Monday, February 29, 2016
I played some Dying Light a few months ago with two friends, and enjoyed my time with the game. I wasn't able to put much time into it, having to review games and all, so I was happy to get a review code for the Dying Light expansion called The Following. Trouble is, they recommend that you be at least survival level 12 to "have the most enjoyment" out of it, so I first tried to get myself to that point so I could dive into what sounds like a big expansion for the game.
However, I couldn't resist jumping into it. Or I was nudged for taking too long to get to it. Either way, I dove in, hopefully not woefully under-prepared. I can't really say one way or the other, since it felt just as hard as the base game, with all the things that irked me there. Getting to the first camp wasn't too bad once I was able to see the way, but a lot of the other stuff was hard. First off you have to infiltrate a camp and steal a car. Thankfully, you don't have to kill anyone, but can just steal the car and leave. I was able to do that after only a few deaths.
So I jumped back to the base game to buy a gun. That put me on equal footing to the bandits, and I was able to go back and finish them off. It works really well for fighting them and making any zombie in your visual range run up to fight you. Thankfully, the game allows you to jump back and forth between the two saves with the same character. Admittedly, the grappling hook should make a lot of things easier, so if you can, have that before jumping into The Following (hence the survival level 12 thing). If there was no death penalty, I would have had it by the time I played it.
Still, I had difficulties with the game. Enemies tend to travel in large groups, spawn nearby or behind you while you deal with their friends, and generally be a nuisance whenever you are trying to do something. There's even quests to destroy Volatile hives. It's safer to get there during the day, but then the hive itself has more enemies and is harder. It's very possible that I'm bad at the game, since combat tends to be hard for me. Even so, I imagine it's also better to have a friend of three when tackling quests.
The map for The Following is really big, as befitting for an expansion. The main story structure reminds me of Gat Out of Hell, where there are only a few missions, but you must raise your reputation by doing other things, like sidequests or delivering air drops. There are a lot of side quests and other things to do in the area, which will take a long time to complete. I could easily see people spending 20 hours to do everything, and even longer if you are by yourself or under-leveled. The main quest is pretty open, allowing you to kind of pick what you want to further your reputation with the locals. While the base game was in a city, the expansion has a lot more open space because of the best addition to the game...the vehicle.
Early on you gain access to a buggy that you can upgrade and drive around the map. It has a few different parts that you can equip to it and have to repair. While a bit strange from an outside perspective, it fits in the game very well. It's kind of like the weapons, although they don't wear out nearly as fast. There is also a skill tree for driving, and abilities you can use in the car, like a mine dropper, nitro boost and a flamethrower! Honestly, I just prefer to drive into all the enemies, but a lot of the other things had their uses.
Trouble is, I feel like they kind of went out of their way to suck some of the fun out of the vehicle. Many places you drive have some kind of obstruction to your view, such as high grass, trees or other similar things. This in turn makes it easy to run into things, which is easy enough with how unwieldy the buggy can be. The part that really annoys me is the parkour virals. They were annoying enough before, but now they can jump on your buggy and hang on. Or, just punch it which makes it lurch to the side or slide around when you try to turn. I somehow don't think they should be strong enough to punch a car and make it move, but clearly the developers think otherwise.
If you liked Dying Light, The Following is a great reason to jump back in. It gives you a huge area to play around in, with lots of new quests, and the car to mow down infected. Even if I'm terrible at combat, I would recommend playing with friends to make it the most fun and smooth experience it can be. I got annoyed at various points, but I'd say it was worth the price of admission, as you get a lot of extra content. Plus it is really fun and cathartic to run over lots of zombies.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
The latest Koei Tecmo hack and slash game is another anime/manga adaptation, this time Arslan. Arslan: The Warriors of Legend follows the story of Arslan as he gathers followers new and old to retake his (father's) kingdom.
