Sinistar and Resource Management
Sinistar looks on the surface like an arena shooter, but while that’s not an inaccurate reading of the game, it’s not really what it’s about.
There are swarms of enemies around you at any given time, but most of them aren’t there to kill you. The most common enemy just bounces off of you, and while a single shot will kill them, they don’t hurt you at all. At least not directly.
There’s another type of enemy that’s far less common, those are you’re only real threats before Sinistar is completed. There’s only one or two of these at at a time in the first level. This is because the real challenge of Sinistar isn’t surviving the swarms of enemies, it’s getting prepared for Sinistar. You’re regular bullets don’t effect Sinistar at all, they just bounce off of him. He’s seems much faster than you, and incredibly hard to avoid. To top it off if he EATS you when he does catch up with you. So as he taunts you, you run. You can only hurt him with bombs, which you aquire by mining asteroids around you.
As you shoot asteroids, they drop little floating bits that you can collect to build bombs. Sounds simple enough right? Most enemies aren’t a threat, so you ignore them and shoot asteroids. Except if you only focus on the asteroids, the resources they drop aren’t just for you. The swarms of enemies around you will pick them up, and fly them to Sinistar, to help build him. Which means any resource you don’t immediately pick up makes him spawn faster. So you’re not only less prepared for him, you also have less time to get prepared.
It’s such a simple system but it makes for incredibly interesting second-by second decision making. Balancing between mining, chasing down resources, and keeping swarms away from them is incredibly tense. When you die (thank god you have multiple lives) the game reminds you of that tension before you respawn, telling you how many bombs you have left and how much health Sinistar has. For me at least, I almost always have less bombs than he has health.
It distills the tension of more complex resource management games into a few simple systems. And it’s brilliant.