I was randomly looking around in itch.io's shmup list and came across this game, and my curiosity led me to trying it out, first on the Web version and then the downloadable executable.
Boy am I glad I did! It's really fun and very promising.
The playstyle featured in Celestial Crusaders ticks many of my boxes when it comes to shmups, and that makes it very enjoyable to play.
The game's frantic pace seems overwhelming at first but once you learn the enemy behaviors, it feels just right. The fact that the game does not beat around the bush before throwing fast-paced waves might be a bit too much for a shmup beginner but I am pretty comfortable with it. The patterns are also rather fast and not too dense, which is quite exciting. The boss's harder version in the Dangerous difficulty for example is a big thrill.
Being able to use your bomb so often and having to use it to boost your scores is also something I appreciate a lot. The grazing required to recharge it faster works well with the streams of aimed shots the enemies fire at you, so it feels pretty natural to quickly recharge the bomb and throw it as often as possible. This gives the game a good sense of pacing, with a fast game loop and short stage portions that never overstay their welcome.
Underneath are the few other comments I have and that are more specific. There are still some tweaks and adjustments I feel can improve the game, which makes sense since it is an early version :
- The enemy death voices are a bit cheesy and don't fit the aesthetic. This is especially noticeable with the balloon enemy, whereas you can get used to the spikeball's more subduded voice.
- On the other hand, Luna's little voice clips are great!
- What is the cube color/hit number hierarchy? It seems to go from yellow to green to gold to light green, which doesn't seem like a natural progression. Green could be a starting color and then it can go towards copper and gold.
- The penalty for dying is way too big at the moment and it creates huge score gaps between a one-life run and runs with just one death midway through. Decreasing the hit counter by 90% is almost the same as completely resetting it and given how the counter is multiplied during the bonus rounds, the differences are tremendously increased. The way some of the score bonuses are given at the end of a round also mean you will gain sudden and massive score boosts when one-lifing the bonus sections instead of having a more gradual score progression.
While it makes sense to punish the player for dying, I think the current penalty only makes scoring potentially more restart-prone in the long run. If there is no chance at beating your previous score if you died just once it's better to just restart as soon as you do a mistake, which isn't that unlikely to happen given the game's bullet speed. In the end, you'll want the ideal run to be a 1-life anyway, but if dying doesn't force you to instantly restart unless you are going for the absolute top scores, then it would make players' score progression curve more pleasant IMO.
- I like the idea of a bonus round with some additionnal score potential, though the way it is implemented now also contribute a lot to the death penalties' harshness. Not only you have to one-life the regular section, but you also have to do the same with the harder bonus section otherwise tons of potential points are lost. On top of that, it means a run with all the bonus stages completed will last twice as long as one without any. That's not necessarily an issue in itself but you have to take it into account when deciding on the regular sections' length. As for the bosses, it also feels odd to have to fight them twice in a row but to be honest I found the plane boss' comeback lots of fun to play against. Maybe against longer bosses later on, it may start feeling like a chore though, so maybe the bonus phases can feature new exclusive patterns instead of a harder repeat of the already cleared phases?
-The rotor fan enemy fires white rays in front of him that could easily be interepreted as dangerous but they are thankfully harmless.
- There is a wave at the beginning of Section 3 that is guaranteed to kill you the first time around because the enemies spawn at the very left of the screen and if you don't know you have to stay on the left edge of the screen to kill them you'll get hit. I would remove this specific wave though I admit it actually isn't a big deal once you know it is coming.
-The sections' difficulty levels are not gradual. Aside from the aforementioned wave, Section 3 seems to be the easiest due to its predominance of balloon enemies that don't force you to always move to avoid aimed bullets. In comparison the first section seems a lot more demanding reflex-wise and you can't afford to stay in safe zones for as long because there are plenty of spikeball enemies
- The diagonals aren't normalized. That means you add the vertical and horizontal speed when moving diagonally which makes you move faster actually.
- The rankings should be divided by difficulty level. Scores made in different difficulties are not comparable at all and lumping them all together can make it a pretty frustrating experience if you play a lot on the easier difficulty modes and get some high scores that can lock you out of the scoreboard for a long time when you switch to the more challenging modes.
- I've seen others point it out already, but I second the addition of a dedicated focus button. Having tap for shot and hold for focus as in some arcade shmups has the benefit of making the game playable with just two buttons, but it forbids you from moving slowly without firing, which is something that can actually come in handy in Celestial Crusaders, for example if you want to graze bullets to recharge the bomb without killing the enemies that fire them yet. Or against bosses where you may want to stop firing to milk more bullets out of them.
- Speaking of the bosses, do they have timers? Otherwise you can just milk their bullets forever, can't you? Unless the hit count decreases faster? In any case, I wonder if having the multiplier increase when cancelling the boss' bullets is a good idea. I fear that optimal scoring strategies will force you to shoot as little as possible and fire as many bombs as possible for the duration of each boss phase's timer to increase the hit counter before killing the boss at the last moment everytime to maximize the score payout. I am not fond of boss milking as it makes runs last even longer and isn't as exciting as fighting varied waves of enemies or trying strategies to destroy the bosses as fast as possible. What I could suggest is have the hit counter decrease only during the boss fight (kinda like in Ketsui I guess), and what the bomb can do at best is freeze the descent but never increase its value, so you'll be inclined to kill the boss as fast as possible while trying to use bombs as often as possible to minimize the multiplier loss.
- Is there a pause menu and/or a quick restart function that I have missed? It's always a good feature to have in a shmup.
-While there isn't any performance issue when playing, for some reason, the recordings I am trying to get with OBS Studio are rather jerky. The shiny light green cubes generated at the end of a bonus round in particular generate lots of frame-skipping in the video output but the game in general has issues on my end despite not being too busy from a visual standpoint.
Anyway, I am really enjoying this demo and I love your enthusiasm in the tutorial! The game is already pretty great! By the way, I noticed that there was a Kickstarter campaign for the game a few months ago that unfortunately didn't work out for you. Does that mean Celestial Crusaders' development has been put on hiatus or even abandoned?
Best of luck if you are still working on this!