Straco: Episode One Review

A week or so after playing Xbox indie  game Straco, it’s still difficult to accurately describe what the game is, or if it does a good job of entertaining. It meanders between the genres of tower defense and straight up twin-stick shooting action. Problem is, you just wish it would stick to one or the other, as it struggles to combine the two in a cohesive manner. It also struggles to explain any of this in coherent fashion due to the explosion of text in the tutorials (yes, there are more than one).

And it’s a shame to start the review off in such a negative way, because the execution works well and offers some level of fun gameplay. The tower defense section is your standard fare, but it’s executed solidly. Problem is, it can all get a little overwhelming when combined with the action shooting sections. If you compare it to something like FTLgame’s Faster Than Light, which blends tactical play with the general housekeeping of your ship, Straco simply doesn’t hold up as well when merging its two separate elements together.


The heads-up display (HUD) in Straco is an explosion of information that would have benefited from being trimmed down. Perhaps it’s just a personal preference, but the cluttered screen during gameplay is just an eyesore. And between the HUD and the chaos of the general gameplay, you have no idea where to look half the time.

Graphically Straco doesn’t stand out, but ironically that is what makes it different from other similar games. Many games on the XBLA Indie Marketplace try to go way above their level, which means either the gameplay suffers or the artwork looks out of place. Here, the sprites are clean and functional and the background is a patchwork of colours that represent sea, ground, forest and so on. The only shame is that the environment has no effect on your movement or abilities, whether you’re on foot or in the giant mechanical machine. This renders the change of colours more or less useless, but at least it’s better than a 100×100 grid of grey.


It’s understandable that games created by small teams, one or two people will multitask between programming, art, and audio. But that doesn’t excuse how poor and misplaced the soundtrack for this game is. It honestly might have been better to avoid using music altogether and take the Desert Strike route – especially with the helicopter sections.

Straco is by no means a bad game, but it just suffers from trying to spin too many plates at once. The minefield that is the tutorials and controls will turn off many players before they even get halfway through the first mission. And with Straco planned as the first of a series of episodic games, it will be difficult to see each episode garnering any new players. Straco has potential, it just needs major fine-tuning to realise any of that potential.

Overall Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

This game was reviewed using a copy provided by the developer for that purpose.

© 2013, The Indie Mine. All rights reserved.

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BA(Hons) in Game Cultures - Southbank University Freelance Writer Poor Musician

10 Responses to “Straco: Episode One Review”

  1. January 25, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    Fair assessment, I think. The review might benefit from a bit more detail about the strengths and weaknesses, though – something illustrate how Straco’s hybridisation of genres fails where other games succeed. You state that it does fail, but don’t really explain why or how.

  2. January 25, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Being a fan of tower defense games, I kept meaning to get around to trying this one, but never have. I wonder if this is one of those games where you just have to keep practicing at it before it finally clicks. I was ready to write off the shmup Aeternum last month, but eventually broke through that barrier of figuring out where to look while the chaos was going on.

    I’m really curious to see if they do eventually come out with a 2nd episode for this.

  3. January 25, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    Thanks for the review! I’m stuck at 100 sales so any additional sales I will attribute directly to this review :) .

    You compared STRACO to FTL! I feel so honored! Even if I don’t “hold up well”, being compared to such a high profile kickstarter success story is pretty sweet.

    With that all out of the way: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo *gasp* OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo….. I’m SOOOO CLOSE to being done with the next version which (hopefully) addresses almost all of your issues with the game (you can see some of the changes on my website : Hopefully you will give STRACO a second chance when I’m done with it. ETA, 2 weeks… probably… ;)

    Thanks again for the review!

    • March 25, 2013 at 10:44 am #

      Two weeks? More like 2 months!

      Anyway, the new version is available now on the Marketplace!

  4. January 26, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    How much % tower defense is the game? We might do a review!

  5. January 26, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    I’d say it’s about 30% tower defense right now, but I’m trying to push it up to 50% for the next release.

  6. January 27, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    The concept sounds terrifically interesting to me.

    We’ve seen a handful of 3D tower defense x aRPG/3PS games in Dungeon Defenses, Sanctum, and Orcs Must Die. Straco seems like it would a natural extension of that.
    In fact, I imagine that any of the games mentioned could be turned into a top-down 2D tower defense x aRPG.

    I wonder if any UI elements from those 3 games could be used to significantly improve Straco?

    Also, why no PC release?

  7. January 28, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    @Ken – I honestly haven’t played any of those games, I’ll definitely check them out to see how they handle everything. Funny thing: I actually have Orks Must Die… just never played it. Oh so many games on Steam that I’ve purchased but not played…

    There’s no PC release because I’ve been focusing on fixing up the XBLIG version. As is it works 100% on PC with both controller and keyboard mouse support. In fact, my primary test environment is PC with KB/M :). I also want to include my game editing tools in the PC release, and they aren’t exactly user friendly just yet…

    • January 30, 2013 at 4:25 am #

      Sanctum is on sale for $2.50 right now if you want to check it out.
      Dungeon Defenders generally drops down to $3.75 on steam on sale, and it’s been indie-bundled before.
      >ok just watched a gameplay video of the first stage<
      I think there are some key differences between Straco and those three games – and the reviewer alluded to this. OMD, DD, and Sanctum all worked rather well because they were primarily tower defense, but forced you to be active during and between the waves to maintain your towers and clean up creeps that get through the cracks. There's a very rhythmic flow – build, watch incoming waves attack, maintain & hold off, repair, repeat. From what I'm seeing of Straco, and I applaud you for it, is to get away from the rinse-repeat formula, and to keep the mission fresh. I think that ends up being tough for players, as the tower defense + twin stick shooter genre isn't at all established, so there's that steep initial comprehension curve. Without giving them a chance to really settle into a groove, you're not allowing them to really develop tactics before throwing in the twists.
      One way to ease people in would be to start the first mission, and focus on a traditional tower defense, and have the stage completely playable without the use of direct combat. In fact, keep the player underpowered as to discourage direct combat. Increase the difficulty, and focus on strategic tower placement solutions for the remainder of the first "world". Once in the second world, then you could start to tighten up resources, and force the player into direct combat. I think that would help clean up the flow of the game. As it stands, the 8 minute gameplay demo i watched was very hectic.

      • January 31, 2013 at 10:21 am #

        That’s funny, my current direction to fix my game is the EXACT OPPOSITE: focus more on the twicks and less on the TD. Hopefully I didn’t make a huge mistake. I should definitely make the first real mission longer and less devastating to new players…

        Changes so far: 6 tower limit, you no longer need to be in a helicopter to manage towers, towers have persistent upgrades, player unit also has upgrades that use the same resource as the towers so the player can pick if they want more twicks or more TD, um… other stuff… My ETA of 2 weeks was probably a little optimistic. I’m not saying I won’t be done in time, but I probably won’t ;)

        Hey! I have Dungeon Defenders from HIB7! Sweet! Too bad I missed that sale on Sanctum… :(

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