Review: Straimium Immortaly

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There are a lot of weird games on Steam. Shocking insight, I know, but what’s genuinely shocking is how few of them are truly, compellingly weird at their cores. You can go poking through the Weeklong Deals to find all sorts of oddities, but that might just be strange art or bad translations or concepts that never fully come together. Games like Straimium Immortaly are rare, the ones that start with a bizarre concept and build a fully-realized world and gameplay around it that’s equally bizarre. I’ve had no more luck making progress in beating this one or understanding it than I have in learning how to pronounce its name, but the weirdness that makes it so inscrutable also makes it remarkably compelling.

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Normally this is the part of the review where I give an overview of the story or premise of the game in question. This time, I’m going to transcribe the opening crawl of the game for you instead:

In the far stars of Straimium, Queenis nestle in Cubicus nests. There they birth meany nasties to wage ever lasting Cubos War against rivaly Queeni Emperess. Straima Ninjas, holiest warriors, lead these Immortaly Incursions. Are you one such hallow Straima? Dare you breach the… Cubicus?

I had to stare at this for a bit before sussing out much meaning, but I think you’re a space fighter waging war against the Queeni Emperess, and you enter the Cubicus to find and destroy her. If the writing throws you off then you’d better get used to it, because all the text in the game is this sort of addled conversational rambling. No exceptions, either… even the game menus and button prompts get cute with you.

It’s not going to make much more sense once your tiny Straima Ninja is deposited, rainbow-spewing jetpack and all, into the Cubicus. You’ve got a free flight, some kind of blaster, and a few special powers to use as you explore the grid rooms of the Cubicus, seeking items and upgrades and direction. The big red heart on your UI has a pretty obvious purpose but the rest of it less so, and you’ll need to do some experimenting to figure out what all the icons are and how they’re connected. The same goes for the rooms themselves, technocolor nightmares of busy sprites that they are. Some of those sprites will chase you or shoot you, some can be shot and don’t do anything, and some are just bizarre background entities that may yet have some relevance to your task.

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This is the compelling weirdness that I was talking about, the pervasive mystery that starts with the opening text and the pulsating technicolor environs, and extends to everything you see and do. Starting out, you’ll need to figure out real fast what are the enemies you need to kill, what are the hazards to avoid, what are the items and useful bits, and what is just background noise. And that won’t even stay constant as you progress! For example, some rooms have lumpy, bio-organic computer terminals that you can’t interact with, but they do feature scrolling text you can read. However, there’s a hacking tool item that can get into them and disable the enemies and security features in the room, or sometimes backfire and make things worse. It took me awhile to realize the little purple things floating around the rooms were actually the game’s currency, and you collected it by shooting. And there are still chests and points of interest marked with bizarre symbols I still haven’t worked out.

The actual gameplay of Straimium Immortaly is mostly side-scrolling shooting, except the rooms don’t scroll. The Cubicus is a grid of randomly-arranged chambers that you enter and blast all the foes in before scooping up the loot and moving on. Your Straima Ninja comes equipped with a basic pea-shooter, a dodge, some kind of beam weapon that uses that gooey orange ammo, and another dodge that seems to do damage. You can find upgraded weapons and new powers in treasure rooms, chambers with small portals to arenas with larger, more deadly enemies. There’s one of these in each of the four quadrants of the Cubicus, and each quadrant has a difficulty rating so you can stick to the easier areas until you get more upgrades. Those quadrants each house a boss as well, and defeating all four will grant you access to the Queeni Emperess, but it’s going to take you quite a few tries to get that far.

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Along the way you’ll find creepy shopkeepers, giant eyes, orifices you can crawl in, aliens to play rock-paper-scissors with, and more. Just finding items and power-ups is half the battle, because you’ll need to figure out what to do with them or how they affect you thereafter. And then there’s the combat to contend with, which can end in your death surprisingly fast. Enemies shoot yellow or blue sparks at you, and while I don’t know the difference between them I can tell you that not all sparks are the same, even of the same color. Enemy shots can home in on you to different degrees, so some foes will dumb-fire a spray at you while others will launch incredibly precise and persistent homing shots that look exactly the same. And the big ones can easily one-shot you if you take them to the face, so even beyond the learning curve of the environment there’s an even steeper one to the combat.

The real draw here is immersing yourself in this completely insane world and learning how it all works, and dying a few dozen times while you do that isn’t the biggest ask. The graphics are wonderfully psychedelic, throbbing pixels evocative of all kinds of space horrors, and mixed with the goofy-ass writing it gives the game a powerful air of a plausible universe that just happens to be insane. A few runs in and you should start recognizing where you should go and what items you’ll want over others, but that combat might keep you down for a good bit longer. There’s a fair bit of variety to everything except the bosses (there’s only two you can get per quadrant) so pushing past the challenge can be rewarding, especially once you start unlocking the additional modes like a de-make platformer version of the game. Not everyone is going to be down for learning the ins and outs of Straimium Immortaly, but those that are best be prepared for an intensely trippy journey.

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