Dystoria is a…well, to be honest, I have no idea how this game should be classified. The player controls a ship from a third-person perspective and shoots at enemies while moving around on a mostly fixed platform. And when I say “platform,” I actually mean a multi-layered surface that often wraps around edges and corners, taking you up the sides of walls and upside down under the “floor” (in outer space, up can be down and vice versa – you get the idea). The game seemingly takes a lot of inspiration from older arcade titles, such as Tempest and Galaga, and melds all of that into a single, simple gameplay experience that stands on its own. It’s definitely a solid game, and I would say it even has the potential to be great, but it stumbles a bit too frequently.
The rules are simple – shoot the things that are shooting you
The game begins with a short, poorly-animated cutscene that I couldn’t help but dig, thanks to its obvious callback to the 1984 film, The Last Starfighter. (I saw it when I was much younger and somehow remembered enough of it to recognize the homage of the game’s introduction.) The art style and soundtrack of the game are inspired by those of various 80s sci-fi films, which I always welcome, being a fan of slightly cheesy synth-laden atmospheric music and neon everything. I especially appreciate these styles being incorporated in a game that is not only aesthetically inspired by 80s media, but is also built as if it were created in the 80s – with a bit more modern flare and polish, of course. As for the story, there isn’t a whole lot to say. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill as far as “unreliable powerful A.I.” stories go. You’ll probably be able to guess the ending after the first few communication screens pop up. Though, I suppose the story is a necessary inclusion for the game overall, especially after the first cutscene.
Oh yeah, there’s another rule – collect all the orbs in a level and get to the exit portal
Despite its art style and soundtrack, the real focus of Dystoria is its gameplay. Zooming around levels in your ship and blasting away enemies can be quite fun. The levels are occasionally designed to force you into close encounters with enemies so that you have be quick and think on your feet, but I found that the vast majority of time, the enemies are often placed in such a way that allows you to eliminate them before they’ve even noticed you. (One late-game level is even designed so that you can hold the trigger upon spawn without doing anything else to destroy one of the larger enemies. I imagine this wasn’t intentional.) On normal difficulty, nearly all of the levels were easily doable on my first try, with only a few that caused me to have to start over (no thanks to the certain enemies that kill you in one hit if you let them get too close). Also, if you ever just want to speedrun a level, you could just rush the orbs and get to the exit as quickly as possible. However, you would miss out on important upgrades for your ship and risk being destroyed by the many enemies in your way. For the most part, the game’s level design is okay, and each level usually has something unique about it. During my time playing, I frequently wished for a boss fight or two – the game’s mechanics simply seemed to be begging for one. Thankfully, there is a boss at the end that is decently enjoyable, but not very challenging once you realize what you need to do. I still think the game could greatly benefit from more bosses.
One of the biggest annoyances of Dystoria is that the game loves to spam a certain type of enemy that is usually placed high above the surface, outside of your weapons’ range and field of aim. (You cannot look up or down, only side-to-side. You can make use of the walls to look around in different directions, however.) Once you pass within a certain range, they make a sound that tells you they’ve detected you, and begin flying towards you. If they get close, they will shoot a constant stream of electricity that can do a ton of damage. Clearly, the key is to bait them and back up so that they descend into your gun’s stream. This becomes incredibly repetitive as the game goes on, causing you to spend most of your time waiting for those pesky things to move into your lethal range. (They really should be able to move at a quicker vertical speed.)
The 3D zoomed-out map feature isn’t just nifty, it’s pretty much mandatory
None of that even comes close to what is by far the worst part of the Dystoria gameplay experience, though. That has got to be the fact that there are a few levels which, for whatever reason, kill your frame rate. One of these levels is located in an early section of the game, but they become slightly more frequent near the last few collections of levels. This completely ruins the otherwise smooth and fast gameplay, as well as your immersion and fun. In order to bypass these broken levels, you need to slowly move so that your screen doesn’t appear to be playing a slideshow and be extremely careful about being decoupled from the level’s surface. (Becoming decoupled gives you a 10-second countdown timer to your death if you can’t recouple. These unreasonably lag-filled levels just so happen to be a lot easier to become decoupled in, for some reason.)
Two sets of moving laser obstacles – the perfect level to suffer from major frame rate issues, right?
Dystoria took me about 5.5 hours to complete. Overall, I did enjoy my time with the game. I’m not confident that I would pay $15 for it, but I wouldn’t call that an outrageously high price, either. For what it is, the game is slightly above average and with a bit of tweaking on the broken levels, I’m sure the game could easily score a 7/10 from me.
Final Rating: 6/10
Here is the Dystoria Teaser Trailer:
Dystoria is available on Steam for $14.99/£10.99/€14.99.