This isn't necessarily a spoiler, since I won't go into specifics, but the game just kind of ends at a certain point. I beat a level that had some importance to it, but there was no ultimate resolution. Then there were credits playing. I was actually confused, since it certainly wasn't the end of the story. So I decided to look into it some more.
Near as I can figure, this game is based off the new tv show that is airing in Japan. They have only finished the first season so far, and the game is basically that. It doesn't sound like the novels are done either, and they have been going since 1986! There was a manga series years ago that had its own ending after catching up to the books. An OAV was also made, but not finished. So maybe it is very fitting that the game isn't the whole story, since apparently nothing of the Arslan series is complete.
Despite that, the story is really well presented. A few scenes use the in-game engine, but many look just like anime. They also transition between them almost seamlessly. The anime scenes aren't very animated, but it took me awhile to even notice, since they just look so good and at first I thought they were actual animated cut scenes.
Also in a small but wonderful addition, the cut scenes list the controls on the bottom of the screen. You can thankfully pause the scenes and skip them, instead of just skipping them if you push a button. Pausing them is really nice since the achievement pop-ups love to cover up the subtitles. Usually I'll just pause the scene when an achievement pops so I can read the story. All of the spoken dialogue is in Japanese, so the subtitles do matter. Unfortunately, it won't pause dialogue in battle, so I missed big chunks of in-battle dialogue because I was either using a Special Move (Musou attack) or concentrating on the fight.
Even though I like the story presentation, it needs some more pronounced stopping points. Ending cut scenes for one level flow immediately into the opening for the next stage. It's nice to have a very fluid story with next to no loading, but I would really like a break in between each stage so it is easier to know when to take a break. It might not bother everyone, but since the story mode runs around 10-12 hours, I don't want to do it all in one sitting. The lack of loading is really nice for extended sessions, though.
Battles are very much like those of the Warriors games. You have a normal attack and a power attack that will change depending on when in the combo you use it. Plus, characters will eventually unlock a few different weapons that you can switch between with the d-pad. Using each weapon will level up the weapon arts for it. The weapon arts will change the elements and several of the attacks in it, which is really cool. It gives each character a lot of variations, even if it feels like most people end up with a bow and a sword as two of their weapons. I really like the multiple weapons per character.
Having multiple weapons also gives access to weapon chains. When you do a power attack at the end of your combo, you can press the Unique Skill button (RB in my case) to then switch to your next weapon and get another attack or two. I didn't feel it was really necessary to do it all the times I used it, but it kills more bad guys so there isn't much reason not to use it. All characters also possess a Unique Skill, which costs some of the Special meter. I rarely used them and instead used the meter for the Special attacks, since those are good at clearing out enemies or doing some good damage to a boss or their shield.
|Here is a nice battle shot of Farangis because...reasons.|
When all is said and done, there are two problems I have with the fighting in the game. The first is the boss shields. Powerful enemies have shields that must be broken down before you can damage them. After they are down for a few seconds, they come back up. It does make certain enemies harder, and that is probably the point, but to me it's more annoying than interesting. The other thing I'm not fond of is the ranking. All missions and stages will rate you upon completion. It doesn't seem to affect much other than the card rewards, but I'm don't really like constantly being rating on every part of a game.
The skill system in Arslan is unique in that skills are granted from cards that you equip. There are ranks of cards, from C to S and some special limited cards. The limited cards can only be obtained on the harder difficulties after performing certain tasks on certain stages. Each rank costs a number of points to equip. The spread is pretty wide, with C cards being dirt cheap and S cards being expensive. A character's card point max is determined by their level, so as you level up you can equip more powerful card combinations, although the max number of cards is always three. The cards can be sold for some gold, or recycled in groups to get another card. There are even special sets that grant bonuses.
