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Pester Review: Hefty Challenge, Limited Appeal
There was a time when games were judged on a simpler scale. Most games didn’t feature complex narratives or secret endings; most them had you chasing a high score. If it was difficult enough to master to keep you learning and fun enough to keep you going, you were doing something right. If Pester is to be judged on this scale, it is a success. It fuses familiar gunship gameplay with carrot-on-a-stick progression, but doesn’t do much to pull in gamers who aren’t already a fan to the genre.
The moment-to-moment gameplay will be familiar to anybody who has played Galaga. You fly a ship around the screen, in this case one that can go up and down along with side to side, shooting strange alien beings out of the sky. The action is fast and brutal; my first couple of runs ended in seconds. One hit can destroy your ship, and avoiding the cavalcade of enemy fire on screen is no easy task. If you want to excel at Pester, prepare to put in the hours.
Piloting your ship around works as well here as it ever has. Controls are basic but tight, relying on little more than the stick for moving, one button for shooting and one button for consumable bombs. Pesters key feature is the hyper bar. Defeated enemies drop coins, which in turn fill your hyper bar. Once full, you can activate Hyper Mode, which ups your firepower and acts like a coin magnet. Managing your hyper bar is key to maximizing your score, which in turn is how you unlock the extra game modes.
Pester boasts over 100 ways to play the game, but this mainly consists of various mixtures of a few variables. There are two base game modes: Classic and Tempest, which is a time-based mode. With either of these, you can activate a number of modifiers, including Expert mode (which ups you score in favor of harder gameplay) and Reverse (which inverts your controls). My favorite was Duo, which grants you two ships you control independently with both sticks. Boss Battle, Survival and Asteroid Belt modes can be unlocked, but neither change the fundamental gameplay that is the heart of Pester.
No matter which way you play, this is an incredibly hard game. It took me two days of heavy play to reach the first new unlock, and I still have a long way to go before I’ll see everything. I suggest playing in at least Expert mode, because the path to the highest score can be a brutal slog. The score multiplier helps tremendously.
Besides the new modes, hitting specific circumstances can net you new cosmetic ship skins, backgrounds and music. Pester aims for the retro look with pixelated graphics and arcade scan lines. Luckily, the latter can be turned off, as they made the already mediocre graphics even worse. Pester tries to convey nostalgia with its art style, but it doesn’t quite catch the magic. It just looks like an old game, warts and all. The maddeningly small screen size doesn’t help matters; my kingdom for a full screen option.
Pester is a competent shooter, but therein lies the problem. There are a lot of competent shooters out there, and Pester does little to stand out amongst the pack. If you are looking for a challenge, you could do worse for your eighty points. If you are looking for the next big shooter innovation, look elsewhere.