UPDATE: As of 06/08/2021, 1CC Games released a patch that resolves practically all of the performance related issues found on the Nintendo Switch. After testing, the patch seems to have brought the performance of the Switch version to a standard comparable to the PC release. This appears to be without any noticeable drop in visual fidelity. The review below has not been edited, however the score has been changed to reflect the game’s current state. Of course issues surrounding performance are no longer relevant.
When it comes to Shmups, the Switch is easily king. At least, the current reigning king. Its library of top-tier titles is unmatched across multiple generations, and with regular new releases, it’s easy to see why Shmup fans everywhere flock to the dinky hybrid. That being said, the Switch is far from being the most powerful piece of kit on the market, and the older it gets, the greater the concern that it won’t be able to keep up with the demands of the genre. Star Hunter DX confirms those worries.
Day One Performance Issues
Before I get into my review for Star Hunter DX I want to say that this game is not worth playing as of writing this review. This is quite possibly the worst-performing Shmup on the Switch – it may be the worst-performing game. Period. From the moment you hit start the game’s framerate tanks and you can almost hear the Switch screaming in pain as it desperately tries to maintain some level of stability. It’s all in vain, however, and the further you get, the more it struggles.
This goes beyond the realm of intentional slowdown and straight into a hell-dimension that paradoxically destroys the game’s difficulty balancing, whilst also making the game impossibly unfair at the same time. A framerate in the single digits is bad enough, but when that framerate is unstable and jumps up and down at random, it makes controlling your ship with any degree of reliability questionable at best. When it’s tanking, you can waltz through Star Hunter DX’s bullet formations with ease, even on the hardest difficulty level. When it’s bouncing, well, good luck.
Star Hunter DX has mechanics to die for. As standard you have a spread shot and concentrated laser. Alternating between firing modes is a breeze, and feels snappy and responsive. Rounding out your offensive loadout is a bomb that acts more like a bullet destroying shield similar to a game like Fast Striker. When things get too spicy, pop the bomb, absorb the bullets and carve a path to adequate breathing room. Bombs are not collected but recharged by grazing against bullets, heavily rewarding ballsy gameplay.
Destroying enemies and absorbing bullets also charges your Bullet-Time gauge. Bullet-Time slows enemies bullets down, reveals enemy health bars, and enables the ever-satisfying Sh’mup cancel. Killing an enemy in Bullet-Time causes that enemy to burst into gold gubbins, and any bullets on screen at the time of death also convert.
This combination of systems leads to a beautifully flowing mechanical cycle where you drop a bomb to charge your gauge, activate Bullet-Time to graze bullets and gather copious amounts of points, and use that grazing energy to drop another bomb once Bullet-Time wears out. From a pure survivalist perspective, this makes Star Hunter incredibly easy to pick up and play, although you won’t get any hi-scores by interacting with the game in this way.
Excellent Scoring System
Nestled in the bottom left of the screen is a multiplier meter. This fills as you pop enemies and graze bullets to a maximum of x8. This resets to 1 once an instance of Bullet-Time ends, and your Bullet-Time gauge fills significantly faster than your multiplier. If you want the highest of scores, you need to rely more on your reflexes and skills, and less on the game’s mechanics. This means always Bullet-Timing at the max multiplier. Of course, this gives the game two very different gameplay approaches, and mixing between the two based on circumstance is likely the best way to go when learning the ropes.
Each of Star Hunter DX’s stages ends with a larger-than-life boss who all love to hurl seemingly insurmountable walls of bullets your way. These are the highlights of the game, and despite the initial impression that dodging the oncoming horde is impossible, there is always a path through, and finding it is incredibly satisfying – especially on harder difficulty modes. As an optional bonus, if you destroy all of a boss’s armour in Bullet-Time, you get to tackle the second phase of that boss for extra points. It’s a nice touch.
Start Hunter DX is very approachable for newcomers thanks to its 3 difficulty modes and 3 unlockable characters. Each bump in difficulty increases bullet density and speed, and each character has a unique set of firing patterns that make the game easier or harder. For example, Cat-99’s rapid-fire homes in on enemies, letting you focus more on dodging, than aiming.
In terms of presentation, Star Hunter DX is quite the looker thanks to chunky sprites, interesting backgrounds and clearly defined bullets. This is dialled up to quite the height once you start cancelling bullets and your brain gets flooded with all manner of endorphins as tidbits flock to your location. Enemy designs are also varied in appearance but have a habit of being stationary bullet walls, which did get a bit repetitive after a while.
Whilst I was a fan of the visuals, I was less of a fan of the sound design. Sound effects in particular were noticeably weak and didn’t always convey the chaos on screen effectively. The soundtrack on the other hand holds up better, but it wasn’t to my taste. Star Hunter DX goes for super bloopy synth stylings, which is fine, but each stage’s track sounded more-or-less the same. A bit of variety would have gone a long way here.
Overall, Star Hunter DX is probably the biggest disappointment of 2021. It’s such a shame to see excellent mechanics, buckets of replayability, tight controls and cracking visuals go to waste because the game launched unfinished on the Switch. In its current state Star Hunter DX is not worth enduring – and I mean that literally. The games juddering did a number of on my dome and I always left my play sessions with quite a headache. Until this is patched, give it a miss. Heck, I’m not even sure a patch would do enough to resolve the sheer severity of the performance issues on display. Alternatively, buy it on PC.