Besides the Story mode, there is also the requisite Free mode, which allows you to play any unlocked stage with any unlocked character. This is good for level grinding or just using a character that you like without being restricted by stage. The best part is the Extra stages that are basically side stories to the main plot that help flesh out some off-screen stuff. You can also find recipes that cost money and give stat boosts for any Free Mode stage. An online mode rounds out the game, but I wasn't able to find any matches to try it out. The split-screen co-op works very much like all other Warriors games: fairly well, but I still wish both players shared the map rather than each have their own. It really reduces screen clutter.
As mentioned earlier, the story takes about 10-12 hours for its 26 stages. Other than that, there are some extra stages to do in Free mode. Sadly, that's about it for the game. You can obviously still play it after that, to max out the weapons or character levels. The achievements and trophies for the game will also take a lot of grinding to do, as you have to max all character's weapons, find all the cards and recipe books, plus beat all the stages on the hardest setting. Even so, it doesn't seem to have as much content as other similar titles.
While I had heard of the Heroic Legend of Arslan, I had not seen it. Arslan: The Warriors of Legend does a good job in telling the story to someone who hasn't experienced it before. So don't worry if you have never heard of it or seen anything on it, as that won't hinder your enjoyment of the title. The seamless presentation is really well done, but I would have liked better breaks between the stages. While the game is fun and has several unique mechanics, it seems a bit on the low side of content for Koei Tecmo hack and slash title. Plus the way the story ended just felt off. I would still recommend fans of the Warriors games and hack and slash games play Arslan: The Warriors of Legend, though, as it is a fun game.
(Review code for Arslan: The Warriors of Legend was provided by the publisher.)
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Over 2 years ago, Rainbow Moon released on the Vita. Like several other games this generation, it has now come to the Playstation 4. It also offers return players a discount if they want to purchase the newest version. While the game is not cross-buy, thankfully it is cross-save, so you can continue your file from either the Vita or PS3 version (which I did). Just make sure you download the DLC you may have so the save file will load.
I'll recap the game a bit here for anyone new, but you can always read the original Vita review here if you want some more in-depth coverage. Rainbow Moon is an RPG, but battles take place on a grid, so that aspect is much more like a strategy RPG. You can have up to three characters per battle, but the enemy can have much more. Some of the map enemy fights seem crazy with the odds stacked against you (I've seen a battle with 29 opponents), but aren't unwinnable. Each turn you can do one action (move a panel, attack, defend, etc.), but you can gain more sub-turns to do more actions as you level up. These sub-turns really let the battles loose and make the game more unique.
Some enemies are placed on the world map, and you encounter them by touching them. They must be defeated for them to disappear for awhile. There are also random encounters as you walk around, but these can be skipped if you want, which is really helpful. I would love it if more RPGs had that in place for random encounters. The game is fun but feels kind of grind heavy at times. You'll need to level up and get a fair amount of money for everything, so you end up doing a lot of extra battles. After I reviewed the game last time, I purchased a few pieces of the DLC (on sale of course) to help with that (double xp ring and pearls/money for everyone). These aren't necessary, but they do speed the game up.
|A good battle shot from the PS3 version.|
If you are a fan of RPGs, Rainbow Moon is pretty fun and a solid game. It offers a lot of gameplay, even more so for its price. If it sounds interesting and you haven't picked it up, now is a pretty good time to do so, since long time Playstation Plus users may be able to get the discount on the PS4 version. Personally, I would recommend getting a few pieces of the DLC to save you a lot of time. Again, it isn't necessary, but it cuts down a lot of the grinding. Fans of RPGs and SRPGs should try out Rainbow Moon.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
As mentioned early in the year, I was really looking forward to playing Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth. I've been a fan of Digimon for many years, spanning back to when I saw the first season of the show. I've watched several seasons and enjoyed several of the Digimon World games. I even own a toy Digivice (or two) and have several of the transforming toys. Besides providing more proof that I'm a nerd, I wanted to let you know where I'm coming from for this review.
