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PSP  header logo

Stellar Attack

For: PSP

Spaceballs up

Product: Stellar Attack | Developer: Laughing Jackal | Format: PSP | Genre: Arcade, Shooter | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Stellar Attack PSP, thumbnail 1
From the earliest Greek understanding of our place in the universe, the human race has been perennially fascinated by space. The more we learn, the more there seems to be to discover – it’s a richly fascinating vacuum.

Similarly, video gaming, from its inception, has been fascinated with space (and shooting things in it, of course). But, far from being a high-minded exploration of our place in infinity, it was the negligible memory footprint of a predominantly black screen that ensured space’s popularity in formative releases.

Yet despite these rather utilitarian origins, the space shooter genre has remained consistently popular, and Stellar Attack is another enjoyable, if not wholly consistent, opportunity to go boldly where so many have gone before.

Star struck

In 1980, the highly acclaimed Star Castle was released into the world. The premise was simple: using your ship’s lasers, you must destroy the segmented shield that surrounds a large turret, before dealing a final blow to the menace itself. Three decades later, Stellar Attack has taken that formula and mixed it with colour-match puzzling.

Players pilot one of six ships, with varying stats, inside a circular force field. A turret (or more than one in later levels) slowly tracks your movement, firing whenever you fall in its sights. Progress is made by destroying every turret on the level.

Just as in Star Castle, however, things are complicated by the shield protecting each turret, here represented by variously coloured orbs, which move around them in a long chain. The orbs can only be destroyed by a bullet of matching hue (mapped to each of the face buttons: Triangle for green, Square for blue, etc).

Each orb (delineated by various icons as well as colour) reacts differently when destroyed, some firing back at you, others setting off satisfying chains of destruction, and yet more speeding up or slowing down the shield’s rotation.

This basic setup is available in three flavours: Modern, in which you have a recharging shield, but only one life; Core, which provides you with multiple lives (more can be earned for each turret and level bested); and Attack, which adds a timer, penalising you for deaths, and extending your limit for the same variables as Core.

Three difficulty levels, and two control schemes complete the package. The first, Vector, is reminiscent of games like Asteroids, Up and Down controlling forward and reverse thrust, left and right orienting the ship.

Direct, the second choice, means that the ship travels in whichever direction you push. Both modes enable you to strafe with L1 and R1.


Unfortunately, the controls prove to be the downfall of what would otherwise be an exceptional game. Neither scheme feels appropriate, the retro themed inertia distinctly at odds with the need to place shots accurately.

While the Direct option fares better, you cannot take aim without travelling in the direction you point your ship. This would be fine for a pure shooter, but as a carefully retained multiplier is lost when a shot hits an orb of the wrong colour, things quickly become frustrating.

Moreover, the presentation (which, incidentally, is wonderfully lurid) sets expectations of a fast paced, action orientated experience, but in reality the game is a methodical, cerebral war of attrition. Not disastrous by any means, but it does take a while to tame your trigger finger.

All of this is a pity, as Stellar Attack’s strengths still manage to shine through, and the notion of what could have been is somewhat heartbreaking.

If you’re prepared to put in the hours required to gain an intuitive understanding of the controls, there’s plenty to love here, but you may well be bored by the time you’ve got good enough.

With expectations raised by genre exemplars such as Geometry Wars or even PixelJunk Shooter, it can be very difficult to relinquish control to more old skool physics.

We may be fascinated by space, but accepting that the universe doesn’t revolve around us can be a difficult revelation.
Stellar Attack
Reviewer photo
Ben Maxwell | 6 May 2010
Stellar Attack offers enjoyably intense and strategic gameplay which is obscured by unintuitive controls and misleading presentation
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