Nova Strike – PS5 Review 3

Nova Strike is a vertically-scrolling shoot ’em up from French/Thai developers Sanuk Games.  We last encountered their work when we reviewed their Tetris clone, Tetraminos, but now they’ve switched gears entirely with this rogue-like shooter.  That said, they’ve dabbled in a lot of genres in the past since making Gameboy Advance games in 2006.

This game comes with no plot and instead just throws you into the action.  It’s not the best first impression though as initially you’ll only be using one fire button and you’re not exactly putting out much firepower which is evident as even the game’s first enemies will take four shots to destroy.  It’s not very dynamic or exciting (especially as we’ve recently been playing Akai Katana and Danmaku Unlimited 3 but those are bullet-hell shooters and this game is very much in the style of the 16-bit shooters.  There’s definitely a feel of Xenon and SWIV with this game having the same wide, landscape view but also in that the game doesn’t rely on precision but definitely does need you to get out of the way when things get hot.

It took a little while for the game to click, somewhere in our second or third run and it’s the upgrading mechanic that made it do that.  Sure, you’ve got your weedy primary weapon but before long you might find a secondary weapon.  These have limited ammo but do more damage and they vary from dual/triple guns to various missile and rocket launchers, electric waves, gatling guns and lasers.  A couple of these were essential to our success (the missile launcher and the laser) while others seemed kind of useless.  They arrive as random pick ups but you can also purchase the ones you want from in-game shops.

The main upgrades come in the form of ‘Chips’ and these imbue your ship with various perks.  This mechanic is initially a little bit of a faff though because firstly each Chip takes up a number of your limited slots meaning you can only ever equip some of them and, more annoyingly, they come in various categories (health, stealth, firing, resources, defence, repair and movement) and you can’t equip two from the same category.  Now we never had much use for the stealth and resource categories and would rather be able to stack up firing or health upgrades.

You can earn and equip these in-game from the shops that sometimes show up at the end of the various sub-stages or you can unlock some of them after a run as permanently available upgrades which will help get you off to a stronger start but the best Chips are usually the ones you find rather than buy.  In the end we found the right mix and that eventually helped to carry us through to the end of the game, albeit with some very hairy moments.

The game itself isn’t actually all that long.  There are three chapters and each is divided into seven sub-stages.  These are randomly generated and don’t have any foreground obstacles at all so they pretty much all play out the same way with various enemies showing up either solo or in groups and occasionally stopping the upwards scroll until you kill them all.  The seventh stage of each chapter is a boss battle and while the bosses are screen filling mechanical entities with lots of gun turrets, we usually found that stocking up on secondary weapon ammo and equipping an active healing item was enough to see us through them.

It only took us two chunky game sessions to get through the game.  Your mileage might vary but we can’t say this is a particularly difficult shoot ’em up but you might struggle if you equip the wrong Chips and weapons but we guess that’s pretty much where the fun of the game is at because the shooting aspect of it really isn’t all that compelling.  Sure, when you just about survive and encounter and finally see your shield recharge a little, it can be kind of thrilling but the action did feel a little dated.

The presentation is kind of so-so too.  The three chapters don’t really look all that much different with you flying over weapons platforms with an inky-black space behind it.  It might actually be space but there’s no stars to indicate that and that’s a shame as it might have allowed a little bit of a parallax effect to spruce up the look.  The visuals are very clean though and not bad in any way but it’s not exactly eye candy even by SNES/Mega Drive standard.

That said, the music is awful.  Like really awful.  Shoot ’em ups need good music, something energetic and enjoyable to push the player further into the zone but the music here is the usual 16-bit MIDI style with horrible glissando slides that make it sound like a third-party mascot platformer rather than something suitable for a war in space.  Also, the melodies and harmonies honestly sound like they’re based on Eastern European folk music or something.  It’s out of place in the worst way.

But look, we’ve just spent quite a few hours with the game (we stuck around after beating it to nab the Platinum) and it’s not bad.  There’s the bones of a really good game there that combines this type of shooting with upgrades but this has been done before with a bit more elegance and a lot more upgrade options in the game Stellatum and even that wasn’t perfect.  But as a cheap and cheerful option that will provide you with at least a day or two’s fun, Nova Strike isn’t too bad.

Nova Strike
6 Overall
+ The upgrades do add some strategy and interest
+ Combat can be exciting at times
+ Clean and colourful visuals
- Upgrade system is needlessly restrictive
- Only three chapters
- Unsuitable and poor music
Nova Strike is a vertically-scrolling shooter that combines '90s presentation and gameplay with some modern upgrading mechanics and while it might not wow anyone, there's definitely some enjoyment to be had from it.

About Richie

Rich is the editor of PlayStation Country. He likes his games lemony and low-budget with a lot of charm. This isn't his photo. That'll be Rik Mayall.

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3 thoughts on “Nova Strike – PS5 Review

  • Yan Marchal

    Developer here. Thank you for the review. Interestingly, this is the first strongly negative comment I get about the music (which I produced by myself, after mulling the option to hire a composer). Most other reviewers liked it. At worst, sone said it feels a bit repetitive. This highlights how much of a subjective matter it can be. For one thing, I love Eastern European folk music :p. Cheers.

    • Richie Post author

      I guess it is pretty subjective, Yan. But certainly it’s an odd choice for this genre. Congratulations on making the game. You’re a talented chap.