Nova Strike is a compact and smartly-designed shoot-’em-up from French/Thai developer Sanuk Games, with satisfying shooting, great retro aesthetics, and brisk rogue-like progression that’s perfect for handheld play. Unfortunately, it needs way more procedural content or mission modifiers to keep players coming back.
Satisfying gameplay and brisk progression
Given its classic, arcade inspirations, Nova Strike wastes no time with story elements. The title screen reveals a sleek starfighter and feminine pilot – perhaps the titular “Nova” – and then you’re thrown into Stage 1-1 without any further ceremony. Thankfully, the gameplay loop is more than engaging enough without any narrative context.
Nova Strike has a traditional shmup design but many modern tweaks. You battle through auto-scrolling sections from an overhead perspective, packed with enemy craft and projectiles; the screen occasionally pauses, leaving you to weave about while finishing off stragglers; you hoover up secondary weapons, ammunition, health, and coins as you go; and you tackle screen-filling bosses at the end of each chapter with progressively tougher phases as you whittle down their health bar.
So far, so familiar, but unlike the arcade shmups that inspired it, Nova Strike uses a rogue-like progression system using virtual coins, rather than demanding real coins to continue after defeat. The basic unlimited blaster, random item drops, and a slowly-recharging shield will see you through a few stages if your reflexes are good enough, but you’ll inevitably find yourself overwhelmed by dozens of enemy craft and hundreds of projectiles that’ll shred both your shield and pitiful health bar in seconds.
The upgrades you need come in two forms: bonus unlocks rewarded during a run that are lost on defeat, and permanent unlocks bought using coins – rewarded based on your mission performance – that you retain between runs. Nova Strike uses procedurally-generated stage layouts and enemy placement, but the most significant RNG element is the possibility of encountering a shop mid-run and which portals to the next stage are present – portals that modify drop rates or guarantee a reward.
If you’re running low on health or secondary weapon ammunition, picking “More Resources” will quickly get you back up to speed – assuming you survive long enough. Bonus “Chips” or “Weapons” provides a temporary upgrade or secondary weapon at the end of the stage; while “More Coins” is the one to pick if you’re grinding to unlock a permanent upgrade from the equipment store. It’s a smart system that gives you just a little bit of control and can salvage an otherwise bad run.
Secondary weapons – you can equip one and store another – are ammunition-limited but powerful and situational. The dual- or triple-barrel blasters are weak but great for hitting multiple targets. Homing missiles are great for small, fast-moving ships. The grenade launcher requires precision but the splash damage works wonders against clustered foes. The Laser Beam is a penetrating line of death, while the Rail Gun fills a similar role with flurries of projectiles. Of course, enemies have access to the same tools, so you need to learn how to use and avoid them.
The more interesting mechanic is the chip upgrades. These are equipable modules – some passive and some active – split into several categories: think weapon, firing, health, defence, movement, and resources. To keep things balanced, you can only purchase a maximum of 9 chip slots, with the most powerful or upgraded chips taking up to three slots each. As a result, you’ll need to decide on the load-out that suits you, be that a few specialised abilities or a broad selection of lower-level buffs.
There are chips that offer recharging abilities, like missile flurries, instant healing, a brief cloak, and a dash with invincibility frames – all of which can give you the edge. You can boost your maximum ship health, shield strength, and shield recharge rate, but it’s often worth swapping them out for higher-tier chips that give you brief invulnerability when taking damage or a projectile-absorbing shield if you can avoid being hit for a few seconds. If I had to pick an essential one, it would be those that boost the firing rate of your basic blaster to keep you in the fight when secondary weapons run dry.
Give me more!
The rogue-like upgrades come at a brisk pace, and tearing your way through an earlier chapter with new upgrades is fun, but Nova Strike’s procedural-generation feels incredibly limited after you’ve spent a few hours tackling the four chapters on offer.
Don’t get me wrong, the minute-to-minute gameplay is intense and looks great. The pixel-art ships are surprisingly detailed but visually distinctive, while vibrant projectiles and laser beams crisscross the screen. It’s chaotic yet readable, making it easy to track your ship as you weave around.
The problem is the changes to background configurations and enemy placement are barely noticeable; new and tougher foes are always introduced on the same stages; and the handful of portal modifiers could be expanded. If you’re simply looking to complete the game once, it becomes less of an issue once you’ve invested in several upgrades and have the coin to immediately start on later chapters, but it makes successive replays far too samey – especially if you’re chasing high scores or on the hunt for difficult achievements like killing all enemies or not getting hit.
Great mechanics but not enough to do with them
On balance, I’d still recommend Nova Strike for what it currently offers: solid shooting, a satisfying progression system, and wonderful aesthetics. As someone content with two or three campaign runs at the low asking price, I found it perfect for short sessions during a break or in bed. If, on the other hand, you’re looking to sink some serious time into a new shmup, you might find it lacking in content after just a few hours.
Nova Strike was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Xbox Series S|X, and PlayStation 5.
Nova Strike (Nintendo Switch) ReviewNova Strike (Nintendo Switch) Review
- A compact, smartly-designed, well-priced indie shmup
- Brisk rogue-like progression with plenty of secondary weapons and upgrades
- Fantastic pixel art ships, animations, and a catchy soundtrack
- Perfect for short sessions on the Switch or Steam Deck
- Desperately needs more procedural content or more impactful mission modifiers