Review: Stardust Vanguards (PS4)

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Title: Stardust Vanguards
Format: PlayStation Network Download (290.8 MB)
Release Date: January 19, 2016
Publisher: Zanrai Interactive LLC
Developer: Zanrai Interactive LLC
Original MSRP: $9.99
ESRB Rating: T
Stardust Vanguards is also available on PC and Linux.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Stardust Vanguards is described as a “lightning-fast precision multiplayer game” and that’s pretty accurate. It’s a fast paced dueling game with most modes requiring two to four players. Your character fights using a combination of laser swords, bullets, shields, and dashes with what makes for a chaotic and fun experience.

Controls are pretty straightforward. There is a button for swinging your laser sword that can also be used to deflect enemy fire. Bullets are limited on a per life basis making them vital for any battle. There is a shield that is limited to a couple seconds of use and a dash move that can be burned out if continuously pressed.

… The tight controls are easy to learn …
In addition, as they attack their foes, players will build up RP or Reinforcement Points which can be used to call in ally ships to engage the enemy is battle. The more RP built, the more ships that can be called into battle.

Using these moves, two to four players battle it out in various modes on simple maps set in space. The Versus modes come in three flavors: Deathmatch, Conquest, and Spaceball. Deathmatch has four rule sets to play with. The first being a Standard battle with ten lives a player and two wins sealing the victory. Fast rules are two lives, two wins, while Tactical has one life and two wins. And finally there’s a Custom option for players to set their own rules.

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The Deathmatch mode is chaotic and fun, especially when you have a full game of four players. The tight controls are easy to learn and the playfields are simple. Maps range from very open fields to spaces with plenty of cover to hide behind.

Deathmatches tend to go fast if a player is skilled, but newer players can luck into some success as things become chaotic with waves on NPCs attacking all players. In one-on-one matches it becomes a skill based game, but in a hectic full match it becomes chaos where someone can easily luck into a victory.

The other mode, Conquest, is a King of the Hill mode where the middle of the playfield is the hill and whoever can stand there alone for ten seconds wins. This mode is fast and sadly cannot be customized to make for longer matches.

… a full game is pure beautiful chaos …
The ten second play clock feels really short especially when you do not have a full game. It’s a shame it does not feature customizable options. Another bummer is that matches are over after one win unlike Deathmatch. The short clock makes it feel like it ends too soon.

Now what might be my favorite mode, Spaceball, is a fast paced sports game. Using the same playfields as the other modes, there is now a goal on each side of the field where you have to hit a ball using your sword. In this mode you still have the ability to kill your opponents to make for an easier goal though everyone has infinite lives.

The physics on the ball are fast and a full game is pure beautiful chaos. First to ten goals wins, but like Conquest there are no custom options which would have been nice. I was really impressed with this mode especially since it is so different from the other modes available.

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On the other side of Versus we have the Cooperative mode, Survival. Survival is pretty straightforward as it basically equates to horde mode. Waves and waves of enemies will be sent out for you to survive through and it is broken up by difficulty level. There is even an Endurance option that puts players through all the difficulties.

The Cooperative Mode is an absolute challenge and can be frustrating past the Easy difficulty. It absolutely wrecked me, but the gameplay is fun and worth continuing forward even after multiple failures.

These modes can be played solo, but the game does feel like it was meant for multiple people which is why the mode is labeled as cooperative. So if competitive play is not your thing Stardust Vanguards offers this mode for you.

… a nice retro science fiction look …
Now there are some elements that take away from the experience in the early going, such as the lack of customization for Conquest and Spaceball. The other issue I have is the lack of direction on how to unlock the modes. Conquest, Spaceball and Endurance are locked at the beginning.

It is a small complaint, but not knowing how to unlock them is bothersome, especially after realizing those modes are the most fun. I still cannot tell if I unlocked the modes by playing a certain amount of matches or by trying out every option available to me. It is worth mentioning that you can unlock all the content through an selection in the Options menu, but it does say it will disable Trophies.

Another thing that would be helpful is a quick restart option in the cooperative modes because as of now if someone messes up the only options are to quit out to the main menu or finish the match. These are small issues in the grand scheme of things, but something that was talked about frequently when playing with friends.

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Visuals:
I couldn’t quite figure out how to describe the visual style of Stardust Vanguards, but I think it resembles science fiction anime of the late 1980s and early 90s. The characters have a look similar to something from Voltron or Gundam.

The character models that players choose from do not have much distinction between each other outside of their color, but overall the character and ship designs all have a nice retro science fiction look. The whole art style compliments the gameplay and music well and makes for a simple yet stylish game. Also the character select screen is awesome.

Playfields are simple space backgrounds which is necessary because the battles are hectic. There will be bullets flying and spaceships exploding with bright colors. It can be almost jarring and difficult to keep up with the battle, but the game makes sure to give players a specific color to help aid in keeping track of their character.

… a good party game …
Audio:
The music in the game is catchy to say the least. The soundtrack is filled with fast paced electronic music that goes well with the art style. The fast pace keeps the battles moving as players zip across the screen at high speeds. You will often find yourself moving your head to the soundtrack which hopefully will not cost you a life doing so.

Outside of the music there is not a lot of voice work. A robot voice shouts when a player dies and the player characters will also chime in from time to time, but that’s it. I did find some humor in the occasional “denied” or other words shouted during a match. The voice work is kept to a minimum, but is effective when heard.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Stardust Vanguards is local multiplayer only and for two to four players. Now while online play would have been nice, it is understandable why a game about precision with matches that can end pretty quickly would opt out of an online experience. With that said, the gameplay is fantastic and is something that is easy to pick up and understand so it could make for a good party game.

Spaceball especially is something that I can see being enjoyed by casual players since the rule set is easy to understand. Again, custom options would have been appreciated since some games do end rather quickly and bouncing to the menu can be a momentum killer, but there is enough game here to keep a group of friends playing for awhile.

… and with a few tweaks it could be even better …
Conclusion:
Stardust Vanguard is yet another fantastic local multiplayer game. The comeback of local multiplayer games in recent years has been great for video games and this one adds to that rejuvenation.

There are plenty of modes with a nice variety to keep things fresh and with a few tweaks it could be even better. It is a solid experience powered by tight controls that are easy to pick up for casual play in the Versus modes. The cooperative mode, with its high difficulty, should be able to keep players itching to improve and wanting to learn more of the nuances hidden in Stardust Vanguards.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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  • Mynx

    Hi. I mean, you look fucking gorgeous to me.