and bombs. Bombs will destroy every enemy on the screen when used. There is definitely nothing new here. Well, except for this mission specific item that may have given you a brief pause. More on that later.

The game has an interesting look. It’s like F-Zero X and StarGate mated. Except, of course, Tempest ambushed their glorious sanctity and a threesome led to some sort of irrational child. When considering the fact it’s a WiiWare title designed to fit on Nintendo’s freakishly small flash drive, it looks especially nice. The look of each level is always the same, but it is a sleek environment. Your ship rides on a track that fakes a nice reflective look like you’re riding on a giant solar panel through outer space and as you make your way through the level you fly through numerous stargates. There are three different stargate types. Blue ones give you a simple boostof speed, red ones destroy all enemies on the screen along with giving you a boost, and the final green stargate signals the end of the level. It’s all very simple and does indeed borrow from what you’ve seen elsewhere, but it still looks nice doing it. Only complaint here is that your ship looks like something the 64 dug up and enemy ships look like something from the original PlayStation. It’s a little jarring compared to the nice environment, but easy to forgive given that you didn’t pay fifty bucks for this game on a disc. However, despite this fairly modest presentation and gameplay mechanics it does offer up some slight new features which would make fans of these sorts of games happy. Traveling through a zone and blowing up bad guys while collecting power ups is nothing new, but firing haphazardly will knock power ups away from you. Your ship also features a grappling hook of sorts to reach out and grab items to help balance out this circumstance. A simple addition, and won’t seem like much at first, but it’s just enough to make the game feel like its own entity and not a completely thrown together rip off. Thinking about more than just shooting your weapons and dodging bullets is refreshing for a seemingly traditional shooter of this type.

Of course, not all is left up to your twitchy thumbs and high score. As you travel through the game’s zones you must collect balls of energy which add to an energy bar at the top of the screen. If you completely fill the bar with energy you will gain access to a bonus level when you’re finished with the current stage. Bonus levels involve no shooting of any kind, and the ability to grapple for items is removed. These bonus levels are extremely fast paced with the goal being to collect as much energy as possible. Early in the game these were my favorite moments because of the surprising sense of speed involved. Of course, as I progressed through the game the speed of normal levels picked up and this is where the game really began to shine. Levels were much faster and I had to stop taking for granted that I’d have enough energy to go through the end level stargate when I reached it. That’s right, energy isn’t just for bonus level access. Filling the bar completely will get you the bonus, but a certain amount of energy is actually required to complete a level. There are no game overs in the traditional sense. Your ship can blow up as much as it wants during a level, but you lose energy each time this occurs. Whether or not you unlock that final stargate is the only real victory. Points? Pah! These are ultimately meaningless . . .

. . .which brings us to the game’s only real problem. A game like this is supposed to be designed around getting a high score because there aren’t varying environments to explore or drastically new problems to overcome. It’s all about getting better and better at what the game throws at you. Yet the designers of Gyrostarr have downplayed the importance of points at every turn. There are no online leaderboards and for a game of this type that’s a massive strike against it. The level structure places importance on completion more than score. The game doesn’t even save the initials you can enter in before you start to play, making you less likely to bother keeping track of your score progress. And why should you keep track? The game’s certainly not employing simple techniques to encourage you to do so. While high scores are saved to your own personal high score list I began to feel more like I was playing the NES version of Pac-Man. Great to play now and then if you like the gameplay, but there’s no sense of competition. A simple tweak in the game’s menu presentation could have solved any problem the threat of the final stargate brought against the desire to score big. The problem is that when your motive shifts away from high scores you are no longer playing the game with the intention the developer had in mind for the game’s design. All of the nice tricks and surprises they’ve added to the game are designed around high scores and you won’t even care because they failed here in so many other areas.

Multiplayer (1-4 players) improves matters more than I imagined, however. The threat of the final stargate is more dooming than ever when up to four players have to worry about energy management. If one player isn’t good enough and dies then energy is lost for the whole team. At the same time, each player is competing with the other for a higher score. This simple four swords form of back stabbing cooperation is wonderful to see in a shooter of this type. Ships can join together for more powerful shots as well, adding to the co-operative incentives. The game is so much more fun to play in this manner that I’m convinced it was designed this way in the beginning. Having a level objective to accompany the score system really makes multiplayer shine more than something like Aegis Wing on the 360, which also has four player multi but suffers in that while each player has their own score they’re never really competing whatsoever while they play the game. While playing Gyrostarr with some friends you’re all focused on unlocking the final stargate with enough energy but at the same time you’re using your grappling hook to swipe power ups for yourself and stealing kills for a higher score. It’s still a very simple game, but if you have friends who care about score based shooters you’re going to be in for a fairly nice time. This is the multiplayer schmorp. The design for it beats anything else I’ve seen in the genre. The only downside here is that there’s no online play. But then when is the last time you cared to meet up with a friend on Nintendo’s WFC? At its best Gyrostarr is a roller coaster ride with speeds that rival F-Zero. At its worst it’s far too easy and lacks certain features (online leaderboards and online play) to keep you interested for long. But this is a WiiWare game, something designed for a fun weekend every so often. If you have fiends to play with I’d say it’s worth your time. For the rest of us I wouldn’t even bother. While I was initially impressed with the title I can safely say that I never once missed it when I didn’t have a chance to play. When going back to it as a refresher before completing this review it felt like a chore and wasn’t fun in the slightest. Stick to multi, avoid solo. Oh and motion control is off by default. Leave it that way.

[![]/mrface4.jpg "Mr. Face say this game OKAY. Mr. Face never wrong!")

*Mr. Face say this game OKAY.

Mr. Face never wrong!*