I’ll probably lose my retro street cred for this, but I have never played a Star Fox game ever. Hear me out though. I could only afford to buy one game every year with my school allowance, and fighting games and JRPGs were all the rage back then, so I opted to buy games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy III instead, and eventually, I moved on to other games and forgot about Star Fox.
Decades later, I received an opportunity to review Whisker Squadron: Survivor, a flight shooter roguelite developed and published by Flippfly, a team that previously created Race the Sun, a flight exploration game that enjoyed moderate success, earning a 94% “Very Positive” rating on Steam, so when it comes to flight-based games, they know their way around. Needless to say, saying “yes” to reviewing the game was a no-brainer.
Whisker Squadron: Survivor is a spin-off to the Whisker Squadron, and it’s actually weird saying that the former is a spin-off because the latter hasn’t even been released yet! Still, the core gameplay is the same, but Survivor contains roguelite elements, which we’ll discuss in a bit.
Let’s get down to the game’s main aspect: flight. It shouldn’t be surprising that Flippfly got this part right, and that is indeed the case. The way it works is that you control your ship’s crosshair using your mouse or analog stick, and when it reaches the edge, the ship also moves in that direction. The way the game handles these flight controls is amazing, as I’m able to fully control where my ship goes which is really important as you’re able to do “Tight Boosts” (a feature in the game where you use your speed boosters and go through a really narrow space at the same time, giving you certain bonuses) with relative ease.
I must admit that, at first, the controls seemed weird to me because prior to playing Whisker Squadron: Survivor, I played another game that is heavily influenced by flight: No Man’s Sky. A few runs later, I’ve gotten used to the controls and was actually doing really cool stuff. I could even do a barrel roll (guess where they got that from).
One thing to note about the game though is that your ship can NOT turn around and kill the enemies that you pass by as it only flies straight. This doesn’t seem to be a bother at least for me because it gives me an arcadey feel which I really dig.
Embrace the Chaos
One thing I didn’t expect about this game is that things can get really chaotic really fast. One moment I was destroying one scarab at a time, and then I had to go through a ton of scarabs, turrets, and their bullets the next. It might be too much for some, but I love it!
It keeps you on your toes about which target you eliminate first, and which weapons to use so you won’t run out of resources (missile ammo is limited while you could run out of energy firing your primary weapon). That kind of decision-making, plus the fact that the game also has modifiers that make the game even harder but reward you with more “VP”, which is how you unlock permanent progression, make the game fun and challenging.
The weapons in this game, built-in or from upgrades, definitely are very effective at eliminating targets. The primary weapons, oddly enough, are the least effective though. You have the standard Laser Cannon that fires one bullet at a time, a Burst Blaster that fires multiple bullets in a cone, a Gatling Gun that fires an insane amount of bullets after a charging time but the aim isn’t the best, and a Pulse Laser that deals more damage the longer you charge it, but you have to be precise when targeting enemies as this has a high chance of missing even if you just missed by a hair.
At the moment, you only have two missile weapon options: a Multi Missile Launcher where you lock in targets when you hold the missile button, then fire homing missiles at those targets when you release the button, and a Crater Missile Launcher that produces a massive explosion either when the missile reaches a certain distance or hits an enemy or building. The number of missile options may be few, but both are definitely effective.
Lastly, you have weapons you get from ship upgrades. Weapons like Proximity Zappers, Missile Drones, Laser Drones, and more are very helpful when clearing a massive amount of targets on the screen.
A Rogue-light Roguelite
If we end this article right now, Whisker Squadron: Survivor would’ve gotten a really high score, but this is a site about roguelites, so we’re definitely rating this game for its roguelite elements, and sadly, it doesn’t have that much in its current state.
First off, the permanent progression is below average. There are only 3 ships available, 4 primary weapons, 2 missile weapons, and some ship upgrades. Speaking of ship upgrades, the global ship upgrades are okay, but the exclusive ones are really not that good. Sure it helps you get stronger, but the upgrades are so uninspired. I was hoping for something like “this ship would automatically fire missiles if it gets hit” or “doing a barrel roll will create a vacuum-like” weapon that sucks enemies in, not “increase the efficiency of your speed boost” or “increase your energy recharge rate”. Don’t get me wrong, those are helpful in their own right, but it’s just so vanilla.
One roguelite feature they did right though is the ship upgrade system which you get to pick among three (or four if you picked Max, the pilot that gives you an additional upgrade option) ship upgrades when you level up. It’s your typical upgrade option you see in “Survivor” games like Vampire Survivors, but it’s the upgrade you get that is exciting because the build you get could define your entire run. The one thing I hope is added to the game in the future is a reroll system.
If you read the first paragraph of this article, you’d know that I love fighting games, so you can bet that I love combos! This game has a combo system that increases the amount of VP you get when you eliminate targets without getting hit but you have to eliminate your next target at a certain timeframe after your last kill in order to keep that combo alive.
I find it frustrating, especially on early levels, that at times enemies just wouldn’t spawn during that timeframe where you need to get that next kill, so the combo is broken, and it’s not even your own fault. This though pales in comparison to my next gripe with this game which I absolutely HATE. Not dislike: HATE.
I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but I have never played a game where it punishes you for clearing a level or zone. Remember the combo system and what breaks it? Well, when you clear a level, you get inside this incredibly long tunnel and have a short dialogue, which is totally fine. What isn’t fine though is that as all of these are happening, YOUR COMBO TIMEFRAME IS STILL ACTIVE. That’s right, your combo gets broken when you clear zones!
There have been countless 100+ combos I’ve had in the game that were wasted just because I cleared the zone. The worst part is that you get some bonuses for extending combos so that just doubles the frustration.
I hope Flippfly does something about this because, man, that is some Grade-A bull.
Whisker Squadron: Survivor is, at its core, a very fun challenging game that will definitely have you wanting more. It does get kind of repetitive at times, but for me, that’s not a bad thing because it means I get to kill targets the same way over and over!
Still, there are a lot of improvements to be made, especially on the roguelite aspect of the game, and that combo system is such an amazing mechanic, but I hope that zone clear issue gets fixed in the future.
Overall, if you’re looking for a Star Fox-like game that has roguelite elements sprinkled in, then look no further. Whisker Squadron: Survivor is that game, and when you start that first run, see how fast time flies by.
P.S. I forgot to mention that the main characters are cats. That’s a plus for me!
Whisker Squadron: Survivor (Early Access)
+ Amazing core gameplay
+ Run-defining weapons and upgrades
+ Zones vary from calm to extremely chaotic
– Very bland permanent progression
– Late levels can be a bit unfair
– Clearing zones break combos (ARRRGGGHHH!!!)