CheneyStar is Half Game, Half Confusion

Review of CheneyStar on XBLIG: Try
CheneyStar is an interesting game, unlike any other on XBLIG, but ends up creating more confusion than excitement.

First, some background – CheneyStar is the game that was failed in peer review for “making direct threats” against ex-VP Dick Cheney.  I was a little disappointed then to find there isn’t even an insult directed at Dick Cheney.  If you are looking for political satire, it won’t be found in this game.  And, to the developers who felt the need to grossly abuse the peer review system to fail this game: grow up please.

CheneyStar is remake of the classic arcade game Sinistar.  I have never played Sinistar, and thus am left to wonder “just how weird were games of yore?”  CheneyStar requires multiple sessions before the gameplay is understood, even if you read the instructions.

The game starts off with a mini game.  I start off as a hot Cuban girl equipped with a bikini and machine gun who must destroy the the US army jeeps and bombs before I am hit (also known as Saturday night at my place, know what I’m saying!).  At some point Hugo Chavez appears and I am sent into space to shoot down UFOs and CheneyStar.  It doesn’t appear I can win this mini game, and there doesn’t appear to be any effect performance has in the mini game on the real game.

The mini game graphics are pixilated in an obvious attempt at 8-bit graphics, but the main game is a beautifully rendered 3D environment.  The goal is to mine asteroids for green crystals, collect 13 of these crystals, then use them as Cheney Bombs to destroy CheneyStar.  While you are doing this, the CheneyStar is being constructed by enemy spaceships mining the same crystals and sometimes attacking my ship.  When the enemy ships complete CheneyStar, it will join in attacking my ship with larger, more powerful weapons than the other enemy ships.  CheneyStar will also toss out taunts and insults, but these don’t end up being funny and could have been left out.

Once activated, CheneyStar is very difficult to fight or avoid.  This makes the game really about mining crystals before it is activated.  It’s unfortunate then that the loose controls of the player’s ship make it hard to collect the crystals.  The crystals are really little green dots that are hard to see and also hard to catch.  The enemy ships are able to execute precise turns to collect crystals, but I often found myself circling a crystal, unable to turn tight enough to collect it.

As you earn points, a running total is kept across all games.  These points can be used to unlock “extras” in the main menu, which include some artwork and enemy ship data, as well as the starting mini game and hardcore mode.  I don’t know why someone would want to play hardcore mode, in 4 hours of playtime I’ve only ever managed to defeat CheneyStar once.

CheneyStar is a Try.  The gameplay is interesting, and the difficulty may match that of the original Sinistar, but overall is more frustration than fun.  I think when updating a classic arcade game it’s important to remember some games were designed to eat quarters, and that gameplay adjustments need to be made for consoles.  There is a very cool game here, and if you can get past the rough parts.

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