In the modern era of gaming, consumer expectations are at an all-time high. Simultaneously, the ideologies surrounding mediocrity are blurred, often resulting in disjointed critical analysis. Titles that are awarded 5/10 are generally considered bad by the community. However, when taken at face value, it simply means that the game is par for the course. This is the exact situation that TombStar finds itself in. It isn’t terrible, nor is it great. Putting it plainly, it’s completely adequate.
Inherently, TombStar is a Twin Stick Shooter with Rougelite and Dungeon Crawl elements. It was published by No More Robots, who are most known for the excellent downhill cycling game Descenders. The development is solely credited to Andy Sum and Marcus Grambau on the Steam store page, but in actuality, a handful of creators helped bring this project to life.
The narrative of TombStar is fairly concise. The planet TombStar, which rests on the far reaches of the Frontier Galaxy, was home to a peaceful and prosperous population. This all changed when the tyrannical King Killcard, and his Grimheart Gang, sieged the planet to claim its resources for themselves. It’s now up to 3 heroes of the galaxy to put an end to this hostile takeover, and restore order to TombStar once and for all.
Past this, TombStar doesn’t really have much else to offer story wise. There are some computers to find in the game which provide additional scraps of lore. But it’s fundamentally a simple narrative hook to provide context to the gameplay. I would like to mention that the final cinematics, of which there are 3, are also fairly plain. Though admittedly, it was never trying to be anything extremely outstanding in the first place.
The gameplay loop consists of navigating through a series of randomly generated rooms, and defeating the enemies that lurk within them. This will eventually lead you to a boss room, which must be successfully cleared to move onto the next map.
Controlling your character is a straight forward affair. You really only have to worry about moving, shooting and actively dodging out of the way of incoming attacks. The control scheme is designed in such a way that you’ll instantly be able to pick it up, regardless whether you use a controller or keyboard and mouse.
Weapons and Customisation
TombStar also provides us with a wide assortment of weapons to use. From high calibre sniper rifles, to flamethrowers, and even tools that launch bouncing sawblades. Whilst they are fun to play around with, I quickly discovered that the starting weapons were the most robust and versatile. It’s a shame that this is the case as some of the guns are fairly innovative.
Besides weaponry, you can improve your hero by giving them upgrades in the form of perks. These can do a myriad of things including modifying your bullets so they can pass through enemies, reducing the cooldown of your heroes’ abilities and so on. There is a fair amount of choice here, but, once again, it all comes down to RNG.
Thankfully, there is also another upgrade system which exists outside of dungeon runs. These come in the form of cards, which are occasionally rewarded to you as you level up your account. Other rewards for levelling up include new weapons and perks to discover during your dungeon runs. It can feel a little tedious to level up at times, but overall, this is a nice addition to the game.
You have the option of playing as 3 different heroes. These include the cowboy gunslinger Jack Galloway, the robot environmentalist Benson Gara, and the rouge sniper AJ Starchild. While they all control the same, it’s their starting weapon and abilities that separate them from one another. For example, AJ has the ability to enter a shadow form and manoeuvre around the map undetected. Whereas Benson can briefly absorb and reflect any projectiles fired his way.
It’s worth mentioning that the weapons and upgrades are uniform across all heroes. Depending on your mileage, this may or may not be a good thing. Personally, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. I believe having exclusive options to further customise a hero would have encouraged me to do more runs.
And that is one of my biggest complaints about TombStar. It misses out on numerous chances to increase its sense of replayability. After I successfully completed 1 run, which took me about 4 hours to do, I didn’t really have any incentive to continue playing. There is a chance that subsequent updates will improve upon this, but as of right now, it’s ultimately lacking a lot of content.
Graphically, TombStar is clearly inspired by the Clash of Clans and Clash Royale art style. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. The cartoonish aesthetic is incredibly eye-catching, utilising a bright and colourful pallet to foster a visually stimulating experience. It certainly lends itself well to the gameplay, as it makes tracking the action on screen a lot more manageable.
Having said that, the overall ambience of the game still manages to remain rather void and soulless. Using the Clash series as an example, the units and troops in those games have larger than life personalities. As such, they often find themselves used in various facets of the cultural zeitgeist, such as twitter reactions, memes and so on.
The same cannot be said for TombStar, which lacks any real sense of memorability to its character designs. An exception can be made for some of the bosses, but even then, they feel rather worn out and tropey in their approach. It also doesn’t help that the randomly generated rooms are also mostly stale and empty.
I wouldn’t really say that the art direction, or even its implementation, is bad. I just feel that it is rather by the books for today’s standards. Fundamentally, it has a mobile game vibe to it. And while I’m all for mobile gaming, it isn’t necessarily something I am looking for while I’m on my PC.
On the audio side of things, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. For starters, the guns sound astoundingly weak and unimpactful, failing to deliver the audible satisfaction you’d hope for in these sorts of games. It could be argued that the developers designed it this way to better coexist alongside the cartoony visuals. However, this doesn’t deter the fact that the SFX still sound flat and lifeless, making your attacks feel unbelievably lacklustre.
TombStar’s OST does manage to fair a bit better. The tracks match the mood and setting of their corresponding environments by utilising specific instruments and genres. It doesn’t exactly do anything special to warrant being remembered, but it is perfectly viable in what it aims to do.
TombStar has all the foundations of a quintessential rougelite experience. It just doesn’t do anything particularly special. While the gameplay is entertaining, it quickly becomes stale and repetitive, offering very little in the way replayability. It is certainly visually appealing, but the art style lacks any real charm or personality to it. And although the OST is serviceable in the confines of the game, the SFX sound abysmally weak and unimpactful. If you’re looking for something vaguely similar to Enter The Gungeon, then I’d recommend picking this up when it goes on sale.