The bots — journeying across the galaxy in their starship: The Stella — need to find lots of Nova Crystals, each containing the energy of an entire supernova, in order to complete their mission. However, their initial search for precious Nova Crystals quickly leads into a series of skirmishes with the Larvos — an aggressive insectoid species — whom also seem attracted by the valuable energy stones. Even more troubling is that evidence — collected from each investigation — begins to suggest that some far more sinister alien race, known as the Ah’gressi, may in fact be deliberately spreading the Larvos across the universe.
Thus goes the set up to Stellar Wars (out now, $1.99), the most recent strategy/action title by Liv Games: creators of the previously well received Legendary Warsand Monster Wars, and publisher of Zen Wars. The bulk of the experience plays out in a manner similar to a lane-defense game: you are in control of your robots — built from harvested ore — across three lanes of action, all while you defend your ship long enough to accomplish a specific goal. Meanwhile — in other stages — you will be manually flying their spaceship through a shoot’em up scenario, or even taking direct control of a single robot attempting to avoid obstacles and enemies on an auto scrolling path.
During the general defense stages, which comprise the bulk of Stellar Wars’ gameplay, you begin by assigning miner robots to start excavating a nearby cave for precious ore resources. Once a bot has been instructed to begin mining, the miner will — according to its stats — automatically begin ferrying loads of precious ore back to your landing craft on a regular schedule. The player can further help to accelerate this process by tapping the miner-bot whenever it is actively hauling ore back to the ship, which will manually retrieve the valuable ore far more expediently.
The player can — once enough ore has been gathered up — start the construction of their primary robots, which is done by pressing the appropriate icon on the lower left-hand side of the screen. While bots will initially begin in whichever lane that the deployment arrow was currently pointing to, players can afterwards reposition them wherever they wish by first tapping the robot and then tapping a destination. The robots are also smart enough to automatically switch lanes should they ever notice a nearby intruder, this will also be done by support units should they ever notice a nearby comrade in need of help.
Of course, players don’t actually have to control their entire army — which can quickly become quite massive during the later levels — exclusively by tapping on them one unit at a time. At the top of the screen are buttons for forwards — stop — and reverse, which can be used at any time to sally forth all units identical to whichever bot was most recently tapped upon. The only action that players absolutely must command their units to perform on an individual basis is the special attack function, whose button is situated on the lower right-hand side of the screen.
Each unit in your army will have a special attack unique to them: such as Gizmobots shooting a giant laser beam that covers their entire lane, or Rex-bots burying a landmine that goes off the next time a Larvos crawls over it. However, bots can only use this move when there are enough volts remaining in the drop-ship’s volt-gauge (whose maximum capacity, and starting value, can both be upgraded over time). The properly timed usage of these special moves is absolutely vital to a player’s success, especially if they wish to finish a level with a prodigious haul of ore still remaining in their ship’s hold.
The ore that a player walks away from a stage is broken into two components: the unspent ore that their miners gathered before the level ended, and an additional reward value that is added on top of that. This ore can then be used to permanently increase the stats of all field deployable units, greatly increasing their effectiveness, as well as improving various facets of the drop-ship (such as the volt-gauge capacity). While a player can attempt to win a stage purely through building redundant units, having unspent ore remaining is utterly vital for expediting the enhancement of your various robots (especially since a level’s inherent ore reward diminishes greatly on replays).
Now while ore is all nice and dandy for upgrading the abilities of your units, or at least up to a certain point, one is unable to use the stuff to add the existence of new robot types to their reserves. For that a player will need the aforementioned Nova Crystals that I mentioned while discussing Stellar Wars’ plot, and these items will only ever be awarded from a stage the first time it is played (assuming the level even has one at all). Nova Crystals can also be used to unlock a new set of upgrades for a unit, increasing the bot’s version number in the process, after all of its current stats have already been maxed out.
It is at this point that one might think they have finally sniffed out Stellar Wars’ hidden pay-wall, but I am here to say that Nova Crystals are handed out a fairly sane pace (and early on they will even tell you what you should actually be unlocking next). While unit upgrades will sometimes require you to grind for ore, the actual cost of the these enhancements — despite the fact an ore doubler exists — were all very reasonable. Furthermore — should someone actually want to expedite their gameplay — the developers at Liv Games are offering a truly ludicrous amount of Ore and Crystals for a mere $19.99, which is a far cry from the $99 that many other developers have asked for.
I know that I have not yet spent any time explaining how Stellar Wars’ alternate action based stages are played, primarily because this review would go on forever if I tried to do so. What I will comment on — however — are the sidescrolling shoot’em up segments that sometimes happen at the end of a planet, wherein you manually control the bots’ ship as they attempt to escape the Larvos horde below. During these segments you can manually drag the ship around the screen in all directions as you attempt to avoid directly crashing into enemies, or any of the projectiles that they regularly launch at you.
The player doesn’t need to do anything to manage the spaceship’s guns, as they will fire automatically all on their own (with the actual rate of fire being determined by the ore the player has spent upgrading the ship’s gun speed). What a player does have control over is when the ship’s primary — secondary — and defensive counter measures are activated, the buttons for which are all on the screen’s lower left-hand side. Using these will require you to expend some of the ore that the destroyed enemies can drop, meaning that these must be used sparingly if you wish to have any extra ore left over when the level ends.
In the end, Stellar Wars — with its controls that easily enable you to micro/macro manage your army, coupled with fairly priced IAPs that are purely optional — is sure to bring joy to iOS users whom have been searching for a solid sci-fi themed action/strategy title. Stellar Wars always manages to provide the player with a pleasant level of challenge during the strategy sections, without ever becoming too hard or easy in the process (and there even exists extra hard challenges for those whom wish to manually opt into them). Even the controls for the alternate action based segments are adequately up to the task at hand, which is normally where a game such as this would manage to fumble the ball that it had otherwise been successfully carrying.
iFanzine Verdict: Stellar Wars — with its solid controls, reasonable challenge, and unobtrusive IAPs — is yet another successful iOS release from the developers over at Liv Games, and sure to please anyone searching for an action-strategy hybrid. The mix of gameplay types — such as the occasional sidescrolling shoot’em up segment — really help to keep Stellar Wars from ever becoming boring, which is absolutely vital to a game where you regularly have to grind for resources. While the normal asking price of $1.99 is already a steal for a title of this quality, there currently exists a promotional offer where Stellar Wars — with 100% complete unhindered functionality — can be obtained entirely for free (and shouldn’t be missed).