The Red Star has had an interesting history. Starting off as a graphic novel by Christian Gossett, it was originally set for an XBox release. Development went as far as releasing a demo for Official XBox Magazine’s demo disk, though the release was canceled soon after. It would then be ported to the PlayStation 2 in 2004 and go into hiatus until this March where it was released as a PSP Go download only title.
Now, it has been ported over to the iPhone, with sadly, less than stellar results.
As with all games, strong gameplay is essential for the success of any title. If a game is difficult to control, people just aren’t going to be able to enjoy it. Even though the game looks pretty (as will be mentioned later), the interface on the iPhone greatly hinders The Red Star.
Instead of opting for a static position D-Pad on the touch screen, players are forced to use their thumbs anywhere on the screen to direct the motion of their character in this side scrolling beat ’em up. On the right side of the screen lies a “button” to shoot, melee or use special attacks.
Unfortunately, aiming any of these becomes a deeply frustrating process as a player will often find their left thumb gravitating towards the center of the screen to keep moving from left to right only to find they have completely covered their character and have no idea what direction they are facing (on top of blocking much of the left half of the screen with their left hand as well, giving a huge blind spot).
Much in the style of Contra, certain bosses release patterned attacks which must be avoided to expose a weak spot for the player to take aim at. While this method most likely worked fantastically on the PlayStation 2’s (and even PSP Go’s) analog or d-pad, the inprecise controls of the iPhone lead players in to taking damage they should be able to avoid.
This inprecise control ends up carrying over to basic combat as well where players get caught by oncoming fire because it becomes difficult to stop and start moving exactly where you want.
Players progress through the game’s story as either Kyuzo, a soldier, or Makita, a freedom fighter. Eventually, they can also unlock the sorceress Maya Antares. Set in a futuristic version of Soviet Russia, the URRS, that uses both military might and magic to hold its power, a group of resistance must fight back against the machine in hopes of freeing their homeland.
Like many classic side scrolling brawlers, story is explained in between missions with talking heads and text dialogue. Boss fights have little context through the level, leaving a purely action based experience instead of progressive storytelling.
The strength of The Red Star lies in its visuals. Though they would be considered dated if they had come to a console today, they look great for an iPhone. It is still amazing to see the processing power of a phone able to handle 3D polygonal characters and environments. There is no slowdown on the framerate when effects like fire or explosions take place. The Red Star winds up being a very pretty game.
The sound is nothing spectacular as the effects have been ported from the original title as well. Due to the way you hold your iPhone sideways to play, your hands cover the speakers, resulting in a muffled experience. This can be solved by adding playing with headphones but it becomes an extra hassle just to listen to less than stellar effects.
The Red Star, because of its flawed controls, becomes a frustratingly difficult experience. Unlike classic games that were designed to be difficult in order to make you play them longer, The Red Star is just aggravating to progress through as the weakness of the iPhone control becomes apparent. The game itself doesn’t put clever puzzles in front of players, it just punishes them by putting in challenges that are difficult to navigate through.
If you were a fan of The Red Star, it is most likely the PSP Go version would be a much better experience. While it looks great on the iPhone, it is impossible to see much of the screen half the time. The Red Star is one of the game’s that had the potential to be a strong re-release of a title but came up short where it mattered most.
Publisher: XS Games