Jason Rohrer’s Inside a Star-Filled Sky is a game about levels. More importantly, it’s about the relationship between the levels that we perceive and the levels that go unnoticed. There’s spoilers ahead, if you’re interested in playing this game I would go get it now.
It’s a dual stick shooter with pixel art, which in many ways means it’s fairly conventional. But the central difference here is how you progress through the levels. In this game, the word “through” is meant literally—you navigate a level to find the exit, then the camera zooms out and you realize that the previous level has become your ship, in which you travel through the next level. That level ends and becomes your ship, too. It’s ships all the way down.
The powerups you picked up in the previous level now become components of your new ship. When you die, you go back down a level to re-exit back upward with different powerups. This means you can reconfigure your ship every time you die in order to have a better chance of successfully completing the level.
This narrative of rising ever outward towards a higher goal becomes more complicated when you gain the ability to enter arbitrary objects at will. This means you can go back into your own ship to voluntarily go down a level, or go into enemy ships and reconfigure them, or go into powerups and try to make them more powerful. Instead of just rising to a higher level, you’re now going almost every direction. Levels in everything, at all times.
The minimum price to buy the game is $1.75 with no demo, but you can pay more if you want. For $1.75, it's definitely worth it.
Talking Points: How does Inside a Star-Filled Sky illustrate how levels normally work in games? Is there any deeper meaning to the idea that you can enter into your enemy’s “level” and change him? Realistically, is it easier or harder than just killing them outright? What is the theme of the game, if there is one? Does Rohrer’s previous work color the experience?
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