Nova Drift: Remember Asteroids? It’s back, in Bullet Hell Form!

You’d be forgiven if looking at this screenshot made you think this was just an Asteroids clone. It’s so much more though.

GENRE: Modernized Arcade Shooter Classic With a Hint of Roguelite

GET IT HERE: Nova Drift (Steam)

If I have to be honest, Nova Drift is a game that honestly flew under my radar for awhile. And I feel pretty bad about that, because this game deserves a lot more love than it’s currently getting. So before anything else?
Here’s its storepage on steam

Nova Drift is a fascinating bit of a genre mashup, and it’s a mashup that sounds like it could be an absolute disaster on paper: Topdown inertia based shooter (Like Asteroids), with elements of bullet hell, and on top of all that, a roguelite style progression/character building system. In the hands of people who don’t know what they’re doing, a game using this formula sounds like it could be an unbalanced mess.

Thankfully developer Chimeric knows exactly what they’re doing here.

Admittedly capturing a good screenshot for this game is a bit of a nightmare.

So for those who somehow haven’t played Asteroids, it is, again, what I can all Inertial Shooter. What does that mean? You don’t just move in a direction by pressing a direction. Your ship’s angular orientation and movement are done separately, with one set of keys/a stick turning your ship, and another key/button using your thrusters, which then push you in the direction you’re facing. But due to the laws of motion, you don’t stop moving when you stop thrusting, you keep going! This is, admittedly, a bit of a roadblock for some people who prefer a simple twinstick style of “One stick moves, one stick aims.” But honestly I think Nova Drift would lose out on a lot if it used that simpler control scheme. For one, the ability to freely turn while maintaining your current momentum means you can drift, just as the game title implies. This means you can fly in one direction, aim in another, and blast away! And it’s a tactic you’ll be using plenty in Nova Drift, as this is a game where sitting still is usually going to result in certain death.

So, the gameplay itself? Pretty straightforward. A wave begins. You either shoot everything or let enough time pass, and the next wave begins-The latter is usually not recommended as the previous wave does not necessarily leave though. As you kill enemies, you grab EXP orbs that grant you levels, with each level up giving you access to a pool of randomly chosen upgrades. For your first three levels, you’ll pick your “Core” upgrades that begin the foundation of your build: A ship type, a shield type, and a weapon. Each fundamentally alters how you play, and frankly there’s just too many core upgrades to even discuss here. But what you pick will greatly impact how you perform: You can wind up with a speedy but fragile close range shotgun-esque brawler, a long range sniper that waits for the perfect opportunity to strike, or a carrier that relies on a fleet of drones to do its dirty work for it. And this is just your first three level ups!

The “Big Bada Boom” is just one of an uncountable number of possible builds you can wind up with.

The real meat of Nova Drift is in what comes after your first three level ups. Mods that alter all kinds of aspects of your ship, such as how its shields work, weapon alterations, access to constructs like turrets and mines, to complete game changers like turning into a living projectile enveloped in flames when you hit high speed. And that’s probably the biggest draw of this game: Possibilities, which are very much endless. You’ve got builds that focus on covering the screen in seeker missiles. Builds that focus on a single shot that can warp from one side of the screen to the other when it hits the edge, and even builds that don’t rely on firing a gun, instead relying on a combination of your ship and shield to become a living weapon that rams through its foes.

But what are you working towards, you ask? Well, with its arcade influence, a high score. While Nova Drift will eventually have a campaign with a finite number of waves and proper final boss, in its current early access state, you simply see how long you can go on with an infinite number of waves until your inevitable death. For those who like their game to have a defined end, this might be a bit of a turnoff. But for those who are all about pushing themselves further each attempt, seeing how much better they can do? Nova Drift is the playground of your dreams.

But what’s a good shooter without good enemies? Thankfully, Nova Drift has plenty of these, and plenty of boss tier enemies backing them up.

