Pocket Power: Star X

Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.

Chain stores like Disc Replay and miscellaneous mom and pop resale shops can sometimes yield fantastic treasures for reasonable prices. They also contain a large assortment of junk that will remain in the store long after a desperate “free with purchase of any item” sign and placed on it, and even that sometimes isn’t enough to remove the offending object. As some readers may have noticed, I have a ton of handheld games that belong to the families of Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Castlevania and Ys, and I was beginning to suspect rotating those flavors every month has probably gotten old by now so I decided to expand my options at such a store when I found a bin filled with Game Boy Advance titles priced $0.99 through $3.99. After stocking up on some titles to add variety to this column, I can’t help but feel I may have overpaid on some of these selections.

The title I want to focus on this month after carefully deliberating over the selection process, aka the first cartridge I grabbed out of the bag, is Star X. I knew nothing about this game aside from it was less than a buck. Judging by the title I could guess this is either a porn star stimulator simulator or something to do with outer space combat. Given that there was only one X in the title, I felt confident this fell into the latter category and I would not be on the receiving end of a sternly worded lecture from a very irate Steve about turning this wholesome website into an emporium of smut.

The story of Star X is inconsequential as people don’t typically play rail shooters for their Shakespearean narratives. In a nutshell there’s some mean race of aliens that want to enslave us so we have to race back to Earth and warn everyone while blowing up a lot of stuff. This was a betrayal that happened at what was supposed to be a peaceful meeting with some ambassadors and a newly discovered race of alien people. Little do the aliens know that slavery has been outlawed so they couldn’t enforce our enslavement, so all this fighting on the way back to Earth is simply needless wanton destruction.

Upon playing the early levels of Star X it becomes apparent what the title is supposed to be. Someone decided to cut out two letters for Star Fox and release it as a game, and this title is essentially 5/7 Star Fox, but being that it came nine years after the fact this is hardly high praise. To be fair, Star Fox was a visually impressive game in 1993. Even though the Super FX chip was only providing the rudimentary polygon shaped 3D objects, it was the best 3D graphics on the SNES at the time and led to 3D graphics advancements that were shown in Donkey Kong Country and Killer Instinct. If anyone’s introduction to handheld gaming was the original Game Boy or heaven forbid those Tiger Electronics Arcade ports, seeing animated 3D polygonal blobs on a Game Boy is exciting, until after about five minutes of playing and you realize how bland said polygonal blobs are. The framerate does hold up well, so I do feel obligated to give this title some props for trying to recreate the glory of Star Fox on a handheld system, but I also want to make fun of it for how unattractive the end result is.

Star X unsurprisingly plays like Star Fox across 22 levels of mediocre space combat with 5/7 of the fine tuned gameplay of the SNES classic. Who know that two letters in a title could make that much difference? The controls are simple enough, but simple doesn’t equate to good in this case. The hit detection can best be described as wonky, and piloting the ship never quite seems to work exactly how you want it. A lot of challenge in Star X doesn’t come from bosses and level design that put one’s skill to the test but from control response that hates you and everything you stand for. To go along with the archaic graphics, a battery back up save is not included and instead relies on a password system, which has pretty much gone the way of the dodo on home consoles but it really is an unforgivable sin on a handheld game, especially one that was released in 2002. The smaller screen of the GBA does this password feature no favors since a few of the alpha numeric characters kind of blend in too much with each other to really know what they are. This would be a much more grievous offense if this was a title that compelled the player to want to finish it.

Having only paid eight pence hapenny (one and six with tax) for Star X, I can’t say this is the dumbest use of money. Not even in the top 100, in fact. Even so, Star X is just not a very good game. I appreciate its attempt to pay homage to Star Fox, but unfortunately it falls short and ends up feeling like a cut rate knock off. I think even if I had played this when it was originally released, my thoughts would have been to put it away and go see what its influence did better nine years earlier. It’s not the worst game I’ve played, and wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s terrible. But it isn’t good and there isn’t really much point to play it besides the curiosity of seeing what a Star Fox knock off is like.

Get more Pocket Power. Click here to view every Pocket Power so far and prepare for a pocket-sized stroll down memory lane.