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Whisker Squadron: Survivor – Review

I’ve lost many an hour to Race the Sun, the endless lo-poly flight game where you need to dodge all kinds of obstacles and boost your way to the inevitable death and hi score you’ll be aiming for. Flippfly LLC has made a few flight games but they’ve often been endless games without an end goal but with Whisker Squadron: Survivor, they’ve got rougelike and placed a definitive end of things.

Whisker Squadron: Survivor is the first game of the Whisker Squadron universe and its a corridor flight game. You’ll fly your craft down a 10 zoned corridor of procedurally generated buildings to avoid and enemies to kill. The bug like enemies will arrive in swarms so you’ll need to dispatch them quick quickly otherwise they’ll open fire and cause you more problems. Ultimately, this game is Starfox meets Race the Sun and placed into a synthwave setting. I am here for it!

The game feels fast, fluid and easy to pilot with plenty going on to keep you on your toes.

Flight handling is sublime and predictable. Using inverted controls feels obvious and simple and with added boosts and wind banking you can make some tight turns and evade trouble like a pro. It’s something the developer has years of experience with and it shows because everything just feels right. The added thing this time around is that you aren’t just flying, you are in combat. As your craft is so flexible, you can aim directly ahead or move into position to take fire before they fire back at you and swiftly bank turn away. If you’ve unlocked the shotgun, you don’t have to be as precise either and that lends itself to move leery diagonal shooting, thus keeping you out of some direct lines of fire. Again, everything feels really well put together and whilst the enemy variety of a little on the small side, there’s plenty to keep you busy as you move through each zone.

Every shot your fire or boost you make requires energy. This means you must be somewhat precise in your movements and crucially, always purposeful. You can’t spam a button as you’ll run out of energy to fire at all. When an enemy blows up it leaves blue collectables that work as in run XP to level up your ship. This means you can potentially kill a lot of enemies but miss all the XP upgrades so again, purposefulness is key. When you level up you are presented with three randomly chosen upgrades to choose from and all of them are helpful. You could increase fire rate, the damage or shot number from your main weapon, the secondary missile weapon power or hit ratio or just increase your energy or health. It’s also a game where the passive abilities really matter. You can add a magnet to collect XP from further away than normal or health replenishments when you chain a combo or kill 10 enemies for example. There are a lot of upgrades and they are all valid depending on how you play.

Bosses can cause plenty of carnage as they’ll often appear with swarms of other enemies and buildings. Take your time and the win will come.

When you die, and you will, your XP transfers to the overarching upgrade system thus giving it a roguelike edge. Runs last around 30 minutes if you can make it to the end but it’ll take you a good few hours to get close. This is because your starter main gun is terribly narrow and underpowered so you’ll be grinding XP to unlock additional weapons. You can also increase your shield, weapon power and other helpful stats but the grind has been extended in a recent update that made me feel like the game might be slightly too drawn out for the enemy variety it has to offer. It might take a few runs of getting about half way to unlock a single tier upgrade on one of about ten upgradeable bits of kit.

Whisker Squadron: Survivor is in early access and the foundations here are great. The reason the score isn’t higher at the moment is that I ran into some odd procedural generation issues. Once a level didn’t spawn any enemies, next time around it threw multiple bosses at me and the overall difficulty seems really topsy turvy. If a few more enemies were added in and the procedural bumpiness was ironed out, then this is a nifty gem in waiting. Enjoyable. Oh, and the pilots are cats that don’t make every sentence a pun. What’s not to love?

Review copy provided by developer. Whisker Squadron: Survivor is out in 2023 on Steam.

Whisker Squadron: Survivor
Final Thoughts
A very solid base for Starfox X Race The Sun with plenty of promise. Just needs a bit of procedural generation smoothing and this will be a gem.
Flight feels sublime.
Upgrade system in the run offers tons of viable options to build your ship in different ways.
Suitably challenging.
Striking aesthetic.
Procedural generation issues mean runs can feel lopsidedly difficulty or sometimes empty.
Needs a few more enemies.

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