Fission for compliments.
Doctor Leopold from Planet X made a bomb. Apparently it’s called Celine, and it wants to go on a tour of the solar system. It’s your job to make that happen. The residents of the solar system aren’t too happy about this and will do what they can to shoot you to bits, but I’m sure you can handle that.
Fission Superstar X is a blend of side-scrolling space shooter with roguelike elements. You’ll escort the anthropomorphized bomb from planet to planet, gathering funds, upgrading your ship and defeating tougher and tougher enemies. The target is to destroy the Earth, but you’ll land at every planet (including poor Pluto) along the way. If you like, you can detonate the bomb there, ending the run and unlocking a new ship for your troubles.
The story is proud to be nonsense, and I’m fine with that. No mention is made of why the various upgrade shops are so readily willing to serve you, or how your crew feels about all this. If you choose not to detonate the bomb once you land on a planet, it just sits on a stage for a while whilst the residents whoop and cheer. It’s mad, and I kind of love it.
This sense of irreverence carries on to Fission Superstar X’s visual design. The artist(s) clearly had a lot of fun with this game, designing huge space-dwelling creatures with bulbous eyes that explode into messy chunks of gut and intestine upon death. The starships, backgrounds and weapons all have their own unique style, blending together seamlessly to create something far prettier than a single screenshot can express. Fission Superstar X looks fantastic in motion.
Structurally, FSX borrows somewhat from FTL. At the end of each sector, there’s a series of interesting decisions to be made. Should the crew focus on training, repairs or healing? Do you want to spend your money on upgrades or ammunition? Maybe it’s time you hired a replacement for that medic who can’t aim for toffee. You can’t have it all, and learning to balance the various needs of your bomber is key to success.
Combat is pleasingly physical. The location of your weapons on your ship creates blind spots, meaning you’ll need to maneuver around the enemy to bring your guns to bear. To begin with, two of four crew slots are empty, meaning that you’re totally defenseless on two of the four sides of your ship. Weapon types range from simple energy blasters and mortars to electrified spears and giant starship-rending space chainsaws, the various strengths and weaknesses of which must be considered when positioning yourself for combat.
Your ship also has a shield, which blocks all projectile-based attacks, pushes away enemy ships and causes unprotected space-jetpackers to go splat. It also acts as a tractor beam, pulling in cash pickups from defeated enemies.
I’m a sucker for a good rules system, and what keeps combat interesting is that all enemy ships follow the exact same rules as you do. The same arsenal, the same shields, the same weakness to environmental hazards such as asteroids, ion storms or grumpy police ships. This makes combat encounters highly tactical, as you’ll need to be constantly switching up your strategy to tackle each new enemy arrival from the strongest possible position, given the current space-weather.
The AI controlling each ship also seems to be smart enough to recognise its own strengths, attempting to angle itself for maximum damage just like you do whilst also avoiding environmental damage. All of these elements combine to ensure that combat in FSX is never boring.
Four types of vendor exist within the game: recruitment, weapon shops, shipyards and bomb decoration, although the latter only appears after fighting a mini-boss. Upgrades are tiered depending on where you are in the game, meaning that advanced weaponry won’t be available until a few planets in. There’s no way to salvage lost items from enemy ships, meaning that cash truly is king as far as improving your arsenal is concerned. However, there’s no way to sell or trade in anything you’re currently carrying, which regularly put me in the awkward situation of desperately needing an upgrade but being just a few pennies short.
Sometimes FSX doesn’t do the best job of explaining itself. I avoided the bomb decoration shops for hours, as you can only visit one shop per mini-boss and I assumed their wares would be purely cosmetic – in fact, the various costumes available for Celine provide game-altering bonuses to things like cash or ammo pickups. DNA points are available to level up your pilot clone before the game starts, but I’m not sure exactly where they come from. There are also red skull pickups that occasionally drop from enemies – these definitely scream ‘bad,’ l but I honestly still don’t know what they do.
It would also be remiss of me not to discuss the game’s difficulty. Once you’re past the second planet things seem to dramatically ramp up, and it’s not unusual to have an hour-long run ended in a few seconds when a cheeky enemy goes straight for your weakest point.
The unfortunate side-effect of this, combined with a lack of fast-forward feature, means that whilst the art is outstanding and the weapon variety later in the game is plentiful, you’re going to spend a lot of your time with FSX playing through the same two opening planets, using the same weapons against the same enemies. And that’s without getting into the optional difficulty modes that unleash every enemy in the game using the entire arsenal of weapons at once.
The thing is, difficult or no, FSX is still really good fun. I have a feeling this is the sort of game you could return to week after week, learning its intricacies and formulating the best possible strategy for success. I’d like to see a few changes made, a few quality of life additions, but it’s hard not to recommend a game that’s this much fun and looks this good to boot. I suspect that the brilliantly named developer, Turbo Pelvis 3000, will be one to keep an eye on in the future.
[Reviewed on PC]