I'm really liking Cyber Sleuth. I have a lot more fun making and digivolving my collection, but the story is pretty good too. It's not that typical a Digimon story, as your main character jumps between the online world and real world to solve crimes while trying to figure out how to get back into your real body. After playing for a bit, I think the target demographic is people who watched Digimon when it was first on TV. It looks fine enough on the surface, but there are a few questionable elements, such as language, that skew this title away from children. It's kind of a shame, because my son is really enjoying the game, and I think other kids would too. Note the game is rated T.
Battles are up to 3 on 3 turn-based fights. The turn order is dictated by a Digimon's speed. On your turn you can attack, use a skill or item, defend, or swap some of your party. Skills can either be physical or magical based, and take MP to use. When you swap your Digimon, it's nice that you can replace up to all three with one turn. Overall, the battles are pretty standard, but I find them fun. They aren't overly hard, either, save a few of the boss fights.
Your party can have a maximum of 11 Digimon, which is really high. However, you are also limited by your party memory. Each Digimon has a certain memory cost, and higher ranks (ultimate, mega, etc.) have higher costs. There are several items that will increase this limit, so it is somewhat balanced in keeping you from filling your whole party with ultimates and running roughshod over the enemies. Plus, for most of the game your party will have mixes of the different ranks, so it isn't a huge problem.
|An early on boss battle where you have a Mega-sized guest.|
Once you learn the system, it works pretty well. Just be aware that you will be moving backwards and forwards through each Digivolution line in your quest to get mega rank Digimon. Unlike the Digimon World games, each Digimon's stats are set based on what Digimon it is. For example, all level 10 Greymon will have the same base stats. Higher ABI stats will give a higher max level, which might help you get a stat high enough to make it one of the more powerful Digimon. So each route is much more open than in previous games, but it can be more work to get a Digimon through its "true" path.
There's also a farm that can be used to level up your spare Digimon. You will also get notices when one or more reaches maximum level so you don't have to keep track of everyone. Plus, when on the farm you can have them develop items, find more side investigations for you or train their bonus stats. These are all really important for late game leveling, but the whole system isn't very obvious. However, given how the stats work, it's actually pretty easy to swap around your party, and actually useful to do so, so you can give bonus stats to the Digimon you use when you leave them on the farms. You can also store a fair amount of them in the bank, which I use frequently. I can't resist tying to have each one at least once!
There are 20 chapters in the game, and it can take several hours to finish one. The chapters have some self contained elements, but also further the overarching narrative. It really depends on how many side investigations you do. Since I'm a crazy completionist, I spent way too much time doing them while going through the main game. Besides side investigations that appear throughout the game, there are ones that can be gained from Digimon on the farms. While you could go through the game in around 35 hours or so, completionists like myself will take much longer. It would be nice if the game was better about telling/reminding you what is the next step of the investigation, just in case you take some time off and come back to the game later.
I was looking forward to playing Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, since it has been too long since the US last had a Digimon RPG. The wait was worth it, since I really like the game. It is a lot of fun to get them all, but some of the systems in the game aren't really clear. Battles are fairly standard for the genre, but everything works well. I would easily recommend the game to any Digimon fans, or people looking for a fun monster-collecting turn-based RPG game.
Friday, February 12, 2016
The Deadpool game has a kind of strange history. It was released and had low sales, then was eventually de-listed from the digital marketplaces after Activision's Marvel license ran out. It then was re-released for the current consoles, likely because of the movie in February.
The premise and tone of the game are cool and unmistakenly modern Deadpool. He wants to make his own video game, and High Moon studios agrees to it...after some "convincing". After being sent the script, Deadpool decides on some re-writes before doing much reading, and sets out to make the game (as a nice touch, they do list him in the credits a few times). There are plenty of fourth wall breaks and humor to the game. I liked many of the jokes, but some were complete misses. I can easily see each joke polarizing the audience for or against it. There is a lot of swearing, innuendo and other things, and a near constant barrage of humor, whether you like it or not.
