Dystoria from Tri-Costal Games and IndieHound is quite an amusing little sci-fi space shooting romp.  It’s colorful, vibrant, and action packed.  Despite a few flaws, it most definitely belongs in any action fan’s library immediately.

The game might not win awards for graphic design, but Dystoria features clean lines, bright colors, and incredibly well designed maps that require precision navigation in order to unlock all of their secrets (and you’ll want to collect every last trinket).  The opening cutscene does not do the game justice, despite the obvious homage to the “classic” Last Starfighter.  Despite the cleverness of the opening, flat animations and sub-par character models hurt the overall quality.  Lucklily, once the game proper begins, the visual style (with another obvious reference to a sci-fi classic, Tron) improves considerably with far smoother animations, and silky smooth framerates which makes a huge difference considering the constant axis changes.  It could be argued that the turning is a bit TOO smooth, nearly making me nauseated, though granted I was coming off of a 4-day stomach bug at the time…  The soundtrack is fantastic, keeping your pulse ppunding and more than successfully helping to maintain the atmosphere of futuristic tension.  Sound effects are well handled making weapons sound powerful and different.  The light flavor text is well written (I LOVE the apology for the opening cutscene shenanigans), and presents information clearly and cleverly.

Dystoria suffers a bit in its execution.  For instance, menu options (such as switching the camera to “inverted”) reset each time the game launches.  It’s not a huge deal to change it back, and it rarely affects gameplay proper, mostly during intermission scenes and when going into first-person aiming mode, but it’s sloppy and frustrating.  In-game information is parceled out strangely as well.  The game immediately lets you know that you need bombs in order to break glass, but then simply tells you that bombs don’t affect lined glass.  Well, then, what does?  By obscuring this information, you’re forced to waste resources upgrading every weapon system and subsystem trying to discover what breaks through this special glass.  As upgrades and alternate weapon modes are extremely expensive, you may have to clear a LOT of missions, or perform many missions over again in order to unlock what you need right away.  I’m going to try all the weapons and goodies out, so just let me know what ones I need for certain situations.  I also question the utility of a first-person camera mode for aiming when my craft can’t aim outside of the axis upon which I travel. I don’t have to use it, but this functionality could have been given greater purpose, especially because some of my enemies are more than capable of obliterating me early and often even though I have to maneuver to the proper plane in order to successfully counter.  Granted, it IS nice that I can move far more quickly and with greater agility than they can, allowing me to easily dodge incoming fire, even if I’ll still soak up a fair amount of damage when I try to fight back.  Fortunately, the controls are tight and responsive, so I can make those complicated moves without having to think too much about them.  The game strikes a fine balance between instinctive reaction and planning with a healthy amount of enjoyable exploration thrown in.  The handy map system lets you identify all of the items on a particular mission, even if it doesn’t always tell you HOW to get to some of them.  The multi-part maps connected by warp gates are truly a sight to behold, and are a lot of fun to learn to traverse, while climbing and descending multi-layer maps is also a joy.  Again, I wish the loot system were a bit more generous, but you seem to unlock additional ships with better statistics as well as secondary weapons systems fairly quickly even though you might not feel like you’re progressing at a constant rate.  I had a glitch where secondary weapons unlocked without having to purchase them, which didn’t exactly bother me considering the difficulty at times, but it’s still an issue.  Customizing your ship could be a bit easier, as the game doesn’t do a good job of telling you what screen you need to be on in order to lock your changes into place, making you think you haven’t upgraded.

These issues aside, Dystoria IS a lot of fun.  The frenetic pacing and satisfying exploration/combat cure a lot of ills, and with some patching, it could easily become a must-have title.

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