Stargunner is a Horizontal Scrolling Shooter released in 1996 by Apogee Software.
In the distant future in the Andromeda galaxy, the Zilions begin to harbour a thirst for conquest. They prepare for an invasion on a nearby planet, Ytima. The Ytimians, suspecting a build-up of Zilian forces and knowing full well that they will not survive against an all-out Zilian invasion of Ytima, train an elite squadron of pilots, known as Stargunners, to attack the Zilians's three strongholds on their planet first, before the war fleets of Zile receive deployment orders.
Released on November 19, 1996, Stargunner boasts some impressive VGA graphics and a great soundtrack. It was also the last game sold under the Apogee brand—subsequent games released by the same company, the first being Duke Nukem 3D, would bear the 3D Realms brand—until Duke Nukem: Critical Mass was released in 2011.
The game has 33 stages divided into four parts, with the first one, a six-stage episode called Scout Mission, being the only available episode in the Shareware version, detailing the Stargunners' reconnaissance against all three strongholds of Zile. The full version adds three nine-stage episodes, titled Stellar Attack, Terran Assault and Aquatic Combat, with each episode detailing the strike on each of the Zilions' three strongholds.
In between each stage, you are allowed to purchase upgrades for your ship using credits accumulated throughout the game. These upgrades range from top and bottom sidearms and engine upgrades that make your ship more responsive in flight to satellites, or moons, that orbit your ship and extra lives.
The actual game itself can be run smoothly on a computer with a 486DX/33 processor, which is quite a feat given that said processor was manufactured seven years before the game's release and most other MS-DOS games released at around the same time as Stargunner required a 486DX/66 (which has double the processing speed) to run just as well.
This game provides examples of:
- Aerial Canyon Chase: A Stargunner, being chased by two of Zile's Elite Mooks during the game's intro cutscene, does this in an asteroid field, successfully causing one to smash into a stray asteroid.
- Asteroid Thicket: Stage 2 of Scout Mission and Stages 4 and 6 of Stellar Attack have asteroid field segments that can be quite dangerous if you don't have your main weapon powered up high enough and/or are using sidearms that do not really focus on forward firepower, such as the Maxipow Evolter.
- Beam Spam: The Dual Laser, which combines the heavy damage of a cannon that shoots big Slow Lasers forwards and backwards with the firing rate of an automatic weapon."If they see this one fire, they are already dead."
- Boss Battle: There's one at the end of every stage. More specific examples include:
- Bullfight Boss: Stage 2 of Scout Mission, Stages 6 and 7 of Stellar Attack and Stages 3 and 9 of Aquatic Combat.
- Cap: A designer-imposed inventory cap exists in the form of the maximum number of Nuke Blasts (four), moons (two) and extra lives (nine) you can carry on your ship at one time."Your ship can only take 4 nukes!""You've already got two moons!""You've got enough already!"
- Cognizant Limbs: Many bosses have some kind of appendage which they can use to burn through your extra lives by either giving them more places to fire shots from or using them as an extension of themselves while trying to ram you.
- Continuing is Painful: If you die during a level and have lives to spare, your primary weapon drops two levels when you respawn. This can happen surprisingly often due to Stargunner being Nintendo Hard, even on Ensign difficulty.
- Covers Always Lie: The cover looks nothing like the game. In fact, it looks like it was made for a completely different game.
- Damage-Sponge Boss: If a boss doesn't attempt to rush you, it automatically falls into this category.
- Direct Continuous Levels: The latter two-thirds of Stellar Assault, Terran Attack and Aquatic Combat feature several stages that are directly continuous to one another, separated only by the bonus points given out at the end of the preceding stage and the shop screen between the stages.
- Dodge by Braking: A Stargunner, being pursued by one of Zile's Elite Mooks, does this near the end of the game's intro cutscene.
- Dual Boss: The two huge red manta-rays in one of the middle levels of Aquatic Combat, as well as the absurdly long serpent-like creatures in the last two stages of the same episode.
- Earth-Shattering Kaboom: If you defeat the final stage guardian of Aquatic Combat, you trigger and escape the destruction of planet Zile, shown in a following cutscene.
