Starward Rogue: AuGMENTED Expansion. Mech Themed Bullet Hell Rogue Like Action From Arcen Games

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: , ,

Greetings and Salutations I'm briefly breaking my hiatus today with the hopes that I continue to produce more posts in the foreseeable future, though I am still in hospital undergoing cancer treatment and preparing for possible Stem Cell treatment.
Before I begin I wish to thank Chris Lee and those at Arcen games for providing this pre release copy of their latest expansion Starward Rogue: AuGMENTED.
For those of you unfamiliar with Arcen Games it is a tiny video games company founded in March 2009 by Christopher M. Park – CEO, Lead Programmer and Lead Designer, the company is best known for its real time strategy game AI War: Fleet Command though in recent years the company has undergone financial difficulty due to poor sales in its last two releases, TheLast Federation (an absolutely fantastic Strategy in my option and one of Arcen's best see my first impressions and review Here & Here) and Starward Rogue a scifi themed bullet hell roguelike combination set in the same universe and with the protagonist of The Last Federation.
While both games were of excellent quality their low sales highlighted one of the many issues small companies face through digital distribution through platforms such as Steam and how difficult it can be to advertise. This was especially true in the case of Starward Rogue which had the unfortunate issue of its release coinciding with a time when the roguelike genre was been flooded with low quality, low effort Steam Greenlight games which swamped the front pages of Steam.
Thankfully Arcen Games returned to their diamond in the rough with regular updates and content patches cumulating with with this latest expansion.

Available from January 24th 2018 for $6.99 Starward Rogue: AuGMENTED boasts a new floor type named the gold floor with unique challenges and rewards and in addition also has:
  • 4 new music tracks composed by Pablo Vega and The Overthinkers.
  • 3 new mechs: The Zephyr, The Paladin, and the Warhog.
  • 90+ new items.
  • 30+ new enemies.
  • 125+ new rooms.
  • 8 new room obstacles such as the pulse trap and the flamethrower turret.
  • 10+ challenge rooms, a new room type exclusive to the gold floors.
  • 6 new minibosses.
  • 9 new bosses.
If you'd like to learn more please watch the video below or continue reading for a more detailed review 


Arcan Games have always simple “less is more” approach to sprite design which is heavily evident in Starward Rogue, each player mech and enemy has been designed with bold simple colours and thick outlines which really helps them stand out from the darker backgrounds and glowing energy bullets.
Whilst it gives them a simplest appearance artistically from a design standpoint it is an elegant solution to a common problem within most bullet hell games, even so each of the mechs really stand out individually and the various droids the player battles whilst having a unifying theme are quite unique with a minimum amount of use of recolours by the designer (about 2-3 with most droids). Though if I have one gripe its that several of the invincible turrets don't really stand out from the droids to a new player.
The most identifying feature about each droid are their attack patterns and the variety of colours and shapes that make up the various attack patterns, resisting the current tend of over the top effects and giant particle effects Arcen has once again kept things simple. Instead the neon glow of the bullets is a suitable level with the effects not extending outside of the hitbox (something that far too many game do), also Arcen have not limited themselves to the typical circles, lines and triangle type of bullets there are some very large and weird shapes that you'll find yourself running from.

Focusing once more on those aforementioned backgrounds the artwork tends to be better shaded and detailed than the interactive elements of the game giving them a somewhat cartoony appearance in compression which may put off some but to me was very reminiscence of the run and gun games of the 80s and 90s such as Alien Breed for the Amiga but with much clearer HUD design that doesn't interfere with gameplay. 

Again both these design choices seems to be focused on ensuring enjoyable bullet hell style of game play by minimising many of the common visual problems associated with the genre which I personally appreciated whilst playing. Believe me nothing is more frustrating in a bullet hell style shooter then dying because the bullets were not visible because they blended into the background or losing of the player character for similar reasons.

With only 4 music tracks for the levels (not including the boss battle theme) Starward Rogue did need some additional tracks, while the small number of floors for each run (5 & 7 respectively) did mitigate this somewhat it does become noticeable if doing several games in a row.
Starward Rogue: AuGMENTED addition of 4 more tracks is very welcome and personally prefer these new songs to the originals with EMT-ChillBronze been a particular favourite, but overall when playing you'll usually be too busy with the action to truly listen to the music and instead the rhythm encourages a fast paced style of play.


As you may have gathered from the review so far Arcen have tailor the experience of Starward Rogue to focus on smooth fast paced gameplay and the attention to detail really shows.

