Another on-rails shooter? Well, sort of, but stay with me on this one. The on-rails type shooter was fairly common on the 3DO, so what did Novastorm bring to the table that Starblade and Burning Soldier didn’t? And will this be the last on-rails shooter I’ll review for a while?
Yes, to the second question, but as to the first, well, that’s why we’re here today. Novastorm began its life on the FM Towns Marty, a lovely, if little known outside of Japan 32-bit console, as Scavenger 4 in 1993. The following year saw re-named ports to the 3DO and Mega-CD, whilst 1995 saw DOS and PlayStation versions hit the shelves. The early 1990’s was a time of storage wonder as developers moved from limited capacity cartridges to the seemingly unlimited world of compact discs. Novastorm is a prime example of this. There is a six minute full motion video to watch when you start the game. Thankfully, this can be skipped.
As an on-rails shooter, the landscapes stream off the CD, but instead of the usual cursor, this game offers a third person view and you get to see your ship in action. This also means that you can interact in a limited way with terrain and other obstacles. In particular, the final level requires some nifty moves to avoid taking hits to your shields. One advantage of this streaming is that you get a real sense of speed and the game itself moves like the clappers most of the time.
Novastorm uses sprites for everything other than the terrain, and this really does show up against the streaming backdrop like bad 1970’s era chroma-key. As noted above, this means a fast display, although you can get some slowdown where there is a ton of stuff on screen but it’s not a game breaker. One downside of using sprites is that they are quite large and things can get confusing on a busy screen, meaning you’ll take hits just because you’re not sure what’s heading for you at times. You can, however, specify up to nine lives in game so the frantic action doesn’t feel unfair.
Sound is distinctly average with this game. The techno soundtrack is… there. It’s too generic to add much, even if you can see what they were aiming for, whilst the sound effects are weak. Gunfire is especially bad, and you don’t feel like you’re dealing death to all and sundry when you hear the shots go out.
What Novastorm does offer though, is a challenge, and whilst there are only four levels (based on four planets: Volcano, Desert, Ice and City), each one will make you work for your money. That said, this is not a long game and once you get the hang of it, you can blast through this game from start to finish in less than an hour. Oh, you’ll enjoy that hour, but still, not a lengthy game by any means. If this were a review from 1994, the score would definitely reflect that. As it is, this is more something to note rather than judge on. This should not detract from the fact that Novastorm is a decent shooter experience that will tax new and experienced players alike.
Presentation is key for Novastorm though, and as well as getting that six minute intro movie, you also get CGI cutscenes featuring your ship and the various planets that comprise the stages. However, unlike the opener, these cannot be skipped. They are synced nicely to the in-game streaming so the change from cutscene to gameplay is relatively seamless, but every time you die, you’ll see the same amination time and time again. What they also reveal, especially once you get to the planet’s surface, is that there is quite a short viewing distance. Maybe I expected better with the backgrounds being pre-rendered, but there isn’t much of a landscape to look at past your ship. Then again, you’ll be too busy dodging fire and shooting back to notice. The last level also suffers from a lack of light. The cityscape is far too dark and comes across as quite bland. There are even some live action sequences that are supposed to jazz up the story but are too po-faced and ultra low-budget to be really effective. A couple of the accents also reminded me of am-dram theatre production Americana. Kudos though for trying to fill up that lovely shiny disc.
Novastorm is not a bad game and while I mock the dated presentation, it offers a more fun and fulfilling shooting experience than either Burning Soldier or Starblade. You can see where the effort went into this game and they have nailed the core shooting mechanics which makes this game more enjoyable to play. Could this have been released on cart? No, not with the pre-rendered graphics, although it does feel that the use of disc storage meant that there was a focus on looks instead of user experience. Despite that, it gets a conditional recommendation on the basis that fans of the genre will love it. Others, maybe less so.
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Novastorm is a good, but sadly not great, shooter that falls foul of the disc bloat that plagued early CD-based titles.