- Every 10,000 Points: Apart from buying extra lives or obtaining them from powerups during levels, you can also get extra lives through scoring. The first extra life is given to you when you reach 500,000 points and the second is given at 1,000,000 points. You get extra lives for every 1,000,000 points after that.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: In addition to the Zilion ships, you also have to find your way around the surrounding structures, volcanoes and the creatures that live in the seas of Zile; this is especially important on Admiral difficulty, where hitting anything that isn't a bullet typically results in instant death. The only exceptions to this trope are the defecting Zilions in Stellar Attack, who give you points for flying into them instead of pulverising them with your weapons.
- Final Boss: The stage guardian every two levels in Scout Mission and every three levels in the rest.
- Flunky Boss: The most common examples of this are promoted mooks who have smaller mooks attached to them.
- Have a Nice Death: In the full version, when you run out of lives, you are given the option to retry, while at the same time watching your ship's flaming wreckage streaking towards the ground. If it crashes before you press Y or N, the game assumes N.
- Idiosyncratic Difficulty Names: Ensign, Captain, and Admiral, which corresponds to easy, normal and hard respectively.
- Kill It with Fire: The Flamer. Although lacking in range, it can vaporise almost anything that touches it, including projectiles.
- MOD: Used for the game's music.
- Macross Missile Massacre: Stage 4 of Scout Mission and Stages 6 and 9 of Terran Assault have one segment of this each.
- Made of Explodium: Stage guardians have extremely lengthy explosions.
- Made of Iron: All three satellites that the player can purchase at the shop. The Mineslammer, in particular, is literally made from various metal compounds.
- Money Multiplier: The Credit Drone. This weapon sidearm shoots out a harmless missile that flies around the screen towards the nearest credit gem, collecting it upon pickup and immediately adding credits to your ship.
- Money Spider: Almost every target you destroy drops a green gem for you to collect at a small amount of income to add to your total credit balance. These credits are used to purchase powerups at the shop just before the start of a level. There are also two specific powerups that add to your credit count by a significant amount but these appear randomly when you destroy a certain target.
- Mook Promotion: The two BFG-wielding spacecraft in Stellar Attack are one example.
- Negative Continuity: Stargunner has two backstories. The first is summarised at the top of this article and is seen on the official 3D Realms game page and in the game itself. The second, which comes only with the manual, is a minor variation of the first, stating that the war between both sides had been going on for two millennia, and the Amdarans (Ytimians) were on the verge of defeat. It also made mention that the Barakians (Zilions) colonised a planet with the help of the Amdarans and came from somewhere else.
- Nintendo Hard: The player's ship has rather weak shields, making it easy to get killed, and the game only gives a maximum of nine lives, which are hard to come by.
- No Fair Cheating: Played straight with cheats accessed via the Pause button and averted completely with the Numpad 5 and F8 keys.
- One Bullet at a Time: The Plasma Bomb and Magnum 3000DX, among other weapons. These become extremely powerful when used at close range due to their high damage rates per shot.
- One-Hit-Point Wonder: Technically averted, but your ship's shields are so weak that for most purposes you should consider yourself one. Obviously Ytima is way behind Zile in the field of shield technology.
- Opening Scroll: Before the start of each episode. Can be skipped if you don't feel like reading it, or if you have (by 1996 standards) a horribly slow graphics card which causes it to take ten minutes to do the scroll.
- Orbiting Particle Shield: Moons purchased by the player are designed on this trope, with the sole purpose of circling around the player ship, nullifying projectiles and damaging enemies that enter their orbit.
- Outrun the Fireball: You escape from the exploding Zilion space station at the end of Stellar Attack, as well as an Earth-Shattering Kaboom after defeating the final stage guardian of Aquatic Combat.
- Ramming Always Works: A considerable number of enemies and bosses in the game love to rush the player. The usual outcome is that the player's ship gets killed instantly, regardless of shield power.
- Sequential Boss: The entire second half of Stage 9 of Stellar Attack has you attacking three pairs of BFGs, marked as bosses, while at the same time avoiding spikes and mooks that ram you when you pass them before going up against the Final Boss for that episode.
- Spread Shot: The Plasma shot.
- Storming the Castle: The Stargunners' mission.
- Under the Sea: The last two levels in Scout Mission and the whole episode of Aquatic Combat are this.
- Video-Game Lives: You start off every episode with two to four extra lives, on top of your current life, depending on the chosen difficulty level. See the Cap and Every 10,000 Points entries above.
- Wolfpack Boss: The five bronze gears in Terran Assault.