More insane than Boatmurdered is a claim not to be taken lightly
The controls are responsive and intuitive whether using keyboard and mouse or Xbox controller, a failure to evade is always in the hands of the player (or bad luck) and if a weapon is slow to fire then it is a purposeful property of the weapon. There is no artificial difficulty via slippy movement or button delay which is a welcome relief from some of the other examples of the bullet hell genre I've played, difficulty comes at less player health and fast complex bullet patterns. (Don't let the video fool you I was playing very easy mode and the enemy bullets are slowed at that setting.)
With the three new mechs the Zephyr, the Paladin and the Warhog bringing the total number of available mechs up to a total of 12, each with a unique set of abilities and level up options. Those wanting to challenge themselves will find plenty of new opportunities to experiment with play styles for these new mechs as each takes an existing play style and adds a twist to the gameplay.

The light armed and armoured Zephyr emphasizes fast gun and run game play ideal for speed runners, the beginning each level with a slew of bonuses that slowly tick down each minute until they are completely gone after 5 minutes forcing fast reactions and a rush to the boss.

The poster boy/mech of AuGMENTED the Paladin is another close range fighter to join the Flame Tank though its energy sword allows for greater range with its beam projection actually striking the enemy with the sword does far greater damage. Its secondary weapon is an energy shield to soak up the hits as you move in closer to engage and each floor you begin with an healing item however you lose 10% of your credits, making it difficult to save up for various upgrades.

Last but not least is the Warhog who sacrifices speed for attack power and begins play with a powerful shotgun, the ability to place a pair of turrets and a single missile launcher attack that grows more powerful with each missile collected before its ability of reducing all damage by 1 is taken into account. This allows the Warhog to steamroll its way through easier early levels however in the later game or harder difficulty settings where evasion is key to survive the Warhogs reduced speed makes surviving a difficult challenge.
This is not taking account of all the various weapons and upgrades that be found in the game, Starward Rogue already had an impressive array of available weapons and items and AuGMENTED simply builds upon this whilst also patching several of the more buggy items (range extending/reducing items have all but been removed).

I personally highly approve of the energy system that the game implements for its secondary weapons, in many shoot em ups special weapons are things to be conserved but in Starward Rogue the energy for these secondary weapons replenishes each floor which actively encourage experimentation and replayablity.
Likewise the new enemies and floors some of which were designed by Arcen games own Starward Rogue community all further this aspect which is Starward Rogues greatest strength though this does come at cost.
At its heart Starward Rogue is a very short roguelike favouring short gaming sessions rather than the long playtimes or endless grinds other roguelikes often prefer, only 5 floors of action or 7 once the game has been successfully completed three times. This one huge unlock contains lots and lots of new content within the game but then there are only a few other things with no visual feedback when the player finally unlocks them.
However this new content is most focused on additional enemy variants and the developers are on record stating “ That's something we'd like to improve in the future, if we can.” AuGMENTED fills the gap with its new golden floors and new challenge rooms but overall there are still a few weaknesses.
While the story for this style of game is usually a excuse plot Starward Rogues initially builds up to be something more, unfortunately this suffered from the funding issue during the development and now there is still no real plot or explanation within the game of Rodney or the monolith even to the ending which was lacking. The developers had expressed a desire to fix this with AuGMENTED if time and funding allowed but from my experience no development has been done however if sales do well I certainly see Arcen games returning to Starward Rogue to finally fix this detail due to their respectable history of support for their older games.
Overall Starward Rogue is a game that wants the player to enjoy the journey than focus on the finish, players expecting a grand epic of a roguelike may be disappointed by the lack of story detail and simplistic level system but those wanting a arcade style of play more reminiscent of the bullet hell genre will not be left wanting. This latest release of AuGMENTED really does help fuel the adrenaline fuelled action in this quirky combination of genres.
  • Well developed blend of genres taking best elements of the bullet hell and roguelikes while removing the worst.
  • Unusual genre combination (originally) and is still one of the best examples of the style to date.
  • Wide array of weapons and foes to test them on without the worry of ammo constraints.
  • Catchy fast paced music that suits the games theme and feel well.
  • Great for short gaming sessions.
  • Good modding community with developer feedback.

  • Visual style can be unappealing to some with its simplicity.
  • Story features not implemented due to lack of funding during initial development but may be patched in depending on success of latest release.
  • Due to point 2 completion of game may feel unrewarding for those wanting more beyond the gameplay.
  • Success can be luck based.
  • Level up system may feel primitive to those wanting or used to a more in depth system
  • Relatively short gameplay for each individual run with no apparent unlocks for completion of the runs (beyond unlocking a 7 floor run).


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