So, please understand that this break from protocol is not entirely my fault. The responsibility for this three-headed mutant child-column of BBL rests solely upon the shoulders of XS Games and their new PS2 release The Red Star, (finally) available for just twenty clams after more than three years of bone-headed delays. Early reports spoke of The Red Star as a game fusing elements from both the shmup and beat-'em-up genres, both of which are very near and dear to ol' Linde's heart, so I had a feeling I'd probably dig it a little bit -- at least enough to merit dropping $20 on a new copy.
The Red Star (PS2)
Developed by: Acclaim (sans their hallmark suckery, mind)
Released: April 24, 2007
Bargain Binned on Arrival: Only $19.99 new, but you might have trouble finding it. Read on to find out why.
The story behind Red Star, as I understand it, goes something like this: Acclaim developed a game based on the graphic novel of the same title by Archangel Studios, completing what was essentially a finished product in 2004. Around that time, Acclaim had finally gone belly-up and bankrupt, and Red Star went off the radar. XS Games bought the rights to publish the title and, with some help from Union Entertainment, made some minor tweaks and improvements and set The Red Star in line for release in late 2006.
Ask anybody who was looking forward to this game and they'll tell you terrible tales of watching the release date push back again, and again, and again. For all the trouble of rescuing The Red Star from limbo, XS Games couldn't seem to hammer down a firm date. Then, to the surprise of just about everybody, the game suddenly -- and perhaps magically -- shipped to stores on April 24th, earlier this week.
Some caveats, though. Since the PS2 has come to be regarded as more or less inert by retailers in the face of next-gen, there has been little to no push by the major brick-and-mortar shops to get this game sold. I've heard that many GameStops around the country received few, if any, copies of this game, provided they weren't pre-ordered in full ahead of time. Ask for Red Star by name and employees will stare at you blankly. This is a low-profile release with what looks to be extremely limited shipping numbers; your best bet to find a copy is either the we'll-sell-anything department stores and online merchants. Keep at it. It's worth seeking out.
The Red Star can be best described as an old-school mixtape of gameplay; there's some Final Fight, some Smash TV, some Ikaruga, and plenty of style to boot. Where many games have sought the kind of smooth blend of a variety of genres into one complete game, few have done it so well as The Red Star. At first glance, the game seems a relatively familiar beat-'em-up sort of game, with some pretty hip combination attacks, juggles, and air combos to shake things up. Building upon this foundation, The Red Star complicates the genre by infusing the ass-kickin' with a healthy dose of shmup, equipping your character with three different long-range weapons. If you're wondering how that works, I'll tell you: surprisingly well.
Each of The Red Star's three characters -- Kyozo, Makita, and Maya -- all control very differently, have various strengths and weaknesses, and offer three unique ways to play the game. Regardless of which character you choose, The Red Star's combat flow remains largely the same. Combat is composed of two primary focuses: melee and long-range, adapted from beat-'em-ups and shmups, respectively. For the most part, you'll be using melee to handle the ground troops that come after you, reserving your firearms for crowd control and weakening enemies from a distance. There's also those great and terrible shmup-style bosses, but we'll get to those in a minute.
The controls are simple enough: square is your basic attack which is linkable into combos, the cross button activates your shield, and circle fires whatever gun you currently have selected. Holding R1 while attacking activates special attacks unique to each of the game's characters, and linking these special attacks with basic strikes is the key to pulling off some really brutal combos. The huge variety of baddos in Red Star come in all shapes and sizes, some of whom are weak to melee attacks over shooting and vice versa, keep things from getting stale as you work your way through the game. One of the biggest draws of Red Star, however, are the bosses.
Imagine a boss from Ikaruga, one of them huge mechanical beasties that sling a hojillion bullets at you from every angle. Similar tyrants bookend the levels in Red Star, and they're an absolute riot. As you near the target, the camera swoops up to assume a more comprehensive perspective, granting the player a more traditional top-down view on the boss battle. While you're gunning down weak points, you're also made to dodge complex and swift bullet patterns and, in the later levels, negotiate some melee targets while you're at it. It gets a bit messy, but it's a whole lot of fun, and it's the infusion of shmup elements into The Red Star that really makes it feel like a complete experience. Some of the later bosses are simply unforgettable.
And like any worthy shmup or brawler, The Red Star offers co-operative play throughout the game, and working your way through with a buddy makes for a hell of a good time. One frustrating element to the combat in Red Star is wrapping up a combo just as a cadre of thugs have lined up to hand you your ass, which they do, just as soon as that attack animation wraps up. If you've got someone watching your back, it makes for a slightly more forgiving experience throughout the game.
The help is definitely handy, especially in the later levels when the difficulty ramps up and The Red Star's biggest flaw rears its ugly head: no mid-stage checkpoints, and a level-by-level save system. While the game might feel a bit easy at first, you'll definitely feel the absence later on.
Length is another issue. The Red Star can be knocked out in a matter of hours -- which is what you might expect from a game from either of the genres that influence it -- and when you finally lay the final boss to sticky pulp, you're left wanting a little more. Fortunately, having three completely different characters with which to tackle the campaign adds a great deal of replay value. Co-op goes a long way in extending the life of The Red Star, too.
For a gamer like me, Red Star has just about everything I need. Solid gameplay, great co-op, and it doesn't look half bad, either (it even has progressive scan). It's not quite a shooter, not quite a beat-'em-up -- The Red Star has many faces, and you'll see 'em all in every level throughout the game. Can't beat that for twenty bucks.
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