Game Title: Starclaw: Battle of StarSpace Nebula
Developed By: Cenokga
Published By: Cenokga
Released: June 1, 2020
Available On: Windows
Genre: Shoot ‘em up
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and up: Fantasy Violence
Number of Players: Up to four players
Strong Points: Decent sense of humor in its dialogue; cute anthropomorphic cat characters
Weak Points: Everything else
Moral Warnings: Space ship violence and explosions
Thank you, Cenokga, for sending us a review code.
I knew a day like this would eventually come in my time of reviewing games. I’ve dreaded this moment, and it's finally appeared. I’ll state this right at the beginning — Starclaw: Battle of StarSpace Nebula is the worst game I’ve played for Christ Centered Gamer, and possibly one of the worst I’ve ever played. Whether it is worse than infamously bad video games such as Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, I would say no (and I haven’t even played Big Rigs). From what I've seen and heard, Big Rigs is incompetent in every single aspect. Starclaw is at least functional in some of its areas—until a certain point, which I will explain later.
Starclaw is an 8-bit top-down shoot ‘em up, similar to the games of old like Galaga. The goal is to go through 64 levels contained in 8 worlds, soaring through space and traversing the various planets while hordes of enemies attempt to gun you down. You play as Captain Starclaw, an anthropomorphic cat whose mission is to stop the invading force from reaping the resources that StarSpace Nebula and Earth collaborate have amassed. It’s a pretty standard plot to simply get the game moving. Captain Starclaw is accompanied by his commander and computer AI that debriefs him on threats or the situation at hand. He is later joined by other pilots, which I will admit is a nice way of implementing the co-op features.
The first thing I noticed when starting up Starclaw is that the player ship is massive. Many shoot ‘em ups have the player ship a small size compared to most things on the screen, but outside of bosses and a select few enemies, the ship is way bigger than most of the enemies. The other thing is that on the left-hand side of the screen is a health bar—something seldom seen in shoot ‘em ups, as your ship in other games typically blows up in one hit. Your ship here can take a lot of punishment as enemies do very little damage. One exception is the ramming-type enemies who inflict an absurd amount of damage. Health is something that barely needs to be taken into account as health drops are plentiful so there are very few moments in which you are actually in danger.
Speaking of powerups, there are many in this game, but the powerup system isn’t implemented well. There are powerups for shields, different shot types, and augmentations for your bomb alternate shot. The thing is that nearly all powerups are on a timer and that no matter what powerup type you have, it cannot be replaced by another powerup until the one you already have is depleted. Of course, this leads to many issues because if you happen to pick up the front shield but an enemy drops the bubble shield (which is miles better because it covers your entire body instead of the front), you are unable to use the bubble shield. The same thing applies for shot types too. Added to the problems of the game is the general pace. Levels move at a snail's pace and there are long transitions between enemy waves, so more often than not, the powerup that you’ve obtain will run out by the time you encounter more enemies.
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The controls are very simple and Cenokga recommends the use of a gamepad so I went with their suggestion. They do end up awkwardly placed as movement has a small delay and it kinda feels like the ship is skating on ice. X/Square is to shoot, B/Circle is to use your bombs, and A/Cross is to advance dialogue. Unlike basically every shoot ‘em up in existence, your shots actually start from the sides of the ship and you need a powerup to shoot from the middle, unless that is, you charge up your shot. Why the bombs aren’t mapped to the Y/Triangle is a mystery since Y/Triangle isn't even used. Even the triggers and bumpers aren’t used either and controls cannot be remapped. Using bombs and shooting at the same time is uncomfortable as it either requires a painful thumb position or the “claw” method. Using a controller is pretty much pointless and if you’re right handed, just stick with the keyboard, even if they are just as weird, with D-key to shoot, S to advance dialogue, and A-key to use bombs.