Deadpool is an action game, but splits its time between hack and slash and third person shooter. Those two elements come together pretty well all things considered, but it could have been a bit more polished. The melee attacks have three different weapons and a few different combos, and it was pretty fun to slash and smash up the enemies. Deadpool also gets a counter move, similar to Ninja Gaiden or the Batman Arkham games. The counter window is a little generous, but it doesn't seem open for as long as the button is displayed on the screen. The same button also teleports Deadpool to avoid damage. This is kind of nice, but I would probably prefer them to be different buttons. The teleport could work better as well. If you teleport through an attack, you can avoid all the damage from it, but you usually have to teleport through the enemy to the other side. If you teleport backwards or to the side, still outside of the attack's range, you will likely still get hit. It doesn't make much sense.
The shooting didn't feel as good as the melee to me. Aiming itself was smooth enough, but the enemies tended to move very quickly, making actually keeping the aim on them frustrating. There is a lock-on mechanic, but it is very fickle in actually starting and staying on the target. It was the easiest way to shoot enemies, but it still left much to be desired. You do get four different gun types, but some (SMGs) just felt better than others (shotgun). It also felt like the guns would do inconsistent damage, and not just because of headshots. The first pistol round would do almost 50%, then the next would do 25% or so. Considering the aiming and shooting in the Cybertron games (which the studio also did) was so much better, I have no idea what happened in Deadpool.
The game's difficulty level also doesn't feel very balanced. Enemies will get stronger as the game progresses, so at least that part works. They will also get stronger, which is fine...except you can only get 1 increase to your max health. Plus, throughout the game, enemies with rapid fire weapons (either machine guns or the whirlwind enemies that have rapid blasts) just eat through your health. There's no block and you can't counter it. The teleport might let you get away, but it can be really spotty in doing so. Plus, shots like that don't make Deadpool react, so you might be down 50% in two seconds and not even realize your were being hit. Also, I was unashamedly playing on the easiest setting, and the rapid fire still cut through him in seconds. That's not balanced and I would dread playing this on the hardest setting, even with all the upgrades.
Besides action, there are many times you are jumping around from ledge to ledge, platform to platform. Deadpool's jumping is pretty good, if a bit hard to precisely control at times. He does have a double jump ("physics be damned!"), which I always like to have. His teleport doesn't really do anything for these sections, save for a few bits later in the game where you can directly go to another ledge. Having that as a mechanic throughout the game might have made these parts better. The character model does a great job of getting caught on the level's geometry, though. This affects moving, fighting, and platforming. The jumping in and of itself is fine, but sometimes you hit the edge of the platform or something else goes wrong and you just...miss. Here it will prompt you for the teleport, which puts you back at an earlier platform. It's still annoying though.
However, the biggest problem the game has to be its very frequent hang-ups. Every 30 seconds or so, the game will lock up for a second or two. This is very detrimental to gameplay in all areas. It will de-sync the audio when it happens during a cut-scene. While jumping or fighting, it doesn't stop you from being able to react, but it does throw off your timing since you won't know exactly how long it will be stuck. There is a solution, and it is to disconnect your system from the internet while playing. I did that and the game started working just fine. Even so, it really shouldn't be an issue in a released game. It just smacks of shoddy work, and it is present on both Xbox One and PS4.
The game is pretty short, too, clocking in at about 7 hours. That's probably on the higher end of it, depending on your skill at the game, and how many parts you have to do over. There are some challenge levels unlocked by going through the game to give you a little more to do, but a bulk of the replay and extended play is going for the achievements and trophies. The game does get much harder by the end, especially the last stage. This is mostly because it is an extended platforming part that then culminates with several waves of many enemies and two boss fights against multiple people.
Deadpool has some great moments, like Cable's introduction song and some of the jokes, but the action is a bit of a letdown. There's not much unique about it and it feels unbalanced and unpolished in a lot of ways. If you like the character of Deadpool, the game is definitely worth a rental. Since it is so short with not much replay value, you can finish it in a day or two easy (I did). I would not recommend a purchase, but it might be worth a try for comic book fans.
