Pulstario, cluttered space – First Sip Review

Pulstario is a short space game in which you pilot a ship and try not to explode. Both developed and published by Fred Wood, his third game after Love and kuso.

Story 2.5/5

To be honest I did not realize there was a story to the game. You control a ship and collect glowing things to finish levels, However, reading the Steam bio it seems the ship is collecting lost souls in a void. This would be an interesting idea to cover, but unfortunately, it doesn’t really have a bearing on the game. As the game is more of an arcade game the lack of a story is acceptable and so I judge it more on concept than the actual story. And the concept doesn’t fair much better than the non-existent storyline in terms of creativity.

The concept of the game I’ve already summed up. You control a spaceship and collect glowing dots while trying not to explode. Once you’ve collected them all you move to the next level. It’s very basic and very much something I’ve seen before…a lot. I don’t want to be too harsh but there’s really not much to say here, generic is perhaps the most fitting term.

Pulstario gameplay

Graphics 3/5

Again very basic here but the graphics in Pulstario are decent. They are very retro but instead of being true 8 or 16-bit graphics they are far more detailed. The ship, as well as some of the environmental obstacles, are clearly made of small pixels and as such lack straight lines when places on any sort of angle. While this might sound like an issue, it actually looks quite good, the small size of the pixels give it a detail level that is somewhat satisfying to see.

Each stage has its own background and generally environmental color, nothing too amazing but it’s nice. The different colors are fairly appreciated because outside of them every level feels like they would blend into the rest. Some more themes, like identifiable planet references, factories, meteor showers and the like would’ve been a stronger option. But the fairly formless void cluttered with shapes does have a retro feel to it. (However, you do have to remember that a lot of those games were made that way due to technical limitations we no longer really have).

Interestingly the secret levels seem to have more of a theme to their environments. I haven’t played Love or kuso, but I feel like Secret Level 4 may either be a reference or possibly reused assets, I’d lean toward reference.

Pulstario gameplay

Sound 4/5

By far the strongest aspect of the game for me was the sound. Both the music and the actual sound-effects. The music in Pulstario is the “Green EP” by Retfoniq. It seems to play seamlessly which each track folding into the next despite which level you are actually in. It works quite well and gives you a variety of styles to listen to. Largely it is electronic synth/space music but there are other instruments and some more rock and even disco sections. Unfortunately, this speaks more toward Retfoniq’s skill than it does the game. As the music plays when you pause the game as well you can just listen to the EP tracks on whichever level you are on, making it more like having a radio on than actually being tied to the game.

Sound-effects though are consciously placed in the game and sound pretty great. You get a muffled sort of explosion when you die, which harkens back to classic Atari games. There is also a noise that plays when you start and stop slow-motion but I found it to be somewhat out of place it’s like a muffled shot or slap sound. The noises that play when you collect the souls, however, are very pleasant. They are little ding noises that change pitch each time so if you collect a few in a row you get a fun little scale.

Pulstario gameplay

Gameplay 2.5/5

As mentioned a few times already, the gameplay in Pulstario is pretty basic. Most buttons/keys cause your ship to boost if you don’t boost then you fall. You can turn your ship to change your direction, however, largely you’ll just alternate between left and right as aiming down is a bad decision in most situations. You also have the option to slow time down, which makes the game a lot more playable. Touching literally anything will cause your ship to explode. And the game feels very much like Lunar Lander from the Atari in 1979 but without the landing. To be honest the gameplay feels so much like so many free flash games I played in high school. So much so that it feels like the developer is still starting out and Pulstario is just another test before they try an idea of their own.

The game handles well (especially with the slow-motion). And you respawn instantly after death unless you select the YOLO mode or one of the other limited life options.

Each level has you collecting the “souls” and you have a countdown in the corner with how many are left. You also have a pointer which shows you which direction the closest soul is so you don’t need to search the map.

And that’s about it really, you can complete achievements and unlock new ship designs that are merely cosmetic.

Pulstario gameplay

Overall

Overall Pulstario isn’t a bad game, it’s just not necessary. There are some genres that seem to spawn the same games over and over, but generally, there is some sort of gimmick to them that sets them apart. Whether it be a unique story, interesting game-mechanic, melding of genres or just polishing the mechanics established in the past into the best form possible. But I don’t feel like Pulstario really does any of these things. Immediately as I began playing it I felt like I had played it before. And despite the brisk length of the game (there is an achievement for beating the game in 10 minutes, I did it in 11 and a half on my first run). The lack of anything I hadn’t seen before made the game feel far slower than it was.

It’s obvious Fred Wood has a passion for making games, and setting the price of Pulstario low was a good move. But I don’t think Pulstario has the lasting power to be remembered when the next game comes out.

In coffee terms Muggy

In Coffee Terms

In coffee terms Pulstario is bland. It’s not bad, it was obviously made with good intentions. But it lacks anything to make it stand out. It doesn’t taste disgusting but that’s because the flavor is so weak. If you’ve never tried a coffee before then it might have something to keep you interested. But if you’ve been drinking coffee a while then this one isn’t going to make an impression.

Pulstario Links

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1188000/Pulstario/
itch: https://thatsmytrunks.itch.io/pulstario
Twitter: https://twitter.com/thatsmytrunks
Nintendo: https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/pulstario-switch/

Pulstario Review Summary
  • Story
  • Graphics
  • Sound
  • Gameplay
3
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