Strike Suit Zero is an amalgamation of east and west: its mechanics were germinated in Guildford by indie studio Born Ready Games, but its ships were designed in Japan by renowned mecha artist Junji Okubo. This cultural exchange has spawned a beautiful game, one blessed with cherry blossom pink contrails and rich blue nebulae. But the results of Strike Suit Zero provenance aren’t merely visual.
Born Ready Games references classic PC space shooters when talking about its game, resurrecting spectres of FreeSpace and Freelancer, X-Wing and TIE Fighter – western games still seen as the pinnacle of a space combat genre scuttled years back. Strike Suit Zero nods to those titles via its earnest sci-fi setting, upgradeable ships and an array of weapons with which to outfit your chosen craft, but its closest analogue is as eastern as its artist: Lylat Wars (née Star Fox).
It has the same arcade flight controls, colourful interpretation of solar system space, and scrolling text attached to passport-photo faceplates as Nintendo’s ship-based shooter. It’s not like playing Lylat’s on-rails story missions, however, but rather its free-roaming dogfighting sessions. Strike Suit Zero’s camera, as in Nintendo’s game, sits far from the cockpit by default, giving a wide, thirdperson field of view. It makes spotting single bogeys positioning themselves on your six fairly easy early on, and shaking solo chasers off is only a little trickier – the result of some mild juking and application of your craft’s brake. Danger comes with quantity: the game fills its neon space with wing after wing of enemies, and keeping track of them all is functionally impossible. There’s no radar, and the pretty red trails enemies leave aren’t always distinct enough to follow in combat. Successfully drop in behind an enemy and things are easy enough, though: the air brake slows you to a crawl, and the turbo-thrusters make it simple to stay on another’s tail through evasive manoeuvres.
Tailing a foe and popping their ship like a spiky, superheated tin can stays thrilling for much of Strike Suit Zero, but space combat isn’t one-note. A secondary weaponset can be picked before a mission, ranging from high-damage dumbfire rockets to enemy-seeking missiles. These weapons are finite, and managing them is key. Hurl fire-and-forget missiles at targets out of their range and they’ll fizzle out in the void. But a carefully guided rocket barrage can cripple the flak cannons and plasma guns on a capital ship, leaving it beached like a spacefaring whale, ready to be picked apart by the sharp jabs of your plasma gun.
Smaller, fighter-sized foes start off flimsy when faced with your own weapons, a few shots from your main plasma cannon rending their armoured hulls. Later fighters are tougher, their shielding necessitating a different approach to brute plasma force; instead, use your machine gun to fill the sky with shield-shredding lead, switching to your main armament when your opponent’s first layer of protection is gone. It’s satisfying, especially given the speed at which machine gun bullets tear through the red bar that indicates shielding, but it’s also a little fiddly, with weapon swaps mapped to the D-pad. On a 360, we had to adopt a semi-monkey-claw grip in tense dogfights, reaching down to flip between guns as enemy flak filled the sky. Tweakable controls salve the pain, yet don’t change the fact that Strike Suit Zero has too many controls to fit truly comfortably on a pad.