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Whisker Squadron

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action
Developer: Flippfly
Release Date: 2021

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PC Preview - 'Whisker Squadron'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 22, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Whisker Squadron is a fresh take on forward-scrolling aerial combat where you choose your pilot and fight your way through procedurally generated worlds and epic, randomized boss fights.

When it comes to indie games that are inspired by Nintendo classics, the usual suspects always get name-checked: The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Pokémon, and Super Mario Bros. When someone mentions a classic that is rarely emulated, people tend to take notice. That's what's happening with Whisker Squadron, the latest game from the developers of Race the Sun.

From the moment you lay eyes on the logo, you know that Whisker Squadron takes inspiration from StarFox. It plays rather similarly to the 16- and 64-bit iterations of the game rather than anything from the disc-based entries. You fly a craft that looks different from the Arwing; it always goes forward and can go a little further to the right or left. You can bank left or right to move faster in those directions or use your vertical status to slip past narrow gaps. You can even do a barrel roll to avoid enemy fire. You can also choose which path you want to travel down at the end of each level to give yourself a custom route to the end. For fans of the series, this title hits those feelings of nostalgia hard.


Of course, this isn't a carbon copy of the gameplay, so several changes make it very different from Fox McCloud's adventures. Your laser cannon works on a cooldown, so you must pace your shots instead of mashing on the fire button. That might disappoint some players, but it isn't a huge hurdle. Instead of having one pilot to control, you get to choose between two pilots, with the promise of four once the full roster is unlocked. The choice is important since that determines which special weapon you have, such as a screen-filling bomb that delivers medium-sized damage or a triple cluster of homing missiles. The rings you pass through act as multipliers for crystals, which are currency for buying things like health or better laser cannon cooldowns.

The biggest change is the game's change from being a semi-linear adventure to a full-on roguelike. Many people may have already been turned off by that word, since it seems like you can stumble upon a few roguelikes a week, but this type of shooter is rare. Here, the game takes on just about every aspect you'd expect with the levels, enemies, bosses, and path destinations being randomized or procedurally generated. Your ship has a health bar that carries over between stages, and there's no guarantee that you'll run across a merchant or a stop where you're lucky enough to get a power-up. You have one life to work with, and unlike many modern roguelikes, there's no sign that anything from previous runs is carried over. It naturally adds some replayability to the game, so you can't just take a few paths and see everything the game has to offer.


The presentation is going for something reminiscent of the team's previous title. Whisker Squadron is purposefully low-polygon, with some flat shading and minimal textures to give it a colorful yet minimalist feel. The frame rate is high until you start using triple missiles, while the portraits show off a colored manga look. The music is quite good, though the lack of voices stops the game from feeling completely like StarFox. This is a very early demo, so there are a few rough spots that you can't help but notice, like the pop-in that occurs when objects are far away and the overall scarcity of options.

At the moment, Whisker Squadron is hitting all of the right notes. The look is stylized, but the core mechanics feel like the old Nintendo classic. The option for selectable pilots is very good, and the decision to make it a roguelike fits well enough to provide the game with some replayability. Although Whisker Squadron doesn't have a more concrete release date, we can't wait to check out more of it as the year progresses.



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