Pulstario is a short game in which the player pilots a rescue ship as it collects missing souls scattered across the universe. But if you skip the game’s eShop description, this backstory will come as a surprise to you since Pulstario itself makes no reference to this narrative. Instead, developer Mokuzai Studio appears to have side-lined plot for playability, creating a simple yet addictive experience.
In terms of gameplay, the mechanics of Pulstario are refreshingly minimalistic. A single button activates the ship’s engines, while the Left Stick controls the vehicle’s orientation. Furthermore, players can also slow time at will, making more structurally complex levels easier to navigate and allowing players to experience the game at their own pace. Like all the best control schemes, it’s simple to learn but challenging to master.
After several deaths, you quickly learn that a less-is-more approach is needed and using a combination of short speed boosts and tiny positional adjustments will soon see you hurtling through the levels collecting souls. And hurtle you will, because with just 11 compact stages, Pulstario’s unlimited lives mode can be comfortably completed in under half an hour and skilled players can even unlock an achievement for finishing the title in less than 10 minutes.
But this isn’t a game about completion, it’s about progression. And when it comes to this title, the end is where the fun really begins because the game offers numerous different ways to play. From speed-running each level individually to unlocking various ships to modes restricting the number of lives on offer, players can challenge themselves repeatedly to improve their times and unlock all achievements, ship skins, and secret levels.
Of course, seamless revival is key to an experience like this and Pulstario has this aspect nailed, with almost instant respawns allowing you to get right back into the action. Another area that the game excels in is sound design, with an amazing electronic soundtrack provided by Retfoniq – music so good it’s worth the game’s price alone. These two aspects combined with the responsiveness of the controls create an almost meditative type experience at points during play.
However, one area in which the game felt lacklustre was its aesthetic. Pixel art has enjoyed a resurgence and as with the studio’s other two titles (LOVE and kuso), Pulstario has been brought to life using this artistic style. Although the environments and ship designs aren’t poor, they do feel basic and the levels would be greatly improved with a little more visual richness. In fact, this feels like a missed opportunity as better designs would surely entice players to return to the game repeatedly in order to unlock more ships, for example.
Other features that could encourage players to return would be a multiplayer mode or online scoreboards as currently. That said, whether or not the Switch is the best platform for this title could be questioned. Instead, one can’t help but feel that it might be more suited to mobile, enabling players to shave a few seconds off their personal best while waiting in line. But for just 99 pence, Pulstario certainly offers value for money. What it lacks for in length it clearly makes up for in replayability, plus the great soundtrack and seamless gameplay loop will likely keep speed runners hooked for long after the final level.
Pulstario is a simple yet addictive game in which you pilot a ship as it collects souls scattered across 11 levels. While the game may be short, additional modes will have players hooked for long after the final scene.