Preview: Fission Superstar X

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Let’s imagine for a second that you’re a mad scientist from Planet X, and you’ve just completed your masterpiece, a planet-killing bomb. What do you do with it? Destroy the Earth? Annihilate an outlying planet as a threat? Or tour it around the solar system and let it perform at concerts? If you picked that last one you probably have the demented perspective necessary for Fission Superstar X, an upcoming roguelike shmup from some of the folks that made Death Skid Marks possible. And to be fair, even if you’re not demented there’s plenty of space action to be had here.

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Each run of Fission Superstar X starts you with a cloned pilot and science officer, two of the four possible crew for your junky bomber launching from your secret base towards the heart of the solar system. During each leg of your journey you’ll be accosted by space pirates, space police, space anomalies, space cows, space whales, and more depending on the choices you make. Your crew will man the turrets of your ship to fire all manner of bullets, energy bolts, explosives, and spinning blades at these threats in the hopes of getting you to the next planet alive long enough to blow it up.

The heart of the game is a side-scrolling shooter, featuring a randomized array of enemies and hazards determined by the course heading you chose at your last stop. Ships (including your own) are divided into quadrants, and losing a single quadrant will unzip your vessel in explosive fashion. To prevent space junkers and buzzsaw-ships from tearing you apart, you’ll need to blast them before they get any good hits in. Your turrets are aimed with the mouse, and assuming you have all four up they should leave you with no blind spots. Ships tend to be more armored in certain areas and taking out cockpits is a quick way to defuse a threat, so there’s a fair bit of strategy to the maneuvering and shmupping.

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Most of the strategy is to be found between encounters, though. At the end of each shooting sequence you get a choice of four different routes ahead. Each will take you a certain number of units towards (or sometimes away from) the next planet, and your choice also determines the environmental effects, how long the sequence is, and if you can stop at a shop to pick up new guns or crew. You also get the chance to use your crew abilities, like having the doctor heal wounded members or the engineer repair the ship. Destroyed enemies drop gold and ammo, and the former is used to buy much-needed upgrades for your crew and ship. Comparisons to FTL should be obvious, though at the moment your choices are really just what to make better.

When you reach a planet you’ll be treated to a boss fight, and the first one you’ll come across is a giant mutant in an armored baby carriage that shoots a cartoonish revolver at you. By now it should be clear how off-kilter the style is in this game, but the humor extends to more than just the major scenes. Your crew are all parodies of famous sci-fi figures, or literal dogs, or random people picked up from space stops. You can strap chainsaws to your ship and carve out the hulls of your foes. Sometimes you can get outfits for your bomb which provide powerful new abilities and make her pretty. And when you stop at a planet you have the option to blow it up, which unlocks a new ship to use on future runs.

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The combination of madcap aesthetic and intense shooting makes even this short preview of Fission Superstar X a gripping experience. I felt so accomplished finally reaching Pluto after half a dozen attempts, and it only made me eager for more. All the key systems for a quality title are in, and there are glimpses of more like robust difficulty customization that lets you pop the limits on all sorts of rules. I’ll be eager to see how this one shapes up over the next few months but if it stays the course it’s set, it should be one wild ride.

Fission Superstar X is aiming for a Q1 2019 release. Check back then for a full review!

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