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Jahanzeb Khan
18 Apr, 2011

Strania Review

360 Review | Hardly a Strain-ia.
The shooting genre, now commonly known among the gaming community as ‘shmups’, is perhaps one of the most celebrated types of gaming. Even with its archaic and retro template that has remained unchanged since the 1980s, it still somehow feels fresh and engaging. A lot of shmup titles today showcase extremely refined gameplay mechanics and intuitive design choices, offering a good level of challenge that award fast reflexes, precision and pure gaming skill. This generation, the Xbox 360 has surprisingly become the leading platform for shmup fans, an honour that was once held by the Sega Dreamcast and the Sega Saturn. The Japanese Xbox 360 has seen a wealth of continuing shmup releases over the years, titles mostly released by the current champions of the genre ‘Cave’. Sadly, region locking has prevented Australian gamers from enjoying these titles and shmup releases here are too few and far between as it is. However, things are slowly changing for the better with a decent selection of shmups now available for purchase on Xbox Live Arcade, with the likes of Triggerheart Exelica, 1942, Guwange and the legendary Ikaruga. Of course, some retail shmups from Japan are region free, more recently Bullet Soul. In a another turn of shocking events, we just saw Death Smiles getting a local retail release. There is definitely a growing trend here and this continues on with the release of Strania on Xbox Live Arcade, created by G. Revolution, known for Wartech: Senko No Ronde.

Strania is being advertised as a throwback to the classic Japanese mecha shmup, featuring big robots and mecha anime style aesthetics. However, we think that’s a little misleading because Strania is far from being a ‘throwback’ or a ‘classic style’ shmup. Sure, it features traditional mecha anime character designs and such, but in terms of playability and such its far from being old school. Instead, it feels like a modern video game with play mechanics that are far more evolved than what you would expect from even the newest shmup releases. In a way, Strania is a lot like Ikaruga, a game that offers an experience relevant to modern Western gamers.

In Strania, players take control of a giant robot, armed with guns and a powerful light saber-like sword. This will probably immediately remind long time fans of the genre of Radiant Silvergun, a highly sought after and acclaimed shmup on the Sega Saturn. The presence of the sword makes it quite similar, but obviously the mechanic plays out quite differently. It really feels different from what’s already out there, with nothing in common to anything currently available (Dear Hardcore Shmup Hipster, feel free to gloat about an obscure and forgotten Saturn or Dreamcast shmup that’s almost identical to Strania, and tell us how hardcore you are).

Slashing away.

Slashing away.
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The robot you control handles much like any ship, jet fighter, helicopter, flying princess, samurai, maid or bug you’ve controlled in shmup titles. The robot obviously has a fire turret that can fire an unlimited amount of shots and a powerful sword that can be swung repeatedly and charged up. What’s unique about the mech is that it can equip up to three different weapons, and use two of these at the same time. This really adds an element of strategy and variety to the game, as you need to figure out the ideal combination of weapons given your play style, the level layout and the enemy types. These weapons include bombs, homing missiles, directional shots, spread shots, side shots and several other cool weapons. As mentioned earlier, you can use a sword and even choose to equip two swords at the same time to create powerful close-range fighting machine. The weapon variety and combination system alone makes Strania a very modern and awesome shmup title.

Strania is a vertical shooter that runs on rails, and in each stage you go up against a swarm of enemy types and navigate through some interesting paths and obstacles. The stages are short and sweet, packed full of action and enemies. While the variety of enemy types are interesting, we found the level designs to be quite different from a standard shmup, as they feature situations of close quarters combat, maze like navigation and careful consideration of environmental obstacles and traps. The boss battles are pretty cool too. It’s definitely a very fast paced, fresh and exciting shooter with each stage offering something a little different in terms of level design, layout and enemies. What’s interesting about it is that it’s very different from the ‘bullet hell’ design that most modern shmups seem to have. Sure, you will have to deal with an insane barrage of enemies and attacks, but instead of being an overwhelming collection of pink and blue dots, you go up against more distinct projectiles and attacks that are not nearly as daunting.

Like most shmups, the game only takes a couple of hours to complete if you’re good but obviously this won’t be a walk in the park when you initially start out. Thankfully, the game comes with various difficulty settings, includes a training mode, some tutorials and you can even unlock more lives and continues as you go along. It’s a very challenging game that will satisfy hardcore fans of the genre but it offers enough to win over casual fans even, courtesy of some modern and lenient modern gaming design choices.

Pew pew pew pew.

Pew pew pew pew.
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Visually, Strania is a very nice looking game with the graphic style akin to Ikaruga. The game features eye-candy 3D graphics, some nice and smooth textures and lovely 3D particle effects. It’s definitely a very pretty game to look at and will certainly appeal to gamers who are not too keen on the ‘retro’ aesthetic that most shmup titles have. Musically, the game is astounding with its intoxicating hard techno music that’s similar to the musical styling of 90s Japanese mech animes, and the character and robot designs too are similar to that of a quality mech anime.

Strania isn’t anything particularly extraordinary as Ikaruga or Radian Silvergun, nor does it have the same hardcore appeal and technical depth as the games produced by Cave Company. It does however succeed at providing a uniquely fresh shooting experience that seems to have the right balance between hardcore and casual, and offers an interesting mix of traditional shmup conventions and modern game design innovations. If you enjoyed Ikaruga on Xbox Live Arcade, then Strania is a title that’s definitely worth checking out for its fun weapons system, challenging stage designs and cool bosses. Even with Radiant Silvergun getting a release on Xbox Live Arcade this year, Strania is still a entertaining shooting package going for a generous price of 800 Microsoft Points ($AU 13).
The Score
It may not be anything particularly extraordinary or hardcore, but Starnia is an entertaining shooting package that succeeds at providing a uniquely fresh shooting experience. It offers an interesting mix of traditional shmup conventions and modern game design innovations. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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6 Comments
3 years ago
Great review, Jahanzeb! Very interested in the obstacles aspect of it, because that's one of things I liked the most about Ikaruga.
3 years ago
Thanks for the review. Hadn't heard about this game, but the pic on the main page caught my eye (mecha) and after reading this I'll pick it up once I have the spare cash for some points. Senko no Ronde was one of the deciding factors in my 360 purchase, so I'm keen to check out another game by G. Rev.

No bullet hell is a big plus. I love shmups, but don't have the reflexes or the memory to play most of the modern ones. Falling into a blind panic when the screen fills with enemy projectiles doesn't help either :P

Now bring on Radiant Silvergun!
3 years ago
^Did you get to play Senko no Ronde DUO?
3 years ago
I haven't played it, but am keen to check it out (I'd kinda forgotten about it, admittedly). I've got a JP 360 which is just gathering dust, so I might look at importing DUO and maybe a few other region-locked shooters when I have some spare cash.

I guess there's no chance of an English localisation given how poorly Wartech/Senko no Ronde seemed to be received in the West icon_sad.gif
3 years ago
DUO is def a more fleshed out game than the original. The original felt like a test of a new idea while DUO feels like a more complete experience. The net code isn't half bad eiether considering im playing against japanese players.

Hope you do purchase it sometime, I need a local rival icon_wink.gif
3 years ago
I'll definitely look into getting a copy in a month or so, now that I've read a bit more about it and watched a few vids. Don't expect too much of a challenge though. As much as I enjoyed the first game, I was terrible at it icon_lol_old.gif
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  30/03/2011 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Microsoft
Genre:
  Shooting
Year Made:
  2010

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