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Horizontally-scrolling shoot-em-ups haven't moved on since the introduction of two-way scrolling and collectable power-ups. The graphics are snazzier, the scrolling is quicker and the fire-power is more extreme. But you still rely on lots of small aliens whizzing about in formation, some larger aliens that shoot back and one great big alien at the end of the level.

And, rather than introduce any ingenious, innovative or downright 'new' ideas, Starush sticks to the old well-worn routine.

Ubi Soft's one stab of originality comes in the shape of the main herobot, Starush. Rather than possess a set amount of losable lives, he starts his mission on a hover-scooter device. As power-ups are collected, this is upgraded until he is safely cocooned in a small bubble ship. Conversely, contact with the enemy fire reduces Starush's hardware until, at his lowest ebb, he lopes along protected by nothing but his gleaming metal skin. This makes a pleasant change from three booms and 'Game Over', and the power-ups and strategically (or should that be sadistically?) placed so that you're kept hanging on with that last puny life.

Into the game proper and we're talking side-view pseudo-digitised backdrops moving in multi-layer parallax. No surprises there. However, after battling from left to right through several formations of smart-arse alien attackers, you're confronted with a mid-level guardian. Then, upon its demise, you're shuttle back leftwards for a good old ding-dong witht the real boss-baddie. Not particularly innovative, admittedly, but it's surprising just how alien this mode of combat can feel after a staple diet of left-to-right scrollers - bit like sitting the wrong way on a train...

But is it any good? Well, there's a mammoth intro, slick movement, a simultaneous two-player mode, large(ish) guardians and masses of power-ups. But there's something lamentably predictable about it. The gameplay is restrictive, calling on your memory of the level to avoid trouble and there are no real surprises and nothing to place it ahead of similar shooters you might have in your library.

Im Kehrtschritt, marsch!

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Horizontal scrollende Ballerspiele gibt's zwar wie leere Bierdosen am Strand von Mallorca, aber hin und wieder taucht doch mal eines auf, bei dem nicht nur das Intro interessant ist. Wie beispielsweise dieses, mit "doppelt begehbaren" Leveln und je zwei Endgegner...

Starush besteht aus vier Welten (Feuer, Erde, Wasser, Luft), die ihrerseits wiederum aus je drei Leveln bestehen. Damit hätten wir also schon mal zwölf Spielabschnitte. Wie gewöhnt, beginnt man immer ganz links und ballert sich schön gemütlich zum rechten Ende hin durch, wo dann selbstverständlich ein dickes Schlussmonster wartet. Aber jetzt kommt's: Sobald das Untier erledigt ist, macht das Heldensprite automatisch eine Kehrtwendung, und jetzt darf man denselben Level nochmals absolvieren, nur eben in der umgekehrten Richtung!

Natürlich gibt es für den zweiten Durchgang auch wieder einen Satz frischer Gegner. Die obligaten Extrawaffen fehlen ebenfalls nicht, darüber hinaus läßt sich der Held in fünf Stufen "aufrüsten" - anfangs kann er nur gehen und springen, zum Schluß ist er im günstigsten Fall mit so einer Art Mini-UFO unterwegs.

Auch sonst hat Starush (fast) alles, was der Action-Freak begehrt: Hübsch gezeichnete und abwechslungsreiche Grafiken, feines Mehr-Ebenen-Scrolling, wahlweise erträgliche Musik & FX oder auch nur (gute) Soundeffekte, sowie reichlich Optionen (Zwei)-Spieler-Modus, Tastatur/Joystick, die einzelnen Welten sind anwählbar, usw.). Die Joystick-Steuerung ist in Ordnung, nur leider gibt's doch einige unfaire Stellen im Spiel. Schade, aber auch so ist die Ballerei durchaus ein paar "Durchgänge" wert! (C. Borgmeier)

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Fascinating Grammatical Observations, No 655: the phrase 'Worthy but dull'. Doesn't the fact that something's dull automatically exclude it from having any real value? After all, who'd want to fork out £26 for something that was dull, no matter how many redeeming qualities it had (say, for example, all the money was being donated straight to Greenpeace or something)? Eh?

