By 2499, mankind is caught in the grip of terrible overpopulation. Civil unrest and starvation force the Earth Lords to create the Northstar space station: designed to house tens of thousands of self-sufficient people, it seems like the answer. However, one day near completion a party of scientists don't return...
Arriving at the space station, it's apparent that an alien force has invaded. The player is assigned the task of destroying these life-forms and re-activating the life support systems by making his way to the project centre.
Each of the ten levels push-scrolls horizontally in both directions: the character runs, but only jumps sideways if already moving. The space station consists of obstacles, which are cleared platform-style, and alien opponents. Aliens include patrol troops and bouncing pods, initially despatched by the player's extendable claw. Five other kinds of weapon are collected, including a smart bomb. When the end of a level is successfully reached, the player is transported, via a lift, deeper into the space station.
The screen is divided into the level display and an information panel beneath. This details the player's score, lives remaining, oxygen level and any weapons collected. Score is increased by shooting alien troops and bouncing pods, and destroying specific stationary containers which release bonus points. Oxygen constantly runs down during the mission, and is only replenished when the end of a level is reached.
Should the oxygen run out, or if the player touches an alien or falls down a hole, one of four lives is lost.
Very much in the Exolon/Game Over mould, Northstar combines slick graphics and great sound with some incredibly frustrating gameplay. One of the main problems is that you often reach parts of the landscape where you have to commit yourself to jump across a gap, with no idea whether there's a hazard present or not.
If there is, you have no way of avoiding it and you die. Another annoyance is that if you're standing near the edge of a platform, you can get hit by an oncoming alien - which is infuriating! Having said that, Northstar is challenging and addictive (in a masochistic sort of way), and is a fine example of its genre.
Northstar has the same combination of frustration and appeal found in games such as Army Moves and Game Over. The frustration is a result of an awkward control method and ungenerous collision detection: there isn't quite enough manoeuvrability in your character as he slides and slowly jumps, the rapid pace at which the action progresses leading to some very annoying deaths.
The appeal lies in the graphical presentation (the backdrops are colourful and detailed) and the desire to overcome this frustration - the first level is relatively easy, but later ones are horrible! The extendable weapon is both novel and a pain, because it occasionally requires too much luck to synchronise jumping and blasting: a situation marginally retrieved by other weapons. Had the firepower been greater or the control a little tighter, Northstar would have been excellent; as it is, it falls short of a higher accolade.
Aaagh! Another item of averageness has me screaming in my seat! General gameplay is unbelievably bland, comprising keeping the fire button held down to keep the mechanical arm going, and running about over a garish landscape of platforms.
Worded like that it almost sounds interesting, but believe me, it isn't. Not only is Northstar dull, it's incredibly frustrating, with collision detection which is merciless to the point of being unrealistic (running into aliens which are on a platform above the player for instance).
I lost so many lives without getting anywhere that I wondered why I was still playing, and then I realised it was only to see if progress made the game any less tedious.
Well, if it does, I didn't get far enough to prove it. I wouldn't number this among the worst games of the month (it being that kind of month) but I wouldn't recommend you buy it without a preliminary test.
Gorgeous title screen and clear screen display, but the awkward control method limits the enjoyment gleaned from the action.
Colourful, detailed and varied levels are reasonably, if unimaginative, sprites.
Option between an atmospheric in-game soundtrack and decent sound effects. Reasonable title screen.
The urge to progress is balanced against the frustration of the game's imposing luck element and occasionally irksome collision detection.
The levels of increasingly difficult jump 'n kill action marred by the necessity of learning patterns.
An irritating but enjoyable shoot-'em-up.