Many indie titles evoke memories of the past. Often the product of a developer’s love of games from their childhood, these projects aim to recreate and sometimes modernize mechanics that haven’t exactly seen a lot of love in recent years. While some can completely misinterpret what made those inspirational titles so compelling, occasionally a game will come along and not only successfully capture the spirit of retro games, but bring its own unique twist on the concept.

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Nerve Software’s Bunstar is an overhead action-puzzle game heavily inspired by Bomberman. Telling the story of an evil corporation ruining the environment of an island nation, players are tasked with leading a group of eco-terrorists on a quest to stop them from destroying their land entirely. Armed with a bevy of explosives, Burnstar and friends must navigate a variety of levels filled with poison puddles, spike traps, lasers, guns and other hazards with the goal of blowing up enough stuff to do some serious damage to the evil corporation’s plans.

The core rhythm of the gameplay consists of exploring the environment to acquire vital weapons needed to set off the chain reaction explosions necessary to unlock the exit gate. Each stage has a limited number of weapons, so the player must use them wisely to achieve maximum boom. Alongside those worries, Burnstar and pals have to be diligent in paying attention to the various behaviors of the dangerous items throughout each level. Exploding boxes, flammable goo, and more all have distinct reactions to being near the destruction, and can lead to chaotic results if actions are not thought through.

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While the main tenets of the game are consistent across each level, item and obstacle placement become increasingly insidious as things progress.  Oftentimes you’ll run yourself in to a corner with no course of action (due to reckless use of bombs.) or run into the myriad of hazards which cause instant death. Thankfully restarting is a simple button press away, but it can be a bit frustrating after the twentieth try.

Controlling Burnstar and his pals is generally responsive and satisfying, though at times less than precise via gamepads. There were a few times where using analog sticks to direct the lil’ pyromaniac led me to die on spike walls because the controls didn’t allow me to make the sharp turns I really needed for some of the more frantic maneuvers late in the game. It worked well enough, but I couldn’t help shake the feeling that it could’ve been fine-tuned a bit better. Thankfully, Nerve gave each of the four playable characters a specific power or move that helps them get around or avoid destruction, such as a dash move, or the ability to freeze an object. Ultimately they function as skills to be used in an emergency, never being absolutely required for any given level.

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One interesting feature is the inclusion of two player local co-op for the entire game. While success in Burnstar can be even harder to attain when a second human is involved, it is admirable to see such an option supported on every level. It takes real communication between players to avoid massive screwups, but when both people successfully clear a stage, it can be exhilarating.

The real unsung hero of Burnstar is the music. The score helps the game make an entrance with an infectious and funky tune that feels straight out of a retro spy games like James Bond 007 or Spy Hunter. The rest of the game is accented by similarly pleasant synth funk, keyboard diddles, and aggressive drum beats that really give the proceedings a lot of personality. Along with the art direction presenting a bold and colorful world full of big squishy boxes, goofy little gasmask wearing munchkins, and crazy technology, it all comes together for a really pleasant audio-visual experience.

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Burnstar feels like a game rooted in tradition, but does a lot to mix up some basic concepts from 16-bit arcade and console classics to make for an addictive yet at times frustrating experience. Those yearning for another Bomberman might be disappointed with this game’s focus on single player action-puzzle challenges, but what is there is fun in its own right and will stir memories of the Hudson Soft classic.

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