Just before Christmas, we posted news about 'Starcrossed' from Kajak Games Osk, one of the winners of the 2012 Dare to be Digital contest run by a number of Scottish Universities. Since then I've been dipping into this title frequently, and it's about time this arcade puzzler had a full review.
Version Reviewed: 126.96.36.199
Your goal in Starcrossed is simple. To get to the final planet on each level. Rather than an advanced spaceship, orbital transfer vehicle, or even a jet pack, you have a rocket launcher. Fire off a rocket in any direction, and thanks to Newton's Third Law, you'll head in the other direction. Interestingly (at least for the game mechanic) you'll get a bigger boost if the rocket impacts on a planet - I presume from the explosion pushing back on you as well.
This is where the physics seriously kicks in. Between the planet you are on and the target planet on the other side of the level, are various celestial objects, mostly more planets. You can rocket over to land on them, or you can aim slightly off-centre and go into a graceful orbital path around the planet. With two or three planets close together you can merrily spin your way around them and get yourself to the target 'home' planet as quickly as possible and never touch the ground.
Of course the temptation will be to jump from planet to planet and run around the surface, so you can collect all the stars on a level. If you can manage to do that, within an unspecified time limit, and you use as few rockets as you can, then you'll get the maximum award of "three gold stars" at the end of the level (using the now de rigueur awards system of up to three stars for skillful completion).
And of course all this is complicated by some of the planets being too close to the sun, and others passing through intense regions of cold - you can only spend so long in these regions before your space suit gives up the ghost and you succumb to the environment.
As for the controls, they are very simple. Press your finger down on the astronaut and pull back to set the direction of the rocket firing. It won't fire until you release your finger from the screen, so you can set up the right angle of the shot and release at the right moment in time - arcade reactions will be needed here. Of course, if you're going for the timed levels to get the best winning grade you don't have time to wait for a shot to be lined up, you'll need to flick your finger as quickly as possible to let off your rocket in time to make the jump on the fastest route possible through the planets.
It's clear why Starcrossed picked up a winner's trophy from Dare to be Digital. The design on show in the game is impeccable. The level design and construction has a certain twisted logic, and while the quickest path can be found after a few runs through a level, actually navigating it without missing any stars is no easy task. The graphics are smooth and you move almost balletically between distant planets with the grace of low gravity, while the actual characters and objects are clear to make out, and retain their innocent good looks (and flowing hair) no matter the pressure you put them under as a player.
Perhaps a few more levels would be nice to see, it is over rather too quickly if you push through and don't stop to get a perfect three on each level. That's probably the only flaw in a game that looks great, sounds nice, and plays well. Here's hoping for more titles from the minds of Kajak Games.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at