Sir, you remind me a lot of something from Gradius V…

Every 20 waves, you’ll encounter one of Nova Drift’s bosses, a big bad ready to end you with its own unique forms of attack. Be it ramming you, covering your screen in bullets, or making a black hole to suck you up and take away most of your healthbar in an instant. And between those, you’ll have plenty of other enemies to worry about: Mini stations that spawn fighters, minefields, and a variety of light and heavy ships with their own unique weaponry they’ll use to turn you into space debris. As such, you’ll need to constantly adapt to new threats that will test how effective your build is, as one size does not fit all. You’ll find quickly that if you simply try to use a spread shot and make it fire a wider spread, it may end up sweeping weaker enemies aside, but might struggle against heavier targets.

But enemies aren’t the only thing you have to worry about in this. You also have Celestial Hazards: AKA “Naturally Occurring Things in Space That Can Kill You(tm).” Along with the obvious choice of asteroids, you may also have random comets fly past that destroy everything in their path-This can be particularly hilarious in the rare event comets spawn during a boss battle and just tear apart the boss for you. The last and easily most sinister hazard though? Singularities: AKA Black Holes. They will suck in anything that gets to close, be it you, enemies, or EXP Orbs. While a singularity can easily take care of your problems for you when you get lucky, it will typically come at the cost of losing all the EXP the enemies would have yielded if you killed them yourself.

You’ll learn to hate Singularities. I mean REALLY hate them. Did I mention there’s a boss that SUMMONS them?!

Now, all that said, despite this game’s roguelite influences, it still offers a certain amount of control over your upgrade choices. As you increase your global score (The combined total of all your runs) you’ll expand the upgrade pool, how many upgrades are offered to you at once, and most importantly, get a supply of Re-Rolls every run. Re-rolls allow you to dismiss the current upgrade pool you’re offered, getting an entirely new set of choices. And for your Core upgrades, re-rolls will always ensure the upgrades your current pool lacked will show up on the re-roll, ensuring you only ever need to spend one per Core upgrade to get what you want for the start of your build when choosing your Ship Type, Shield Type, and Weapon Type. From there, you’ll be able to earn more re-rolls by bringing down enemy supply ships that carry them, and you’ll likely need them as your work your way towards one of the major defining things of any build: Super Mods. Super Mods can only show up in your upgrade pool when you meet a pre-requisite that usually consists of having two other specific mods. Of every mod type, Supers are the most impactful due to the way they can completely alter your ship’s behavior. For example, one can make it so instead of firing all your projectiles at once, you fire them in a burst, with all shots aimed forward, turning a spread shot into something more like a minigun.

Hahaha Barrage Supermod go BRRRRRR.

There’s also another feature that determines how “roguelite” the game is, and that’s whether or not you choose to enable the Wild Metamorphosis Mode. With Wild Metamorphosis, an entire new set of Mods is added to the upgrade pool, called Wild Mods. These can have far more dramatic effects on your ship, many typically coming with good and bad traits, and some being much more rare to show up. And on top of this, many Wild Mods are recursive, meaning they show up in the upgrade pool even after you’ve taken them, allowing you to apply their effects multiple times. That said, there is a bit of risk because your starting re-roll pool is halved, so you won’t have quite as much control over your upgrades.

A constant thrust effect that can be applied multiple times? That doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all~

This does mean that Nova Drift can be approached in one of two ways when you play it, and that helps add to its longevity. Do you play a normal run where you have more control over your upgrade path due to more starting re-rolls and the lack of the extremely random Wild Mods? Or do you risk it with a Wild run where a Wild Mod could easily be a make or break for your build? At the moment I confess I do prefer normal runs a bit more, but have been trying to get more comfortable with Wild runs.

And what’s honestly mindblowing about all this? Nova Drift isn’t even done yet. There’s more game-modes in the pipe, like Draft: where you begin with 45 upgrade points and begin at a much higher wave than normal. Basically, a theorycrafter’s dream mode for trying out new ideas right away without having to do an entire run of levelling up first. There’s also the true final boss, more enemy types, boss variants, and other features being worked on. And yet despite a lot of features that have yet to come, Nova Drift still feels like an incredibly complete (and fun as heck) game that’s absolutely worth your purchase.

So yeah, if you’ve been itching for a new game to play and like shooting things in space, coming up with builds, or the unpredictable nature of roguelites? Go get this already.

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