A retro-style vertical shooter with content for days.
One of the most important qualities of an arcade-style horizontal or vertical shooter is how much it entices you to keep picking it up time and time again. Sophstar shines exceptionally bright for its multitude of playable ships, bonus challenges, and unlockables. At the end of the day, though, it simply feels good to play and can offer something new every time you boot it up.
Published by Red Art Games, Sophstar follows heroine Soph and a seemingly harmless recon mission that morphs into so much more. Story interstitials between each of the eight stages shed light on Soph's background and what's happening in the galaxy. Depending on the difficulty level you choose, there are different endings to see, too, but it's the rock solid gameplay and variety of content that really stand out here.
The Arcade mode has six difficulty options, a training mode, and two scoring settings to choose from. The seven stages aren't overly long and generally involve at least one mini-boss and then a final boss; the eighth stage is effectively just a boss fight. While the enemy design isn't anything too special, the fact that there are nine unique ships to pilot more than makes up for that. Each one has a different main cannon, sub-weapon, and teleport ability, which allow for blink, shift, and repositioning maneuvers. The subweapons are very distinct from one another and rely on a meter that slowly charges up over time; they include screen cleaning bombs, concentrated laser beams, and even rotating shields that can be fired forward. In terms of pick ups, most defeated enemies drop green squares that quickly decrease in size and and point value, and on occasion you can snag an item that rotates between point values and sub-weapon meter charges. The teleport move also has a cooldown between uses.
A handful of extra modes complement the standard Arcade playthroughs. Cadet School offers a total of 60 challenge stages, each involving objectives like surviving for as long as possible, earning a certain number of points, or destroying enemies as fast as possible. Every one of these challenges awards a letter ranking based on performance and even unlocks a visual filter for the game. Score Attack, Timed, Challenge, Endless Mode, and the unlockable Ultimate Challenge add even more content to test your shoot-'em-up mettle, and every single mode (except for Cadet School) has its own online leaderboard.
In addition to the aforementioned filters that can be unlocked (I've got more than two dozen so far), different screen borders and even tate mode give more ways of tailoring the visual experience to your liking. The main game options allow for making your hit box visible, adjusting the appearance of the teleport gauge, and making enemy bullet pulse. What I loved to see was a sound test mode that eventually became available, since the music is pretty catchy and really grew on me the more I played.
Sophstar soars above some of the other arcade shooter offerings on Switch because of the sheer amount of content and replayability. Going through its Arcade Mode on different difficulties and using new ships is a genuine treat because each one feels distinct from the one before. While it's a bit annoying that sleep mode seems to regularly disconnect the game from its online servers, requiring a manual reconnection in the menu, there's little else about the game that is worth criticizing. Sophstar marks a stellar debut effort from developer Banana Bytes, and it's both an easy recommendation for vertical shooter fans and a title I'll be coming back to regularly.