Platforming fun with Star Dash

Review of Star Dash on XBLIG: Buy
Online high scores and challenging levels make this arcade platformer enjoyable and addictive.

The concept behind Star Dash seems simple–each player moves their avatar up a vertical level, collecting stars for points and going for the high score.  However, the gameplay is more complex than it seems.  There are two main obstacles which can kill a player: a continually scrolling screen and a timer. The ultimate goal isn’t really clearing levels, as each level features its own online scoreboard, and levels can be played out of order.

Although the screenshots the screenshots might suggest a “monty haul” approach to level design with an overabundance of collectables on any given screen, I found the levels to be very well-designed. Levels do indeed feature plenty to collect, but the rapid scroll of the screen requires quick choices between picking up high-point-value stars, extra time, screen-scrolling modifiers, and point multipliers. Most levels feature both side paths (which require quick reflexes and often backtracking) and multiple parallel paths (each offering its own type of reward).  In many cases, the 5- and 10-second timer extensions or the screen-slowing or –reversing arrows are necessary to complete the level—but not always, so both risky and conservative instincts are rewarded. 

The “hard-as-fun” game concept has taken a lot of flak on GameMarx, but I feel that it actually works in Star Dash’s favor.  While it’s true that playing the game requires balancing constant and often competing threats (getting stuck, falling behind, time running out, etc.), the focus on high score lists rather than clearing sequential levels means there isn’t too much pressure.  Levels are relatively short, and I found that high score lists weren’t full of impossibly high scores, so I felt like I accomplished something even though I finished only around 20 of the game’s 100 levels.  It’s also possible to play any level from the high score screen—even levels you haven’t yet completed—meaning it’s almost impossible to get “stuck.” (I didn’t realize this at first, but one of the developers—who must have seen my name several times on the early levels’ high score lists—sent me a message via XBox Live explaining that I didn’t need to restart from Level 1 each time. He also says that they are working on an update to make this more obvious.)

If there is a weak point to the game, it might be the style.  While there’s nothing wrong with it, the style doesn’t easily stand out among many other titles on the service—which is unfortunate because of how enjoyable it is.  Grass, stone, and dirt (which sometimes blends into the game’s scrolling background) as well as the stars and other powerups look rather basic.  The game does make good use of avatar support, as they fit naturally into the world and aren’t overused.

Overall, I give Star Dash a Buy.  The high score lists and stage selection feature make it hard to feel stuck or defeated, yet the game itself is challenging and addictive.  Fans of arcade platformers should definitely check this one out.

A copy of Star Dash was provided to GameMarx for this review by the developer.

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