My screen flashes a quick black and suddenly, Pulstar. I know nothing. I’m excited, those prereview jitters where you go in blind. It’s a glorious feeling, not knowing anything. No feelings that have been built up before hand. I’m mentally naked, ready to be embraced by the warm glow of a game that I have literally no idea what’s in store.
A dual stick shooter, with a calming blue background and gross looking aliens. It’s fluid, the controls are like magic in my fingers though this was expected, considering the sheer amount of these games since the indie boom and the explosions on screen are gently caressing my eyes. But, in a moment of distraction as my dad places the coffee on the table, my little orb of light is destroyed. It’s game over.
Hitting back, I plan to see what else the game has to offer before sinking more time into this obviously basic score building mode. There’s nothing. Options, how to play present themselves in their basic manner and not much else. I’m confused, lost and disappointed. I set the controller in front of me, hit the power button on my computer and head off to bed, a sullen look sweeps across my face.
Do you see all that I have just written? Pulstar has so little to talk about, that I have to conjure up an entirely different approach to talk about it. It’s so incredibly simple and in the wrong ways. There’s hardly anything on offer, that you can get anywhere else and have additional things included.
Not only that, but the other dual stick shooters available are infinitely better too. This is as barebones as you get and it’s not as they described on their Steam page. It’s all well and good, having independent developers take on classic genres and concepts, bring them back to their roots and put that little bit of magic back in. It usually leads to really cool things. But this? This feels lifeless and empty. I get my kicks from shooting stuff, but then when it ends and I have to restart, I just know that I can be doing this exact thing anywhere else.
Pulstar is a game that doesn’t fail in its gameplay, but because there is so little else available to actually do, it fails itself. It’s a miserable experience to play, because while score attacks are great and everything, usually others in the genre add other caveats to entice you on. A leaderboard is no longer a hook that you can balance an entire game on.