The bosses are when the problems are amplified, and most of them happen to be giant-sized versions of the hundreds of enemies that you’ve already decimated. Remember when I said that item drops are plentiful to the point where enemy encounters are basically a non-threat? It’s pretty much the opposite for bosses. Bosses are ludicrous bullet sponges making the event a slog to get through. This is made even worse where there is this specific “powerup” that is dropped by enemies. It's in the shape of a blue star. This blue star heals bosses, and the stars hone in on the boss. It heals them by a pretty significant amount too. What does this star do for you? Grants invincibility, after collecting one hundred of them—for ten seconds. Most of the bosses just consist of you hoping you get a good powerup or that you stockpiled enough bombs (since it seems like you can hold up to 999 of them) to make the boss battles ever so slightly less tedious. Some of these bosses are also ramming types, and if you get rammed by them, you instantly die.
The fourth boss, in particular, is one of the most excruciating tasks I’ve ever had to complete, as the boss is a duo, and they flood the screen with bullets making it impossible to dodge. Your only way of beating this boss is hoping that the few standard enemies that spawn during the boss drop a shield and you hug the bottom of the screen. For some reason, your ship can leave the field of view by simply holding down until it isn't visible anymore, but if you stay off-screen for too long, you lose two lives, not just one. At least every boss beyond that insufferable moment is pathetically easy (but still as much of a slog). Although, I will not know of every other boss in the game because I encountered a bug that causes the game to crash when trying to transition into the second boss for the fourth world. Some sort of error with event triggers, but alas my space-faring adventure came to an abrupt cliffhanger. Other glitches include repeated dialogue triggers for every centimeter moved and one moment where I simply lost a life for no discernible reason.
Nothing about the music or sound effects are good. They are loud, obnoxious, and a poor attempt to recreate the 8-bit chiptunes of the Third Generation of video games. Even going into volume control on Windows 10 and lowering it to a 1/10th of the volume of everything else, it is still noticeably loud. If you want to get a general gist of what the soundtrack and sound effects are like, simply type in “Crazy Bus Title Screen” on YouTube. The graphics don’t fare well either. Even though the color palette for the ships are serviceable, the background environments are dull and boring, usually only consisting of one or two solid colors that repeat for the entire world. Space is simply a black background with white dots, the desert world is a brown with some brush effects from Microsoft Paint, and the frozen world is just a recolored space background, with a baby blue replacing the black.
<a href="https://imgur.com/5iDo5M1"><img src="https://i.imgur.com/5iDo5M1.png" title="source: imgur.com" /></a>
Not every aspect of Starclaw is bad, there are some positives buried underneath all the flaws. For one, the humor is passable. It’s not comedic genius or anything, but the banter between the characters got a smile out of me a few times. The characters are also all cats. Even though most of the character portraits are color swaps, cats are still cute—unless they’re from that abomination that Universal Pictures wants to call cats.
In terms of morality, the only noticeable aspect is that ships blow each other up. Nothing else caught my attention, not that I can comment on anything further as I can only get through half of the game.
Truthfully, I wanted to shelve Starclaw: Battle of StarSpace Nebula when that atrocity of a fourth boss ungracefully showed its ugly mug on my screen and halted my process for a long time. I preserved through it—only to be met with an unsatisfying conclusion and my effort all for naught. My experience was met with dull scenarios, tedious enemies, obnoxious bosses, literal game-breaking bugs, and absolutely nothing explained. I had to find out what most of the mechanics even did in the first place from pure trial and error because Starclaw sure didn’t want to do it for me and some of the choices made in the game mechanics are simply baffling. If the pacing was at least three times faster, powerups followed an upgrade system, and if bosses had half the amount of health they currently do… the game still wouldn’t be good, but at least it would be passable. The most insane thing is that this game costs $20. I’ve played student projects that were more fulfilling. I’ve even played flash games made in a person’s spare time that blow this out of the water. I couldn’t even recommend this title if someone paid you to take it. Paying any amount of money for this, let alone $20, is a maddening prospect in itself.
Game Score 16%
Morality Score 95%
Sexual Content 10/10