The reason I ask is that the phrase 'worthy but dull' was the one that kept forcing itself persistently into my mind as I played this horizontally-scrolling shoot- 'em-up. It's pretty for a start, the plot's a bit more interesting than usual, there's a neat intro sequence and you can play any of the four worlds (each with three levels, the whole thing representing some evil other-dimensional sign-of-the-zodiac monsters) from the opening menu.

The gameplay has some nice ideas too - instead of having a certain number of lives, each time you get hit by a bullet or enemy, you change to a lower form (from a spaceship to a guy with a jetpack to a guy simply running along the ground and jumping up, for example), each of which has different characteristics (e.g. the soldier on the ground can't reach the higher-up baddies and he's got fairly nobby armaments, but he's smaller and harder to hit) and calls for different gameplay strategies. Of course, you can also collect power-ups which reverse the process (as well as the usual short-lived extra weaponry), building your character up to more controllable and powerful incarnations, but usually these also make you bigger and an easier target for the aliens.

Another interesting idea is that each level comes in two sections - the first scrolls from right to left, ending in what's actually a mid-level guardian, and when that's defeated you scroll back in the opposite direction against new enemies until you get to the real end-of-level boss who appears at your starting position. This might seem pointless and cosmetic, but there's actually a completely different feel to the scrolling-the-wrong-way bit which adds more to the gameplay's variation than you might think.

Pretty damn worthy stuff so far, then, but sadly Starush falls down completely by failing to attach an interesting game to all these neat features. The play area is only about four times the height of your character and the alien attacks are unimaginative and repetitive, and in play the thing's actually deadly boring. For all the groovy bits, this is a lifeless game, and while you couldn't exactly say you were ripped off if you bought it, you'd be pretty unlikely ever to load it up for fun.

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UBI soft go back to basics with an alien-blasting shoot 'em up. Dan Slingsby hits 'em were it hurts.

Hey, this is fun. I'd forgotten what a good laugh a simple little blaster like this could be. Your task is to guide a small android sprite across a horizontally scrolling playfield, wreaking as much havoc as possible as you go. There are four levels to contest, each packed with a wild assortment of reptilian nasties and strange blob-like spheres, as well as three Boss aliens per level. The excuse for all the pyrotechnics and alien slaughter is the usual alien invasion and the imminent destruction of the universe stuff.

Apparently, alien forces, based on the twelve signs of the Zodiac, are responsible for disrupting the universe's gravitational field and, thus, have to be blasted into protoplasmic slime.

Each level is based on a particular theme. For instance, the first world is a mixture of volcanic activity and frozen wastelands while the second world is a combination of jungle vegetation and underground caves. The last two worlds are made up of classic Grecian architecture and aquatic stages. All manner of nasties lie in wait, the majority of them following set attack patterns, while others vary their formations to prove more troublesome.

To help combat these creatures, your advanced tactical weapons system (i.e. the spindly little sprite under your control) can be upgraded with the help of an anti-grav jet-pack, a scooter, an assault platform and a heavily fortified alloy bubble. All help increase your sprite's maneuverability and protection, as well as increasing your firepower. To increase your arsenal still further, there are also a variety of power-ups dotted around each level, the most powerful filling the entire screen with a deathly shower of golden stars.

There's nothing amazing about Starush, but it is immensely playable. No need for complex instructions, hefty manuals or the like, just pick up your joystick and play. Each level is graphically different and throws up a mean selection of alien hordes to slaughter. There's also a two player option so you can blast away in tandem with a friend, which adds to the fun and carnage.

Don't worry about getting stuck on a level and not seeing the rest of the game (a la Project X), as you can pick and choose which level to play. If anything, the game is a little too easy in parts, but the levels are certainly huge. The scrolling is especially smooth and once you've completed one stage, the scrolling reverses and you have to do it all over again. Starush isn't wildly original or innovative, but it is a very entertaining and competent blast.