In most cases, an indie game can be forgiven faster than minor blemishes compared to the blockbuster competition. Of course, the small developers' factories find it difficult to keep up with the triple A industry. Nevertheless, real diamonds come out of the creative and independent developer studios again and again.
In the case of Starena, this is unfortunately not the case due to numerous obvious shortcomings. Here we are dealing with a piece of brown coal. There is obviously a lot of effort and passion in the Japanese boss rush arena game, no question, but it is sometimes unplayable in its current state. But as in any good story, let's start at the very beginning.
Once upon a time there was a tutorial
Source: PC Games
The game starts, how should it be otherwise, with a short tutorial that explains the basic controls. This is done by means of painfully slow text messages. With the left mouse button we strike with the sword, with the right we perform an evasive maneuver and with W, A, S and D we move our character. With Q, we can also use a type of drone that automatically performs ranged attacks. So far so good. But already here Starena becomes very strange after a very short time. In the tutorial we are given a boss where we can try out the different moves without any resistance.
Once we've gone through everything, the tutorial changes to an open fight without any notice. And this fight is very simple and hardly feasible, every Dark Souls boss would take his hat off to it. While we only draw a fraction of the opponent's energy, after a good hit we are already done by him. But after our screen death it doesn't go any further, no, the tutorial starts again and we have to look at the snappable, non-skippable text messages again. This is where confusion sets in for the first time. Does the game want us to create this boss? Or should we just skip the tutorial? Or did we miss any trick that was not explained to us in the lyrics? After reading the lame news for the fifth time, we finally gave up and skipped the tutorial.
Source: PC Games
With the feeling that we missed something important, we finally start the game after the tutorial. And just as something in the tutorial apparently did not really explain something to us, the story and the world of Starena are only vaguely revealed. We slip into the role of a fighting robot with the likeable and catchy name Mecha Reaper J3. He wants to take part in a gladiatorial tournament on the Starena space station, in which he has to compete against ten other robots on his way to becoming a champion. Apparently, these brutal competitions are being held because technical and scientific advances have made it too peaceful in the universe and people need more excitement in their lives.
As a result, Starena's characters and audience are made up of all sorts of creatures that are wildly mixed up. From talking squid and cats to a floating perch and indefinable, floating cube shapes, everything is here. The wild mix of creatures with which we can interact in the Hub looks charming and funny on the one hand, on the other hand the funny characters sometimes don't fit together so well that the world feels uncomfortably inconsistent. In addition, there is a feature called "Microblog" in the menu, which basically works like an interplanetary Twitter. Here the writers tried to be funny and satirize common social media trends, but this usually works rather poorly than right.
Source: PC Games
After the tutorial got us in the mood for a painfully difficult experience, we jump into the arena cheerfully to take on the first real boss. This also gives us a bit of acidity, which is partly because our character's movements always feel a bit delayed and sluggish. This is mainly due to the low frame rate, which bounces somewhere between ten and twenty frames per second even on the lowest graphics settings. Both Movement and boss opponents managed the title Furi, which was released in 2016, much better. If we are at Furi: The game is difficult too, no question, but if you look through the attack patterns and the rhythm of the bosses, you quickly get into a very satisfying flow. You have to study your opponent to win.
Starena does it fundamentally differently. The level of difficulty of the first boss is initially towards impossible. After just a few blows we are over, while the boss has four bars of energy that we just scratch on a combo. Studying your opponent and memorizing the attacks doesn't help, unless you want to spend half an hour doing the boss fight. In fact, there is a trick that can be used to win every fight: every boss has destructible parts that we can separate and then use ourselves as weapons. As soon as we separated the arms of the first opponent, picked them up and used them as a hammer against him, the boss was a one-hit. This is where a new feature comes into play that suddenly ridicules the initially high level of difficulty.
Source: PC Games
In addition to a sword, the individual parts of which we can expand with materials that we receive after defeating an opponent, Starena has no way of improving your own character. There are no levels or skills here, but a very interesting feature at first glance: fans. After each fight won, more and more fans join us, which we can position in the main menu on one of the four spectator ranks around the arena. If we pose by pressing the F key during the fight in front of the respective rank, the spectators throw items into the arena that support us in the fight. In order for them to do so, however, certain requests from the public have to be met, such as "stay in the marked area for five seconds" or "hit the opponent five times in the same place."
First of all, this feature is extremely interesting and creative. But after defeating the first boss, it already makes you wonder whether you really understood the game. Why is that? As already mentioned, we only have to detach one arm from the first boss, pick it up and then defeat the boss with a single hit. Then we unlock a fan named "Sadface" who can throw us this hammer-like weapon into the ring. When fighting the second boss, the question arises whether the same weapon can also deliver a one-hit here. Yes, it can. And also with the third boss. And also the fourth. And …
Source: PC Games
And finally you wonder why it's all that simple. Except for the final boss, we were able to handle every challenge according to this scheme. After the fight begins, pose in front of the audience, get the weapon, defeat the boss in one fell swoop, after work. This recipe always works so well in so few seconds that this feature can only be described as an absolute game design disaster. You basically don't have to look at the other fans and items, and the skills they can provide. This is a shame because this mechanic started out as a good idea. You can hardly notice the lovingly designed bosses and their mechanics if you can tick off every fight so quickly. After all, you wonder if you are really playing properly or if it is a bug. Then you throw a sword at a boss as normal and actually notice: without the items from the audience you have no chance against the later bosses, you are usually done after just one hit.
A completely missed opportunity
Source: PC Games
Starena provides many approaches and ideas from which something great could have emerged. The idea of saying goodbye to classic skills and getting items and buffs from placeable fans instead, which you have to satisfy to be able to count on support, is great. The crafting of the sword, which can be modd in all parts from the handle to the tip, is a cool idea. But when it comes to gameplay, the game is either unplayably difficult or completely boring easy, without any intermediate tone. In addition, the technology is so grumpy that the image jerks and hangs constantly at high graphics settings, despite the undemanding pixel graphics.
The dialogues with the admittedly funny looking characters are mostly a refreshing change, but the writing drifts again and again into cramped attempts at youth language, which often seem more than embarrassing. In terms of the story, you only try to shock with a twist towards the end, which is completely predictable from the beginning due to repeated allusions. In this respect too, you don't even get average food here. In short: Starena is simply not a good game, no matter from which direction you look at it.
I actually have a heart for such games, but Stararena is just a disappointment.
Usually love little games with creative ideas. Quite often you can experience more interesting and courageous approaches in this area than with the established big brands. Actually my heart beats for trash games too, I spent countless hours with Deadly Premonition. But no matter how small or how trashy a game is, it is always about one thing: it should be fun. And unfortunately this is simply not the case with this game. This is due to a miserable frame rate and a level of difficulty that reminds me of my broken shower. It is always either boiling hot or miserably cold.
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Starena in the test: boss rush gameplay, how you definitely don't do it (Source: PC Games)
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