Welcome to Coverage Club, our regular series where we shift our critical eye towards smaller games that deserve some attention. Each week, our review editors select two titles and provide honest first impressions in the same style as our reviews. Games can range from brand new titles hitting Early Access to older hidden gems that never got their due. No matter your preferences, you're sure to find something off the beaten path here. This week, Alex warps to the star-filled skies of Steredenn to see if it's still rocking after leaving Early Access. Meanwhile, Sam checks himself into the asylum with Frostbullet's quirky new puzzler STATUS INSANE.
Covered by Alex Santa Maria
It's been a long while since I checked in on Steredenn, the roguelike shoot 'em up by Pixelnest Studio and Plug In Digital. The game has finally emerged from Early Access and hit consoles. Thankfully, it hasn't lost a step in terms of gameplay or presentation. For those unfamiliar, Steredenn takes the standard Gradius formula and applies a bit more procedural fun. Each run consists of several random waves of foes ready to be torn asunder. Your tools to accomplish this include everything from screen-filling lasers to oversized sawblades.
If you're lucky enough to pick up an option weapon, you're in luck. Just drop these automatic gun turrets behind early bosses and you can tear into them without lifting a trigger finger. If you're unlucky, you'll have to blast them away with rocket barrages or a spread gun straight out of Contra. You can grab two weapons at a time, as you'd expect. Switching between them at just the right moment is key to staying alive. The expansive array of weapons you can acquire in a run ensures that there are plenty of strategies to master.
It's a good thing that your choice of weapon is so varied because you won't have time to mess around for long. In the tradition of both of the genres it takes inspiration from, Steredenn's difficulty curve can sometimes feel like a sheer cliff in your first handful of runs. Doubly so if the game throws some of its more complex weaponry at you from the jump. The standard pea shooter can get you out of most situations, and that's fine. However, half the fun is in experimenting with how to play a SHUMP using an energy boomerang. It's definitely possible to improve over time, but you'll have to put in the effort and get past the novelty.
All the action is accompanied by a screaming rock soundtrack that truly sets the game apart. In a genre known for cheery chiptune compilations, Steredenn takes the logical next step with masterful guitar riffs that drive you into the action for each stage. The game is no cakewalk, so it helps that you never tire of the opening rush of rock as you start each new run. You'll also never tire of the game's visuals, which consist of refined pixel sprites that shift effortlessly with the fast-paced action. The little details make all the difference, including how the ship transforms as it acquires new weapons and the way it warps slightly as it blasts through hyperspace. If we still lived in the age of the arcade, Steredenn's cabinet would turn a lot of heads.
Steredenn was played on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers during its Early Access period. The game is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and iOS.
Covered by Samuel Guglielmo
Okay, stop me if you've heard this one before. You're trapped in an insane asylum and you need to get out. Sure that may not quite be the most original concept for a game, but that's okay. STATUS: INSANE (yes, in all caps like that) is a fun little puzzle game that has you breaking out of an asylum.
You play as Igor, a guy trapped in an insane asylum for... well I'm not sure why. Maybe he deserves to be there, maybe he doesn't. There's not much story, but he wants to break out. Seeing the state of the others in the asylum I can't really blame him. So Igor just sort of... walks out of his cell. From there you need to help him escape the asylum proper, avoiding guards and death traps along the way.
STATUS: INSANE is a puzzle game where you need to find a lever to open the exit and then get to said exit all while avoiding guards. The game works on grids, and you're instantly sent back to one of the generous checkpoints if you ever enter a guard's line of sight. At first, this is easy, as all the guards stand in one spot and only look forward. Later you get guards that turn, guards that patrol, and more. You'll need to block line of sight using carts on tracks, or by sticking behind other guards.
It's not overly complicated, but it is quite a bit of fun. I enjoyed the simple stealth/puzzle gameplay, and trying to figure out creative ways through mazes littered with guards was always fun. Collectibles appear in weird places throughout the game, so taking an offbeat route through the stage felt rewarding. I also liked the style of the game, with its weird art and disproportionate characters and environments.
You're not always playing stealthily. Occasionally the game took a break to try out a runner format. Here Igor needed to stay away from machines that chased him down hallways. Along the way, he also needed to dodge electric barriers, jump over bear traps or pits, and still stay out of the line of sight of officers. It's difficult, to the point where it felt a little more trial and error than it really should have, but it was a welcomed break. You also occasionally have a chat with a giant flying head with a thick Russian accent, which you do by inputting simple commands with your keyboard. The less said about these segments the better, but more because they're strange enough that I'd rather you experience them yourself than have me tell you about it.
I came away rather surprised by STATUS: INSANE. It's a bit clunky around the edges, but also a fun puzzle game that occasionally wanders into brilliant territory. I don't think it'll give a huge challenge to those who have worked out solutions these sort of games in the past, but I can see it being a lot of fun still.
STATUS INSANE was played on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
What do you think of this week's Coverage Club selections? Do you know of an overlooked game that deserves another look? Let us know in the comments below, and don't forget to follow our Steam Curator to keep up to date with all our reviews.