Space pirates have taken out the home base; oh no! Better do something about it by flying left-to-right and shooting things. Steredenn is light on plot but, seeing as what the game is really about is being a horizontally-scrolling roguelike pixel-art shooter, that works out ok. There’s a big universe of amazing sights and deadly bullet patterns to fly through, and learning the patterns is more than enough to do without plot slowing things down.
Every game of Steredenn is going to be different than the last, with new waves of enemies randomly selected from a pool of over a hundred and enemy makeup defined by level. You start with the same gun every time, at least, but beyond that there’s no telling what you’ll encounter. Waves of little one-hit popcorn ships or smaller fleets of tougher enemies, asteroid-mounted gun emplacements, and nests of lasers refracting across the screen show up in random progression, and usually together. Enemy ship fire can come in either a few targeted bullets or a nicely intricate bullet hell. Friendly fire is off but at least environmental damage is trouble for both you and enemy alike, leading to some interesting strategies with many of the weapons you can pick up.
The initial gun is a good one, but also completely vanilla. It shoots straight ahead at a constant speed with a bit of variance in its firing angle, but not much. Enemy carriers, which show up one or two per level, have a huge number of other weapons they might drop, but because it’s random you need to be very careful about what you grab if you want a loadout that works. You can carry two weapons at a time and it’s important they complement each other, otherwise you’ll end up with two very strong guns that can only fire every three seconds. You very much want to shoot more often than that, no matter how much damage each individual bullet may do.
Guns come in a variety of styles including standard bullets, missiles, lasers, turrets that come in any number of flavors, and even melee weapons. It takes a bit of luck to get a truly effective loadout, but part of any roguelike is making due with what you’ve got rather than what you wish you had. Accidentally get a shield and a short-range laser? That might be good enough to squeak on through until you find something better, or maybe it’s certain doom, but you’ve got to at least try to make it work. Personally, I’ve developed a fondness for turrets. They pop out at a pretty good rate and, while they only take a single hit before dying, that hit can frequently work as a shield to open up a path in what would have been an impassably-dense bullet cluster. Plus it’s fun to spam the screen with them and watch as they target enemies for me, working as support while I clean up the incoming horde.
The roguelike nature of Steredenn and the way it’s applied to a horizontal shooter is a major part of its appeal, but there’s no way to neglect how incredibly good the game looks. The pixel art is loaded with detail, such as the way your ship’s nose changes with every weapon. Enemy designs are simple, almost industrial, but with a unified style that ties the armada together. The grey enemies pop out nicely against the colorful backgrounds, which are selected randomly from a large number of fantastic space-scapes, and when ships explode it’s with nicely-animated crunchy fireballs. Gun effects range from little bursts of firepower to giant explosions that clear out a full section of the screen, depending on the weapon and whether it’s a charge shot or simply very powerful. Every moment of Steredenn looks good at the very least, and when the screen gets busy over one of the more ornate backgrounds, it’s pure space shooter pixel art.
Steredenn just landed on Steam Early Access, and what you get for the initial release is a stable game that’s almost complete. Final tasks involve a few more enemies and bosses, some more weapons and a couple of bonus modes. Most importantly, bug-squishing and stability is about as complete as any released game, although it’s probably best to exclude a couple of last year’s big-budget launch-day failures from that comparison. The target final release date is July/August of this year, although of course Early Access and fan feedback can do interesting things to even the most careful plans. The point is that the game is just this side of feature-complete, so if you’re in the mood for a bit of randomized side-scrolling 2D shooter action, Steredenn is in excellent shape and only going to get bigger as it wraps up development in the few months it should be on Early Access.