Nova Strike takes you on a truly unique tour of the cosmos with a one-of-a-kind blend of roguelike mechanics and retro Galaga vibes. The game throws you into a classically-inspired, bullet-hell rush with randomized levels, persistent upgrades to unlock, and a series of weapons to unleash on your variety of foes. While not perfect in every sense, I can easily call Nova Strike and my experience with the game unique.
Nova Strike fuses the classic arcade gameplay of Galaga with roguelike elements, resulting in a challenging space shooter with a retro feeling. You take the helm of a spacecraft that is constantly moving forward on the screen while shooting at enemies as you gradually approach them. The game adopts a traditional top-down perspective, which provides a familiar experience reminiscent of arcade classics.
The core gameplay centers on shooting down enemies while deftly evading a barrage of enemy projectiles. Nova Strike is a true bullet-hell title, which ups the intensity of combat as players progress through the levels. Enemy patterns become increasingly intricate as the screen fills with an overwhelming array of projectiles that demand precise maneuvering and quick reflexes.
Maybe not so quick, actually, as one of Nova Strike’s biggest flaws in my eyes is just how slow everything feels. You crawl across at a snail’s pace, or at least what a snail might imagine spaceship-speed to be like, and the lack of a sense of speed makes the game feel kind of sleepy and hampers the excitement a lot. I would have loved to see the game with the kind of speed present in other bullet-hell titles.
The goal of each level is to clear all enemies and make it to the end, and this offers a straightforward yet engaging objective. Diverse enemy types will switch up your approach along the way, which keeps things from becoming too stale. Each successful level gives you a brief moment of respite where you can upgrade your ship with chips before flying into an increasingly difficult location.
After completing a stage, you’re presented with a series of rooms, each offering different rewards. This classic roguelike aspect gives you decisions that can influence your chances of survival in subsequent levels. By choosing wisely between upgrades, power-ups, or additional resources, those decisions can significantly impact your effectiveness in dealing with the escalating challenges ahead.
Permadeath in roguelike games adds a sort of strategic decision-making that’s very much still present in Nova Strike. Every decision made during a playthrough has to be made between what works best for your run and what will help you in the long term. A single mistake or misjudgment can lead to the loss of your progress. The recharging shield and frequency of health pickups lowers the difficulty a bit in Nova Strike however, as healing is usually critically rare in roguelike titles.
Once you die, you’re rewarded with points based on your performance during a run. These points carry over to the main menu, where they can be spent on permanent upgrades. Investing points into these upgrades creates a sort of tangible progression, which makes future runs more manageable and makes each death feel less like a loss of progress and more like a stepping stone towards building something else.
The game’s graphics are simplistic but look great. If I were to imagine what a classical arcade game remastered looked like, I would venture to guess that Nova Strike captured it perfectly.
In some areas, however, the game’s visuals could seriously use some improvement; specifically, strafing left or right has no animation, no lean to the ship or anything. I personally found this super distracting and paired with the slow movement speed it gave Nova Strike less of a spaceship feel.
Weapon variety, however, won me back over and helped pull my attention away from how slow and stiff my ship felt. There are, I believe, nine different weapons in the game; some of which you have to unlock using points gained from your runs. These secondary weapons feel great, with cool particles and unique effects on each of them. The base laser also felt pretty good to use, though I spent most of the game with my finger on the F key just autofiring at anything that might show up ahead.
While we’re on the subject, keyboard controls were a little awkward. I personally don’t enjoy when games make me take my hand off the mouse to play them. The J and K keys control firing, but they could have easily been mapped to the left and right mouse button. I assume this is done to give the game more of an arcade cabinet feel, but it just doesn’t really click for me. I recommend rebinding your keys or playing the game with a gamepad if you’re buying it on pc.
Nova Strike combines retro charm with modern roguelike gameplay standards, which makes it very similar to another game I recently reviewed. Unlike Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise Of The Dragons, however, I would say that Nova Strike feels a little more incomplete. There isn’t quite the level of depth to the game, which even with roguelike elements begins to feel too similar in each run very early on. I worry that we’re beginning to see a new trend, of “classic game but roguelike” and that it may soon begin to feel a bit stale. However, despite my criticisms, I wouldn’t say Nova Strike has reached that level of staleness just yet and is definitely worth checking out for fans of arcade games and roguelikes alike.
The Final Word
Nova Strike is a solid game that combines some familiar retro charm with a more modernized roguelike approach. Though it may run a little short and feel a little slow, at the modest price of $9.99 I can definitely say Nova Strike is worth checking out. Just don’t be put off by how leisurely you fly through the battlespace.
Nova Strike was reviewed on the PC. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Nova Strike is available on Steam, Epic Games, Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch.