Steam Game Festival 2021: Whisker Squadron hands-on preview

There's no hiding the inspiration behind Flippfly's Whisker Squadron, the procedurally-generated roguelike forward-scrolling rail shooter homage to a beloved elite anthropomorphized animal flight squad.


Available now in the Steam Games Festival selection for 2021, Whisker Squadron builds upon developer/publisher Flippfly's experience with procedurally-generated endless flyers. Smooth flight combined with familiar controls impress atop pleasing cel-shaded graphics and a sweeping, driving soundtrack. Comparisons to Star Fox are as unavoidable as the many clever enemy types and environmental hazards that await in the demo ready for download on Steam.

Whisker Squadron wants you to know that it is paying respects to Star Fox from the very opening title. The font, color palette, and mascot evoke the 16-bit rail shooter with such audacity that one can't expect anything but a rush of nostalgia and expectation. Thankfully, expectations are immediately met by an orchestral theme with a chorus that grabs your eardrums and starts beating a rousing call to action.

Whisker Squadron features striking visuals and familiar gameplay mixed with roguelike systems
Whisker Squadron features striking visuals and familiar gameplay mixed with roguelike systems.

Between the available feline pilots, Olivia and Ross, I decided to fly with Ross and his Shockwave special weapon that is more akin to the Smart Bombs I've used so many times before. Olivia is equipped with more powerful tactical missiles that can lock onto three targets at a time, providing a nice change in attack strategy. Presented with a simple branching path map that is again, right out of the Star Fox playbook, your choices are more important to your survival this time around with only one life on your roguelike flight path.

Upon entering your home base of Primitus, the gorgeous cel-shaded dusk covered landscape meshes perfectly with the simple 3D models and 2D hand-drawn character art. The music for this initial stage makes a strong first impression with excellent arrangement and emotion. The feel and tone is nailed on the first frame of gameplay. The overall weight and floatiness of your flight craft is not a one-to-one recreation of previous 3D Nintendo shoot 'em ups. There is a bit of realistic heft and momentum to your ship that reminds me of classic game design, like Asteroids or Doom. Shooting is regulated by a cooldown so there's no reason to mash the fire button until the controller falls apart. Self-control and smart management of your lasers is paramount. Enemies will take multiple shots to down with your default loadout and bosses are even tougher with their huge attacks and destructible weapons.

Sprinkled throughout every area are yellow gems that can be collected for currency, rings that can be flown through for score multipliers, and extra ammunition for your special weapon. The gems are particularly important since you'll need them to purchase enhancements and shield repairs at upgrade stations after playing a couple of zones. Upgrades are randomized along with the levels and boss fights, and they are expensive. Items like Twin Lasers can permanently double your fire power, or you can use the Electromagnet to automatically pull in precious currency. There's even an upgrade that will deflect enemy shots when you perform a barrel roll, naturally. This can put you in a real quandary over the choice of buying a precious upgrade or repairing your shields to protect your one and only life, and some upgrades can carry your ship a long way through some tough situations.

Whisker Squadron showcases excellent variety in its stages, musical score, and upgrade system. The foundation of a tried and true rail shooter mixed with procedurally-generated level design, roguelike gameplay, and striking art design is a solid one for Flippfly. I enjoyed my time through the demo and each region it offered all the way to the nail-biting last boss and my narrow victory with only 16 health points left. I can't wait for the full release to see more of the flying aces, cat or otherwise. Whisker Squadron proves there's room for more than one furry fleet in the skies.

This preview is based on a public Steam demo. The Whisker Squadron demo is available now as part of the Steam Game Festival 2021 and will launch later in 2021.

Contributing Editor

From the test launch of the NES in New York to 4K gaming in his living room, Bryan Lefler has been immersed in video games his entire life. Battle tested in the arena shooters of the turn of the century yet kind to all animals that may cross him, Bryan enjoys a breadth of games but strives to be the best in any contest of digital skill. He is a former esports competitor and has been part of the Shacknews community for over 15 years. You can also catch him on skankcore64 streams on the Shacknews Twitch channel where he plays through the N64 library and follow him on Twitter @skankcore.

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