Steredenn: Binary Stars Nintendo Switch review

This roguelike shoot ’em up is a blast.

Some of the best shoot ‘em ups have a gimmick. There’s the Force of R-Type, your detachable aircraft. There’s the colour chaining of Radiant Silvergun and its crazy weaponry. And there’s the black and white absorption of Ikaruga. With Steredenn, it’s randomness.

While not technically a roguelike itself, it’s heavily influenced by the genre. Levels are procedurally generated and its multitude of weapons and power-ups are handed out at random. It’s the game’s greatest strength, but also its biggest weakness.

You see, Steredenn has some really interesting weapons. There are the typical blasters and shotguns, with mega varieties that shoot out bullets in all directions. Then there’s the lightsaber that works as both attack and defence; a reflector to reflect back enemy attacks; a shockwave blast that surrounds your ship; hyper-powerful laser beams; a sniping death ray; clamping jaws; torpedoes and missiles and more. Your choice of ship also determines your speed and secondary weapon. And with the number of enemy ships coming at you, you’ll need all the weaponry you can get.

Each of these requires a different strategy, yet with weapons divvied out at random Steredenn never gives you a chance to get fully acquainted with each. And just as you get comfortable with one weapon, you may not receive it in your next run. It leads to a lot of repetition as you replay the levels again and again but never quite grasp your tactics.

At the end of each of the seven levels you regain your health and choose an upgrade from a random selection, but just like the weapons, some are better than others. This could be a game-changer or just a minor help, a health or score boost or an upgrade for a weapon you (by chance) don’t own. It can lead to frustration.

On the plus side, this randomness is meant to keep you on your toes and coming back for more. Steredenn forces you to reconsider your strategy on the fly, so quick thinking and quicker twitch fingers are rewarded – survival depends on your ability to adapt to whatever is thrown at you. For that reason it’s a challenging game, but one that’s based on skill as well as luck.

The randomness extends to the bosses too. While the mission always ends in a battle against the Mothership, the levels leading up to it have multiple possible bosses. This only adds to the replay value – you never know what you’re going to get.

Speaking of replay value, Steredenn is full of it. The main mode loops on itself endlessly with online high scores available to beat. On top of that, there’s a daily run mode where you have just one chance to top the global leaderboard with a set level and weapons; a boss rush mode; and an arena mode where you choose the boss you’ll face and the weapon you’ll wield. And, if the main game’s randomness is too much for you, there’s always the linear superplay mode.

It’s all presented in bright colourful pixel art that sees your ship blasting through space across vibrant backdrops. The enemy designs do become repetitive, however. Worse, there’s often so much chaotic on-screen action that it’s easy to lose track of your ship. Playing co-operatively only exacerbates the problem. Then there’s the brilliantly raging, heavy metal soundtrack that ramps up the intensity further in what is already frantic bullet hell.

Steredenn doesn’t quite live up to the standouts of the genre, but it’s a fine example from a French developer in a typically Japanese world. If you’re after a fast-paced action game that works brilliantly on a mobile platform like the Switch, this is a great choice.