Star Hunter DX (PC) Review

Star Hunter DX is an intense bullet-hell shooter with zero downtime. Is the stiff challenge worth your time or simply frustrating?
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Star Hunter DX – developed by 1CC Games and published by Chorus Worldwide – is a retro-style, side-scrolling, bullet-hell shooter that ramps up the intensity of combat from zero to 10 within about 5-seconds of starting the first stage. It’s insane how much of this game is spent with your screen covered in offensively pink projectiles, but it’s also a lot of fun – so long as you know what you’re getting into.

The narrative element is simple but entertaining. You play – at least initially – as Luna Starr, space pirate-captain turned bounty-hunter when her crew betrays her. Each stage, of six, sees her pursuing a former crew member, battling through their minions, before facing off in a one-on-one boss fight. You get the cheesy 80s-style cutscenes, some entertaining (if cringeworthy) writing, and a great backing soundtrack. As with any bullet-hell shooter, you don’t come for the story, but it adds some light context.

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You start with Luna available, but racking up high scores will unlock CAT-99 and Edgar. Both are specialised in one form of attack, allowing you to play to your strengths.

Gameplay is dead simple, standard for the genre, yet tough-as-nails. You move your ship up, down, left, and right. You have a primary spread attack, a penetrating laser attack, and radial bomb attack, and “bullet time”. If you’re up for a serious challenge and unlocking a few challenges, I’ve got no doubt that a skilled player could go far with just the basic attacks and precision movement. Each region has distinct enemy types – think fast or slow movement, directed or radial attacks – and picking the right fire mode is vital to surviving swarms of fighters or large, bullet-spewing battle stations. There are also weapon power-ups that increase basic damage that you’ll need to recollect if your ship is destroyed. It’s classic fare but timeless.

Once enemies and projectiles fill the screen, bullet time and space-clearing bomb attacks begin to feel vital. Bombs create a radial blast around you, shredding enemies and bullets alike into energy crystals. You get three per life, but you can recharge your bombs by “grazing bullets”, letting them pass within your radial marker (a shield of some kind?) while avoiding impact with your hull proper. It’s far easier than it sounds. In Star Hunter DX, you’re either grazing bullets, or you’re dead. Bullet time works as expected, but you’ve got the choice of hoovering up bullets turned into gold (how or why isn’t explained) and upping your score or using that time to demolish as many enemies as possible to create some breathing room.

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Star Hunter DX is a game in which there is so much going on, you need to focus on your ship with your peripheral vision while tracking all the threats. It’s intense but also incredibly satisfying to complete a stage on Bounty Hunter difficulty.

Of course, Star Hunter DX is an arcade-style, score-attack oriented game. Dying, continuing, and using bombs all reset the combo meter/score multiplier you’re slowly building up. And you’ll need to build up that score to cement a place on the leaderboards (not online, sadly) and unlock one of two additional characters. CAT-99 – one of Luna’s ship-maintaining droids – with a ship-tracking primary attack; and Edgar, the mysterious drifter who saved her, who focusses on a devastating beam attack. Both offer unique dialogue when tackling each of the former crew members, with CAT-99 getting the best lines. Regardless of the mode you tackle, there are also an extensive number of challenges you’ll unlock as you play – many of which are linked to achievements/trophies.

Picking your difficulty – Space Cadet, Bounty Hunter, or Bullet Hell – doesn’t change the enemy numbers or spawn patterns, but ships get into position and begin firing sooner on higher difficulties. This means failing to predict and prioritise targets will see your screen covered in an unnavigable swarm of projectiles, which in turn forces you to use your valuable bullet-time skill or bombs. There’s a practice mode – in which you can tweak several parameters and give yourself more lives than a standard run – but Star Hunter DX has no casual mode with infinite restarts. You get better, or you get dead.

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There are six bosses to tackle, all of which excel at screen-filling attacks that become increasingly difficult to dodge as you whittle down their health bar.

Amidst all the visual chaos of combat, it can be hard to appreciate how good Star Hunter DX can look. The pixel-art uses vibrant, contrasting neon colours to create attractive-looking locations but still ensures you can track ships and projectiles on-screen. You often move through several locations during each stage – such as descending from orbit into the upper atmosphere, or flying over icy seas before moving into the watery depth below – but there are few other visual effects to distract you. The sound of incessant pew-pew lasers and explosions is fine, but it’s the soundtrack that dominates the audio experience. It sounds like a mix of synth-heavy sci-fi with an 80’s buddy-cop show and it’s perfect.

Overall, Star Hunter DX is a fun bullet-hell shooter, with tight gameplay, responsive controls, and stylish presentation. Its greatest strength, however, is also a potential weakness. The action is nonstop and stressful from the get-go and getting anywhere requires practice through repetition. To get anywhere (even on Space Cadet difficulty) you’ll need to learn enemy spawns, priority targets, projectile patterns, and conserve every bomb or bullet-time charge until absolutely necessary. This makes it perfect for fans of the genre but difficult to recommend to those with a casual interest.

A review code for Star Hunter DX was provided to Gameblur by the publisher

Star Hunter DX (PC) Review

Star Hunter DX (PC) Review
8 10 0 1
Star Hunter DX is an intense bullet-hell shooter, with tight gameplay, responsive controls, and stylish presentation. However, the nonstop and stressful action demands mastery through practice and repetition. It’s perfect for fans of the genre but possibly too tough for those with only a casual interest.
Star Hunter DX is an intense bullet-hell shooter, with tight gameplay, responsive controls, and stylish presentation. However, the nonstop and stressful action demands mastery through practice and repetition. It’s perfect for fans of the genre but possibly too tough for those with only a casual interest.
8/10
Total Score
  • Story
    6/10 Normal
    It's minimal, as to be expected for the genre, but the writing is entertaining.
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
    An insane challenge but the responsive controls ensure it feels fair. Mastery requires you to learn enemy spawns, priority targets, projectile patterns, and conserve every bomb or bullet-time charge until absolutely necessary.
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    The vibrant, neon, contrasting pixel-art is used to create attractive-looking locations but you can always track ships and projectiles clearly.
  • Audio
    9/10 Amazing
    The sound of combat is unremarkable but the synth-heavy sci-fi/buddy-cop show soundtrack is great.

The Good

  • Tight gameplay and responsive controls
  • Great 80s-style retro-art visuals and soundtrack
  • Low price point
  • So many bullets…

The Bad

  • No “easy”/”infinite continue” mode for more casual fans of the genre
  • No online leaderboards
Total
4
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