Steredenn has been doing the rounds for a couple of years now, but it first ended up in our sights with its release on Nintendo Switch, where it landed along with a new subtitle: Binary Stars. Pixelnest's space shooter looks pretty traditional at first glance, but sometimes appearances can be deceiving, and thanks to some well-implemented roguelike mechanics this quirky little title is hiding a surprising amount nuance that fans of either genre will come to appreciate.
Space shooter fans will like the pixelart graphics, which are really well done here. It's a simple yet effective art style that absolutely does the business, and some of the enemy designs are really well done. There are plenty of variations when it comes to your targets, whether that be one-hit cannon fodder or the bosses that spew out seemingly endless patterns of bullets. At times there can be a lot going on at the same time, but for the most part, it's clear to see what's happening all around you. Indeed, Pixelnest even plays around with depth, layering in the detail to really immerse you in what's ostensibly a rather straightforward and traditional shoot 'em up.
While the side-scrolling action and bullet hell bosses aren't particularly innovative in and of themselves, the roguelike mechanics that underpin the game certainly do set it apart. As you advance through the game you'll unlock additional ships and they each have individual attributes (so some are sturdier but less potent, while others are a bit squishy but pack a mighty punch), and the changes between ships are enough to alter your play style significantly. However, it's the various pickups you discover along the way that really change things up and give Steredenn its longevity.
Each ship (that we've tested) has standard and heavy weapon slots, although you only start with the standard option. The heavy weapon modules are dropped by opponents as you play, and they range from missiles to automated bots that you can drop at strategic points during play. Each level will usually yield up one or two heavy options, and you can swap them over if you want to change things up. And "change" is certainly the operative word here, because getting a decent complementary heavy will push you into playing things very differently, especially during the boss fights.
Further variety and nuance are added if and when you beat a boss. Once you've worn your enemy down and dispatched it - which can take some time as you dart around a multitude of patterned attacks - your health is restored to full and you're given an upgrade to a key system. Oftentimes the choice is to enhance a system such as improving weapons of a certain type, but you can also get various kinds of shields, plus alien weapon systems that give you new offensive tactics to explore. There's a surprising amount of depth when you start mixing and matching the weapons and defensive systems, but obviously your options are entirely dependent on what you source while you're playing.
While you can get a good build up and running, there's an element of luck at play, and sometimes you'll only get weapons that don't suit your playstyle. While this can be annoying, the permadeath mechanic ensures that it won't be long before you're starting from scratch. The roguelike setup actually makes Steredenn great for short bursts of play, as you'll have a complete experience in just a few minutes, although in this case we'll add that the game is really rather challenging, and so you'll need to invest blocks of time into playing if you're going to get good, otherwise you'll find yourself constantly sliding back down the learning curve everytime you pick it up again.
There is an arena mode for those who want to practice against the bosses too, as well as daily challenges where you get one chance to set a high score and the co-op mode, which is a great fit on Switch as you can grab a Joy-Con each and get stuck in. It's a fully-featured and cohesive shooter then, and comes with a crunching metal soundtrack that certainly lends itself well to the brand of action Pixelnext has explored here. The visuals are simple yet satisfying, the systems blend together well, and there's depth here waiting to be discovered by dedicated players. Steredenn: Binary Stars is a decent roguelike space shooter, even if it didn't charm us quite as much as Galak-Z, but genre fans and those who enjoy a classically-styled shmup should certainly consider checking it out.