I’m not sure what I just played, but it’s brilliant.
We try to avoid doing comparative analysis, yet it seems impossible to pull Starstruck apart from it’s obvious influences: Part Earthbound, part Little Big Planet, part Scott Pilgrim, with an added dash of…….. Gitaroo man?? Katamari?? Truly a sublime cocktail of inspiration. It’s rare to see a game bold enough to dive head first into the experimental spirit that defined both the Dreamcast and the late PS2 era, let alone one that does so with such finesse.
Come down to earth with us as we explore the wonderful world of… Neighborhood.exe
First things first, the gameplay begins with a charming homage to early computer UIs, after punching in your name you move onto Hand Customization, including the shape of your wrist and general thickness of your fingers. I assure you, this is all quite relevant to the plot, somehow, I promise.
Set against the backdrop of a desperate mission through time, Starstruck begins with a rather lovingly rendered FMV sequence involving wonderful low budget rocket-on-a-string special effects. From the outset the craftsy DIY diorama tone is set, and as we orbit the ‘planet’ earth (represented by a cute globe map) our AI companion explains our mission to us. It seems one of the neighborhood residents either plays a critical role in or is responsible for the end of the world, and it’s up to you to find out the how and why.
After dropping down to the surface, you take control of the first character in the cast, Edwin, who fits your archetypal neighborhood nice boy role with a skillset that consists of being well liked and not much else. After you team up with your first companion, you set off together to track down the next cast member, Dawn, at a local music show in an abandoned factory. Here, we run into our first puzzle, a set of nails blocking our path, and what better way to solve such a problem than with a hammer? Deploy the time hand!
Yes, our customized mitten from the start of the game is now fully operational, allowing us to destroy every nice thing in this idyllic peaceful town with unprecedented speed in order to attain the ultimate solution to all nail problems. Swiftly you deploy your carpentry know-how to eliminate the obstacle standing between Edwin and his future music career, your ship computer congratulates you, and we drop back into the game’s storyline.
Upon entering the premises of the factory, we’re introduced to the core music game mechanic which comes with support for guitar controllers. See, Starstruck doesn’t exactly seem to have any combat per-se, aside from wanton property destruction with the hand, thusly we progress through the narrative with our instruments of malleus destruction. It is here that I have a confession to make, I’m absolutely dreadful when it comes to rhythm games. Thankfully, however, the easy setting is fairly forgiving despite a particularly lengthy solo set giving me some trouble on my initial run.
Speaking of music, the game’s soundtrack is superbly well done with multiple vocal tracks incorporated throughout. The amount of work that went into this small demo is mind-boggling at times given how visually striking it is and the level of polish clearly present in the sound design.
It’s nice to see the return of unique standalone demos, and Starstruck’s prologue gave me an opportunity to step outside my comfort zone while never making me feel judged for my lack of skill. It’s a delightful piece of art that’s absolutely worth checking out, especially if you appreciate the experimental intersection of games and mixed media, and we’re absolutely looking forward to the full release.
So dig out your guitar hero controller, plug in the USB home, and get ready to pluck some plastic strings.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice