It’s finally time to talk about glorious pixel art, flashy visual effects, and a killer soundtrack. Again. Ok, I’ll admit I might have a soft spot for games with this particular aesthetic. Hand me a game, though, from a developer with a proven record on this kind of thing and I just can’t say no. Star Renegades is the newest title from Massive Damage, the folks that brought us the stylish and hilarious Halcyon 6 (along with its Lightspeed Edition). Like many titles I tried demos of in PAX years past, I’ve been waiting a while for this one to reach its final form. Roughly two years, give or take since my first peek, and now it’s finally here!
Curious if this one’s for you? Suit up, Renegade.
Massive Damage, Inc.
PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Copy Provided By Publisher
Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It
If you’ve played Halcyon 6 then you’ve already got a taste of what’s in store for you here. Some set pieces make appearances again in the design of Star Renegades such as a turn-based combat system and Massive Damage’s wacky humor. Except this time everything’s been turned up to 11! It’s been a few years since the release of their last title, and their dedication to honing their craft really shows. Visuals are even more jaw dropping, the animations and lighting effects are even more spectacular, the turn-based mechanics are more dynamic and engaging, and the music still gets your adrenaline pumping. It’s clear that the intention wasn’t simply to make a new game but to really take how they make games up to the next level.
Star Renegades is all about the battle to defeat the evil, dimension hopping Imperium. At the start of each run, your chosen heroes will set off to protect three planets, ultimately stopping the plans of the baddies and earning themselves a shot at the mothership itself. Should they succeed, they will have saved that reality from tyranny. Win or lose, it’s then off to the next dimension in a roguelite style that ties in well with the story. Your first run will give you a default three heroes with excellent synergy and balance, and afterwards you’ll soon be able to mix and match starting heroes to your heart’s content. Do you have what it takes to save the galaxy across multiple dimensions?
Do you have what it takes to stand up to these amazing visual effects?
Brass Space Tacks
Right from the get-go this game grabs you. The camera zooms in on characters and enemies as they execute one brutal move after another. Attacks are flashy, but if you know Massive Damage you know that they’ve loved their death animations even more. Just as ships in Halcyon 6 exploded in spectacular shows of space fireworks, baddies in Star Renegades each exit the stage in unique and flashy ways that never cease to satisfy. When a boss that fills half your screen explodes, you can really feel that dramatic moment. All the while the soundtrack pulses behind the action, driving it as much as ever.
One of the biggest upgrades to this game comes in the form of its turn-based combat. Allies and enemies queue up across a bar at the top of your screen, indicating who will attack first and who they intend to hit based on the move they select. This is the puzzle that will either win or lose you the game. The trick here is that heroes and enemies alike score critical hits if they blast someone before their action, but also some hero attacks move their targets further down the turn order. Ideally, you have your faster people move first, bumping back the initiative of foes and giving your heavy hitters time to land their slower attacks, critting the enemy while avoiding crits themselves. If your delays should ever move an enemy so far down the track that they fall off the far edge, they “break” and lose their action for the turn completely. Fighting successfully, especially against the larger bosses, involves a blend of learning when to tank, when to heal, and when to stun your enemies and pummel them into space dust.
The way this game zooms in on the action never gets tiring to behold!
Of course, there are all kinds of little tidbits that add spice and variety to this formula. There’s armor that reduces damage and can be broken, various different damage types, resistances/weaknesses to those damage types, items to equip with their own boosts, and all kinds of attacks at varying speeds and delays. And, of course, each renegade has their own skillset they excel at, some being jacks-of-all-trades and some laser focusing into a specialization. Some characters work better as tanks or supports, while others are damage powerhouses. Regardless of who you build a team with, each character has their own quirks to learn, and you’ll constantly be asking yourself how to get the most out of your chosen team.
It doesn’t stop there though. Star Renegades feels in a lot of ways like it took inspiration from all the best places across games that I love, marrying these game elements into a single epic experience. For example, between battles you play a little mini game of using limited moves around an overworld map, picking and choosing which engagements you’ll take, along with what rewards you’ll earn. Between the three days you’ll spend on each planet (essentially the game rounds before you fight the boss), you also get the chance to camp, healing wounds, repairing armor, those sorts of things. Except the camp also allows bonds between your teammates to grow, resulting in stat boosts, combo attacks, and even maybe progeny that will join up on future runs. There are a lot of little pieces that come together around the combat core, making this game feel like the journey that it is.
Combo attacks often combine the skills of two different characters, wrapping their signature effects into one major wallop!
