by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
Roguelike games and bullet hells share some core mechanics. Both tend to be exceedingly brutal at first until you learn patterns and playstyles. Both offer various ways to play the game through power-ups and skills. And both are genres that generally stick to their own niche, until today. TombStar combines the two genres together, adding in a little spice in the form of a space western just to keep things unique. I was given a chance to play the game before its launch, to let you know what to expect.
The first thing to mention is the game’s aesthetic. Wild west meets space travel is a Firefly-esque recipe for a truly entertaining experience. Add in the game’s cartoon style graphics, fluid animations, and a sheer variety of enemy types, and that’s TombStar in a nutshell. You’re sent to tackle the wily Grimheart Gang after they’ve driven away every last settler on a planet in the fringes of the galaxy. Along the way you’re going to have to arm yourself with all sorts of guns and abilities to help you fight back, since all you brought with you was your sense of justice and a basic firearm. Useful, but not ideal for combating hordes of enemies who all want to stop you cold.
In true rogue-like style, you’ll travel through various rooms, most of which are occupied by various gang members. It starts out simple enough: rank-and-file grunts with nothing more than a revolver, but quickly escalates into lizard-folk with grenade launchers, killer machine gun robot drones, and an assortment of mini-bosses designed to ensure you’ll never make it to the leader of the Grimheart Gang. I particularly liked the hat throwing members of the crew, a lovely reference to Oddjob from Goldfinger (seriously who throws a hat?!), and the throwing knife wielding acrobatic circus performers who’ll deftly maneuver away from your shots. Minibosses are also spectacularly large, and of the ones I encountered, all required some special tricks to take down. This focus on tactical bosses is a nice addition to a rogue-like game.
Controls are smooth and responsive, which is important in a game like TombStar. WASD controls your movement, while the left mouse button fires your weapon. Right mouse is used for your character’s dodge action, which will be very important when loads of bullets are flying your way. Spacebar activates your character’s ultimate ability, which varies from character to character. Your starting character, for example, slows down time, allowing you to move, fire, and dodge while your enemies move at a snail’s pace. All of the controls can be rebound, allowing you full control on what’s comfortable for you to play.
Obviously, your starting weapon isn’t going to be enough to tackle the waves of enemies you’re going to face, so be on the lookout for keys to open chests. Each one will offer a random weapon, but be mindful of its remaining ammo. Thankfully your starting weapon has unlimited ammunition, but where’s the fun in using it over, say, a shotgun, a powerful plasma launcher, or an explosive dart thrower? In addition to weapons, you’ll also be able to unlock a variety of skills and abilities as you run through the game which can have a massive effect on your playstyle. For instance, one of the perks I found was allowing the first shot of every magazine to deal extra damage. Combine that with the energy weapon I found that can charge up for more powerful attacks, and you’ve a recipe for a really strong synergy.
There are also environmental factors you can use to your advantage while playing too. Desks can be knocked over for cover by using the interact key (E by default). These aren’t permanent fixtures though, as repeated fire from enemies will eventually break them. You can also hide behind the various trees and rocks that are scattered about the stages, though these are also destructible. You’ll want to take advantage of this as much as possible though, especially when you start getting multiple enemies that fire multiple projectiles at you, as proper use of cover will save you health.
When you’re done with a run, either by beating the game or dying – let’s be fair, your first few games will be the latter – you’ll gain points which will level up your overall camp. Doing so will unlock new weapons, perks, and the game’s other two characters. You’ll also eventually start unlocking gemeralds which can be used to permanently upgrade your characters. The first one unlocked granted an additional point of health at the beginning of the game, for instance. From what I noticed, there are a ton of things to unlock along the way, so there will be plenty to do across your playthrough(s).
Overall, TombStar is shaping up to be quite a wonderful experience. Its main focus is obvious as a rogue-like adventure, but the addition of what I’ll call “bullet hell lite” mechanics make for a much more frenetic and enjoyable experience. While I do have some issues with the game currently – a lot of the guns feel remarkably similar damage wise and some enemies feel a little bullet sponge-y – fans of rogue-likes and even twin-stick shooters will feel right at home with the gameplay mechanics here. For a game made by a small team, TombStar is worth looking into.
TombStar Screenshot Gallery