Stellar Attack is the second Mini from UK Developer Laughing Jackal. Much like how their first Mini, Cubixx, was a twist on the old arcade classic Qix, Stellar Attack is also a new take on an old arcade classic. In this case, Star Castle, which is really a “lost” arcade classic. Star Castle was quite popular in the 1980s, but as the company that made it went out of business shortly thereafter, it never appeared on any later retro compilations. Star Castle also inspired Yar’s Revenge on the 2600, regarded as a classic in its own right.
You control a free moving spaceship that must destroy a space fortress that is in the center of the playing field. The space fortress is protected by a shield comprised of moving segments, which you just blast using your cannon. Once the shield protecting it is destroyed, or at least enough of it to get a clean shot through, you can attack the interior and blow the fortress up.
The innovation that Stellar Attack brings is a puzzle element. Each segment of the shield has a color – red, blue, green, or yellow. Your ship has a corresponding gun that fires bolts of each color, and you must use the right color to destroy each shield segment or orb as the game calls it.
But the puzzle aspects don’t end there. Each segment of the shield can contain an icon that does something. It can be good, such as destroying other parts of the shield or giving bonus points; bad, such as shooting at you; or neutral, speeding up or slowing down the movement of the shield. This is one of the real keys to the game, I’ve found. Shooting the ones containing the skull icon in particular, as it strips away much of the shield in a chain reaction.
At first, the fortress you must blow up has only one center or turret. But as you progress through the game, they become more and more complex. This adds yet another layer to the game, you have to think about which one to get rid of first, as you have to cope with the directed fire of multiple turrets. Some are protected less well than others, so should be targeted first. All in all, it makes for some surprisingly cerebral gameplay.
There are three different variations of the game. Modern, Core, and Attack. Modern and Core are quite similar, simply differing in how your ship takes damage. In Modern, you have a regenerating shield. Take too much damage and the shield goes down and the ship starts taking damage and eventually explodes, ending the game. Core has a more retro feel, you get hit and you lose a life, but you have several to lose.
Attack is somewhat different, and probably my favorite mode. It combines the two, your ship has shields and you have several ships, but the catch is that it’s timed. Rather than having a fixed amount of ships, you get served a time penalty when your ship is destroyed, and when time is up, the game is over. Conversely, destroy part of the star fortress and you get extra time. This is probably the easiest mode for beginners, because you are guaranteed at least three minutes of play. Even on the easiest difficulty level (there are three), it can be a difficult game at first, so I found this mode very useful when I started playing.
Besides the type of game and difficulty level, you also have six ships to pick from. They have varying stats (in speed, turning and guns), but the big difference is that three have vector based movement and three feature direct movement.
Vector movement is the sort found in the old classic games such as Asteroids. You rotate the ship left or right and then thrust forward to move. This adds the ability to thrust backward, as well as jink to the left or right using the L and R buttons. While with direct movement, your ship simply moves in the direction you press.
I really have enjoyed this title a lot. One of the things I was really hoping to see with the Minis program was retro-themed arcade style games, especially shooters. To my dismay, there haven’t really been many, so for me this is a welcome addition.
My only real complaint with it is more of a quibble, it can take a good deal of time, around 20 seconds, between stages as it counts up your score. It’s a minor issue, but somewhat annoying. I also would have liked to have seen a lower initial high score table. I’ve been playing all weekend and still can’t even get on the bottom rung. So if you are looking for a fun and challenging retro-themed arcade shooter, you can’t really go wrong with Stellar Attack.