We revealed Star Shaman to the world back in June, but even I’ll admit I never really understood what this debut from Paris-based Ikimasho really was.
The game’s lush visuals and vibrant aesthetic impressed and it’s vision of fighting for climate change on an intergalactic scale intrigued, but gameplay remained a bit of a mystery. How did all of that come together into something you, y’know, actually played?
A few hours surfing Star Shaman’s glitzy galaxy reveals a roguelike with some pretty fantastic VR centric design, even if the basics need a bit of work.
In this snackable shooter you hop to planets enslaved by grimy megacorps, blowing up their worker-bots and allowing vegetation to thrive once more. You gain currency to upgrade your weapons and add new attacks as you build towards boss encounters. As with other roguelikes though, death will take you back to the start with some of your progression intact. Think Until You Fall or In Death’s core loop, mixed with the eco-positive tones of Fuji and gameplay closer to, say, Blasters of the Universe and you’re about there.
What Star Shaman does right it does pretty brilliantly and, crucially, completely in-step with its platform. Yes, this is a wave shooter in the strictest sense, but one unlike most of the genre’s competing shovelware. To activate your attacks and defenses, which start off as a simple single-shot magic staff and wrist-mounted shield, you reach out and pluck orbs from an interface, which in turn creates more orbs floating in front of you in a pattern. Trace the outline and you’ll spawn the given spell.
It’s a brilliantly fluid approach to VR gunplay, swapping out the raw, often rigid intricacies of realistic weapon reloading for something with decided pace and groove. Star Shaman doesn’t have any Beat Saber-esque rhythm mechanics, but it’s hypnotic soundtrack, pulsating visual flair — including some incredible character artwork – and emphasis on flowing movement make it as much a trip back in time to the disco as it is an intergalactic adventure.
I also love, love, love Star Shaman’s transition between worlds. Like, really love. The game’s played in pretty short bursts that see you jumping from planet to planet every few minutes, and loading could threaten to slow the pace to a crawl. But instead of your traditional screens, the game creates a portal you zoom through, providing a seamless path that keeps you immersed right the way through a gameplay session.
There are ideas here that frankly most over VR developers could stand to learn from. That said, when it comes to hooking you into a life and death cycle, Star Shaman stumbles a little.
To progress in the game, you need to gather set amounts of resources earned by beating short levels. When you have enough you’ll face a boss fight and then move on to the next round of collecting. If you die, however, your progress is recorded but you’ll be sent all the way back to the start to rinse and repeat. Whereas games like In Death and Until You Fall are instantaneous and varied enough to keep you coming back round after round in a single play session, Star Shaman’s pace can’t quite keep up. Each level is essentially the same and I’ve found myself hesitant to keep going after a few deaths every time I pick it up.
Perhaps if the game took you from scene-to-scene with a little more urgency, rather than taking time to reflect between every 1 – 2 minute burst of gameplay, I’d feel more compelled to keep going. It’s genuinely great to watch lifeless husks return to their former glory, and there’s fantastic variety in the game’s galactic biodiversity, but taking it in does distract from what’s meant to be an addictive, moreish game at heart, and Star Shaman isn’t quite there yet.
Still, Ikimasho continues to update the game, so I’m hopeful it can iron out some of those shaky steps. Star Shaman is definitely still worth a look if you want a more positive gaming experience on your Oculus Quest or PC VR headset.