(Deadpool game used for review was rented from Redbox.)
Friday, February 5, 2016
When I first heard about Saturday Morning RPG, it sounded like the game I would make. Take lots of references to 80s and 90s culture, sprinkle in some video game stuff, and pour it all over an RPG frame. While that recipe doesn't always turn out, in Saturday Morning RPG, it is delicious.
The characters and enemies in the game are all cool sprites that, besides invoking the feeling of great 90s gaming, also look cool. The backgrounds are in 3D, but they blend together really well. The sprites are simpler on the map, and become much better during battles. The music is also really catchy and fits the game. I really dig how the game looks and sounds.
Before any battle starts, you can scratch your stickers and get some nice effects for that battle. These vary wildly, from a specific stat buff, to an enemy debuff, to more money, or even ones that don't seem to do anything. Even though you are doing it every time, I tended to forget that I had to scratch when a battle started. Each sticker has a different rarity and scratch difficulty, so there is some tactical thought you can put into your choices. It's a fun thing to make battles more unique. However, it's only one of several things that will wear our your hand...or controller...while playing.
Battles are turn based. The current order is shown at the top of the screen and it is determined by your speed stat and the speed of what you are doing. There is a normal attack, that has a sliding bar mini-game to give critical damage. However, this attack is rarely used for damage as it restores MP. MP isn't used for abilities, like just about every other RPG, but for the unique charge mechanic in the game.
There are three charge abilities to increase the damage multiplier on your next attack. There is a quick one that will take some MP to add an amount of charge of around 2x. The second is a timing mini-game where you try to stop the meter closer to the end as it speeds up. The third is mashing the button to gain the bonus. The third was easily the most powerful, but it really wears out your arm (and maybe the controller). The second didn't seem much more powerful than the first, so I rarely used it. For longer play sessions, I stuck with the quick charge, mostly to save my poor mashing muscles. A turbo controller would absolutely be a great option to use, though.
You can also get some MP and extra charge multipliers from guarding attacks. If you press the button when an attack is going to hit you, you can reduce its damage. Early on the difference is negligible, but it becomes more significant later on, especially in boss and mid-boss fights. Thankfully it isn't too hard to at least get some damage reduction, but the timing for the best guard is tricky for some attacks. The only small issue I had with the guarding is a few attacks (notably the flamethrower) would cover up my character and block rating so I couldn't tell how close I was, since the text isn't readable through some effects.
Your special attacks are the items that you equip. Each one has a set number of uses per battle. Some require no additional imputs, but many require either mashing the button or a timing mini-game of some sort. It's pretty cool and there are a lot of great references in the numerous equips you can find. The only problem is the use count. For most fights it is fine, but any lengthy ones it can be very easy to run out. If you do, you are stuck with the weak normal attack and trying to get enough MP to charge it to do something resembling decent damage. This also makes the Endless fights really hard as you press through them.
Plus, attacks seem to miss more than I would think they should. Even with extra accuracy and a weapon skill that has high accuracy, I've missed too much. With limited uses, this really is a bummer. Even more so if you sank some MP to charge it, which is then also wasted. I'm not sure what the hard numbers are on accuracy, but I felt like I missed too many attacks. Granted, I'm a huge accuracy nut in RPGs, so anything more than a rare miss bothers me.
Another great reference to 80s/90s kids is the menu. Your menu is one of those old trapper keeper folders. The front shows the battle stickers that you are currently using. These can be replaced anytime you aren't in battle. The cover of the folder also can grant stat bonuses to help in battle. Inside you set your abilities and can check your quests. Just about everything in the game is a nod to something, and I think it works really well.