A Few Rough Edges
Massive Damage has been incredibly ambitious in making Star Renegades. That much is clear. It seems almost natural, given the massive leap they’ve taken, that I’d have a few nitpicks as far as the overall execution. Though I’ll say up front that none of these is especially game breaking. As time goes on, and with a few patches, I’m sure many of these things will simply fade into nonexistence. There are several small little hiccups that occasionally take me out of the moment. Things like the pathing as your heroes travel the mission area sometimes snagging on the scenery, forcing me to click backwards and walk them around obstacles myself. Then there are things like all the general dialogue lines around the campfire playing at the same, fast speed, often not giving me a chance to fully read the longer ones before they disappear. It’s a bit annoying, having them yanked away and making me wonder why they were included if I couldn’t read them. I also encountered some small, graphical glitches mainly revolving around pausing the game at odd times. Again, nothing game breaking. Just a little loss of immersion and certainly nothing that can’t be tweaked in a future update.
By far, my single greatest criticism of Star Renegades, and my biggest pointer for purchasers, is one of pacing. We’ve seen this roguelite formula before from other games. A few levels and then a final challenge. Into the Breach and Slay the Spire both follow this layout, to name a couple popular examples. So naturally, you’d expect to drop into Star Renegades and blast through a run or two pretty quickly. This is where the difference starts becoming noticeable. Fights in this game, and by extension entire runs, are not quick. Unlike other, more fast-paced titles in this vein, Star Renegades follows a more deliberate pace. Sometimes you need to block (blocking is a key feature in battles, unlike most traditional turn-based RPGs that this game is inspired from). Sometimes the character that needs to block is your frontline damage powerhouse, meaning you mitigate damage for a turn but don’t work the enemy meaningfully closer to death. The final boss fight in particular took me over 40 minutes to beat the first time. It had several stages, and its final stage had several sub-stages.
By the way. If you were wondering, yes, you can pet the dog in this game.
Chew on that for a little bit. Because you’re not going to blast through a full run of this game in an hour. There’s an excellent save system, so you can put things down and return to them regularly, but in a genre where death means you start a new run, and death is common, you could find yourself investing hours into a run only to lose it all. I can see that frustrating some people. When the run is quick, death isn’t as harsh of a sting. Will you be tempted to flip your desk when you lose on minute 34 of the final boss, after a 4 hour run to get to that point? Only you can say. I know for myself that I personally don’t mind the pace of the game. I’m content to play it in small bites, win or lose, and that the experience on offer during those times is still cinematic, flashy, and gratifying. But your milage may vary.
Finally, I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to bring this last point up: roguelite or roguelike. Yes, I know a lot of folks have very specific definitions of what constitutes a roguelike. Ultimately the point may be pedantic to a fault. I have a point in all this rambling. You see, regardless of your exact definition, one of the defining differences between the two is whether a game can be beaten on an early run or if victory is dependent on building up persistent powerups across runs. I beat Star Renegades on my very first try. Now granted, I’d played their demos before and I knew what I was getting in to. But I take it as a point of encouragement. Skill, and your team build, wins out over grind here. In the case of shorter games, this matters a whole lot less, but playing something longer like Star Renegades is a whole other story. I wouldn’t want to sit there knowing no matter how well I played I wasn’t going to win, but playing as long as possible in a run, for hours, just to get the most reward-unlocking currency. No one likes to feel as if they’re simply wasting time, even on a flashy game, and so I’m pleased to report that Star Renegades respects you on that one. Pacing concerns aside, your success or defeat is all on you.
And before you complain to me that the game is too easy, have a look at the next screenshot.
Do you SEE how many slots for difficulty options there are? Bump it up to your heart's content!
Full Speed Ahead
I’ll say it again here just so there’s no doubt: I love Star Renegades. I love the flashy visual effects and the personal style of each different renegade. I love the team combinations and the thrilling soundtrack. The over-the-top bosses are a treat to take down as are even the smallest of foes. This game is just a pleasure to play. And because it’s a pleasure for me to play, I don’t mind the pacing. I don’t mind playing it in small bites over multiple evenings and being overall just a bit more casual with it. If you’re able to exist in the moment, to enjoy “the now” with this game rather than always thinking about the finish line hours away, and especially if you’re a fan of intriguing turn-based combat systems, then I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Personally, I have two hopes for Massive Damage, and they go like this. First off, I hope lots of people continue supporting them so that we can see what other fantastic work they bring out in the years to come. And secondly, I really hope they release something for Star Renegades like the Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition. In the Lightspeed Edition, the action of the game was condensed down, increasing the overall pace of the game and boiling it down into the sweet core experience that drove the base game, but in a fraction of the time. While Lightspeed also included all the extra content released for the game since its launch, I could really see a paring down and condensing of the core gameplay in Star Renegades going totally in its favor. It would basically nullify my one biggest criticism of the game flat out. Regardless of whether Massive Damage has plans for such a thing, or if they plan to bundle it once again in a few years with any released DLC, if this game still looks intriguing to you, I encourage you to support the devs and try it out. Settle in for a long string of epic, flashy battles, and I promise you that you’ll enjoy every minute of it.