Logo for indie game ShipLord

ShipLord, despite what you might think on first glance is not a space shooter, far from it. It completely forgoes any notion of offense and instead puts the focus on dodging and timely use of defensive abilities.

Though be warned, just because there are no enemies to shoot doesn't mean you'll have an easy time as ShipLord is immensely difficult, especially if you try and go for some of the higher stage ranks.

 

Your goal in most of the missions is to collect Quasar, shiny balls of light that appear periodically throughout the map. An easy concept on paper but when you have 20 asteroids hurtling towards you at high speeds it becomes a whole lot tougher. To help you out ShipLord gives you three abilities on rather short cooldowns that you will need to use with great care in order to survive.

The first and, personally, the most important one is the Shield ability which makes you invulnerable to damage and allows you to destroy asteroids simply by touching them. Despite the temptation I'd suggest only using Shield as a last resort because it is very easy to get yourself stuck in a certain-doom type of a situation on some of the later levels.

Next up is the rather hard to use Forcefield ability. What it does is it pushes asteroids away from you (or sometimes towards you, not sure if this is a bug) and slows down time for a short duration. It sounds great but there is a delay of about half of a second before the ability kicks in so unless you were on point with your timing you might just have the asteroid freeze over the area you wanted to go through.

Timely use of the Shield ability can help you "cheat" by destroying boss projectiles

The final and the simplest ability is Energy Collector. Once activated it will suck up any Quasar visible on the screen and while this might not sound amazing, proper use of Energy Collector is mandatory once you reach the later stages. Abilities can also be upgraded with points you receive after beating a level, the higher your score the higher the amount of points you get. The system is a great idea but it feels half finished because there are no real choices. Since there are only 6 upgrades you will most likely get the cooldown ones with the first set of levels and the rest is just going to be minor upgrades you don't really notice.

Besides the upgrade points, a Diamond rank will also unlock new ship skins for you to use but they are mostly recolors of the base ship and don't offer any sort of unique gameplay effects. That could've been a great opportunity to add a whole new layer of replayability to the game but as it stands you'll care more about unlocking new upgrade points than ships.

Even though the upgrade system might not be the most exciting thing in the world it is still very useful, especially on the harder stages where the number and speed of asteroids greatly increases. The missions themselvs generally last two minutes and ramp up with difficulty over time so you will really need to be stingy with your cooldowns because you don't want to reach the final 20 seconds, when all hell breaks loose, without at least some form of plan B.

A lot of asteroids in ShipLord

You can end up in even nastier situations than this

And speaking of difficulty, I'm not sure if I'm getting it across properly how hard ShipLord really is. I've been playing it for a bunch of hours now and I'm still stuck on level 13 despite many, many attempts. It all starts well and good but once you get to the final 30 or so seconds there are so many asteroids on the screen my poor little brain gets overloaded and I mess up and get thrown right back to the start.

But don't get me wrong, I don't hate the difficulty. The asteroids all move from the right to the left in a predictable path and even though some of them can be pretty fast your ship can change course on a dime without any momentum issues. It is challenging, that's for certain, but it doesn't feel unfair most of the time. I say most because while the normal missions (where you dodge asteroids) work great with the somewhat floaty movement system the boss battles do not.

I took it upon myself as a personal challenge to get at least diamond rank on each level but doing so on bosses is frustrating. In the standard missions where you dodge large objects your fast movement speed is a great boon but on bosses, especially on higher difficulties, it becomes next to impossible to actually play. I quickly gave up on my "all diamond" dream when I couldn't get past the first boss on Diamond difficulty because he requires a continuous use of precise movement in a game that is not designed for that sort of thing.

An almost impossible boss fight in ShipLord

Good luck keeping this up for 2 minutes, and this isn't even the hardest difficulty

If you find yourself interested in ShipLord I'd suggest you only do bosses in Gold difficulty, that one is both fair and balanced. Just don't think you'll get through them easily just because its the "weakest" difficulty, you're still going to be in for a one hell of an encounter.

Graphically, Shiplord is a rather pretty game though there isn't much that makes it stand out. The background images are well done and quite detailed which means they're great to look at but also sometimes a distraction, especially if there's a planet with a moon in the background since you might confuse the rotating moon with an incoming asteroid and end up crashing because of it. But that minor quip aside I do like the style they've gone for, especially with all of the oddly colored asteroids the game throws at you.

ShipLord has some really pretty background art

There are some rather striking visuals in ShipLord

The music, much like the graphics, is well done though nothing about it stands out. It fits the game well and adds some much needed ambiance to the levels but it isn't something I'd load up in my playlist afterwards. The story however is a bit of a mixed bag. While there are a few examples of extremely cheesy voice acting it is overall pretty solid and sadly wasted on a rather poor script. ShipLord isn't even the type of game that needs much of a story outside of "big bad guy go raaaar" so I'm a bit confused why the developers opted to include one that is quite frankly on the bad side of cheesy. Luckily you can easily skip all of it and instantly get to the parts ShipLord does well.

Verdict

The gameplay, without considering bosses on higher difficulties, is nicely polished and balanced in such a way that you will never yell at the game for dying but rather your own greed or lapse of judgement. Special abilities are satisfying to use but a bit tricky to master, especially when the timer is running low and the asteroids flying everywhere. I would say that I enjoyed my time with ShipLord but I am an extremely stubborn guy that doesn't take kindly to a game beating him so the difficulty and repetition did not affect me negatively.

At the end of the day your enjoyment of Shiplord will greatly depend on whether you enjoy a good challenge or not. If you like a game where you can slowly watch yourself improve and get higher and higher scores then Shiplord is probably going to satisfy you. On the other hand if you find yourself easily frustrated with failure then you might want to stay away because there is no easy road to success in Shiplord.

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