Right now the game has five episodes. You can do them in any order, especially if you use the settings to scale the enemies. However, the game makes the most sense if you go in the proper order. It took me almost 10 hours to go through all of them. Since many of the quests have alternate solutions, there is a good reason to replay the chapters if you so choose. Plus, you keep your stats and items, so it is also an excuse to get them all. The episodic format also works really well for Saturday Morning RPG. It feels more legit, like an old cartoon show (that is the point), plus gives easy ways to add more to the game.
If you like RPGs, you should try Saturday Morning RPG. If you are in your late 20s or older and like RPGs, you should absolutely get this game. It's not perfect, but it is very fun and should give you a great nostalgia kick. I "marked out" several times in the game. Even if it is short, the playtime seems perfect for the cost. I really enjoyed the game and would recommend it, just be careful not to wear out your controller or yourself.
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
What happens when you mix shmup gameplay with pixel art and the internet? Shooting Stars!
No, really. Shooting Stars! is a shoot-em-up (or shmup for short) game where you and your laser-eyed cat take on memes, celebrities, and internet personalities of all sorts. I think just about everything in the game is a pop culture reference to something. Enemies, attacks, bosses...you name it.
As a shmup, you move your character around and shoot...everything. You start off with a basic laser (from your cat) that can upgrade when you pick up food items. These items are randomly given during the game when an enemy is killed. Being just food items, it isn't readily apparent what each upgrade will do, and some are either very specific (the clone super move will copy your powerups) or not very useful. So try to remember at least which ones you don't want to pickup. The only one I really avoid outright is the really big hamburger, since it upgrades your shot to include missiles. While this does up your damage, each missile explosion will shake the screen. When you are trying to delicately dodge around a lot of small shots, shaking the screen is a huge detriment.
Besides your normal shot, you can also have one type of super move equipped. These are also randomly dropped from slain enemies. Like the food power-ups, each super varies in usefulness and effect. Most are big attacks that can clear out multiple enemies, but there is also one that gives you temporary clones on the side to widen your attacks, and a shield that makes you invincible for a set amount of time. Thankfully, these super moves are on a cooldown timer instead of a use count, so fire away! You can only have one on at a time, so you have to hover over another for a few seconds to pick it up. That is super useful so you don't accidentally pick one up that you don't want. Also like the fruit, each might not be so obvious as to what it does, so try to remember the ones you like and skip the rest after you have tried them all.
Once you start the game, there are six stages, the first five of which are random. There are many different bosses, and each one has a different stage that must be completed before you fight them. They also each have unique attacks and shot patterns, which I honestly didn't expect. It's also nice that the order is pretty random, leading to a different experience each time you go through the game. The sixth stage is set, and will always be the final boss. After besting him, you then continue through the game again, each run getting harder and harder, until you die.
There are three ways to control the game. You can use a keyboard, mouse or controller. For me, the keyboard was easily the weakest of the three, and mostly because moving isn't as precise with the arrow keys. The mouse offered really quick and precise movements, but you have to hold the shoot button to move, meaning you are constantly shooting. This isn't a huge problem, but you will just constantly hear the laser noises. Plus, it tends to cramp my hand after 10 minutes or so. The controller was the most comfortable to me. Moving isn't quite as fast, but it was much more comfortable and natural. Either way, they all worked, but I would recommend using a controller or just the mouse.
It only takes about 10-15 minutes to get through each cycle. However, because the goal of the game really is getting a high score, you are meant to replay it a lot. The random nature of the bosses and powerups makes this much more palatable than some other shmups. Your high score will also get posted to the leaderboards. Bosses sometimes drop cards to collect, adding another element to extend playtime if you desire. The game itself isn't too hard. You get several hits before you die, but only one life. Occasionally there are drops to restore health or armor, so there is some leniency.
Overall, Shooting Stars! is a very competent shmup. I enjoyed playing it, and it seems like a good "pick up and play for 10-20 minutes at a time" sort of game. If you aren't super into pop culture, the game might not click with you. Although I didn't know everyone referenced, I still found the game enjoyable as a shoot-em-up, which is a genre I really like.