Rogue Star Rescue Review

Good clean fun

There are a lot of so-called rogue-likes. Games that revel in randomly-generated levels, permadeath, usually punishing difficulty levels… you know the drill. Rogue Star Rescue plays with these elements to some extent, but tries to provide a more flexible experience to invite more players in. 

Levels are still randomly generated each time you play, and there’s a distinct type of permadeath here as well. With three difficulty levels and an excellent mix of both same machine (for two) and online coop (for up to four), there’s a lot of wiggle room for accommodating a variety of players. Like so many of this sort of thing, Rogue Star Rescue has a decidedly retro bent. Fans of games like Enter the Gungeon and the like will be right at home here, but the addition of a Tower Defense element helps spice this Rescue up.

Rogue Star is heavily nostalgic about old school top-down twin-stick shooters. The bulk of the levels–each a distinctly themed planet–is simply a room-by-room arcade shooting jam. You walk into a new fogged over room, revealing all the enemies within. Dispatch them by shooting the living hell out of them or blowing them up with grenades and explosive scenery, and you can move on to the next room. 

The maps aren’t super huge by any means, but offer branching corridors to give players a nice sense of exploring. Levels will randomly have optional secondary objectives, like making it through without using grenades or switching weapons, that yield greater monetary rewards upon completion. Rogue Star Rescue’s characters all come equipped with jet packs, which act in lieu of jumping and dodging. Gaps in the floor and enemy fire can be avoided with a quick tap this way, and the pack can be refueled with gas canisters found around the levels.

Save Some Friends

There are also rescue missions on some of the worlds. These timed events require you to reach the room where the endangered character is fighting to stay alive. The timer is their health. Get to the room before they expire, and they’ll join you for the rest of the level, and then return to your base ship. Some characters might join you immediately, while others might require you to complete an objective on a different world. Once they’ve joined, you can use them as playable characters.

Each character starts at level one and then builds up as you play them. Character progression is permanent. Successfully dispatching enemies, and completing objectives and levels earns not just experience points and money but new points to increase your character’s stats. This includes vital attributes, speed, health, luck, and weapon damage. You’ll also unlock new items that can be either found or purchased between levels.

Since dying resets any progress through the game’s story, this character progression is vital to getting anywhere. While you can save the game progress if you need to stop playing, that save won’t survive dying. So, expect to play through those first few levels a lot. Any frustration this causes is somewhat mitigated thanks to the branching path across the ten main worlds (there’s also a “secret” planet).

While the first level is always the space station, from there, your path offers some variety. Each world is a specific theme, and the design is decidedly tongue firmly in cheek. There’s a horror world obsessed with classic horror movie tropes (where you can actually rescue Dracula), an undersea science base, lava world, forest world, etc. Each setting is distinct and, thanks to the 16-bit pixel art, charming.

Tower Defense

The path you take dictates a myriad of different endings as well. There are also over 200 different guns and nearly 100 different enemy types. Each level ends with a tower defense-style boss fight. These specific rooms are large, featuring enemy spawners on one end and an objective to protect on the other. 

You’ll have a couple of minutes to set up a variety of traps, obstacles, and auto-turrets. Traps can slow enemies and hurt them, but you’ll seldom be able to rely on those to get the job down. This means that while the tower defense elements are helpful, the game never loses sight of its twin-stick shooter roots. These end rooms are nicely done. Fun, fast-paced, and creative, it feels like a perfect build-up to the room-by-room arcade alien extermination nature of the rest of the level. 

The bosses are generally just tougher, slightly larger aliens, not massive epic alien battles though, which was a bit disappointing. We also wished for more variety in the level construction. While there are occasionally explosive secret walls, the levels didn’t feel quite as packed with either enemies or hidden treasures as one might hope. Jacking the difficulty level up helps alleviate this somewhat (adding more and tougher enemies), especially for multiple action-centric players.

For players less into the rogue-like structure, having to purchase health and ammo between each level can be a little trying. On one hand, Rogue Star Rescue certainly rewards players for putting the time in, but with no option to save progress in a more forgivable manner, it could be off-putting to casual gamers who want a little more wiggle room for failure. 

80s-arcade machines reveled in forcing players to restart, but even those allowed you to continue upon death. The option at least would have been welcome here.

Good Clean Fun

That aside (and this whole permadeath thing seems a staple of the whole rogue genre), Rogue Star Rescue is undeniably fun. It’s quirky and self-aware, has great control, clever weapons, and adorable retro graphics. The focus on character progression and general friendly coop multiplayer give it a lovely classic coin-op air, and there’s plenty here to keep players coming back again and again.