Starbirds is a shoot'em up game in the style of a lot old shoot'em up games like R-Type, Apidya, Wings of Death and a lot more. It's a horizontal scroller, but where the levels are several screens high, so that the player can move considerably in vertical direction.
The game play is simple: the players tries to keep alive, and to achieve this goal it is necessary to shoot as many enemies as possible, because otherwise they will do the same with the player. Every contact with enemies or their shots costs a space ship. To be able to survive the big amount of enemies, the space ship of the player (called 'Starbird') was equipped with most advanced weapon technology.
One of the most interesting features of Starbirds is the 2 player simultan mode, which allows two players to explore the levels together. Starbirds provides 4 levels which are all guarded by a boss enemy with big shields and power. The levels are constructed in a way that there are a lot of turn-off's which allow the player to take another path each time.
Since not every player has the same experience and skill, there are 4 different difficulty modes. The most easy mode should also allow newcomers to survive for a longer time. The hardest mode is surely a challenge even for shoot'em up experts.
A special feature of Starbirds is the weapon system, which was inspired by action games like 'Wings of Death' and 'Lethal Xcess' and which was improved. There are two categories of weapons, primary and secondary weapons. Each category consists of 8 different types of weapons, 4 of each category are available in the game. The player can decide at every time if the approaching enemies should be attacked using the primary or secondary weapons. By repeated pressing of the fire button the primary weapon is fired, by holding down the button the secondary weapon is fired. This system certainly requires quite some exercise and above all, a good joystick.
Every weapon has 5 different strengths. The strength of a weapon can be improved by collecting weapon symbols, which are left behind from exploding enemies quite often. On the other side, the strengh of a weapon can also be decreased, if the weapon type is changed. More details concerning the weapon system can be found in the Starbirds documentation, which is found in the Starbirds archive (see download page).
Starbirds is so kind not to reduce the weapon strength of the 'Starbird' to the weakest level, if the player looses a ship. The weapon strength is only reduced by one level, so the loss of a ship has not the same dramatic consequences like in many other shoot'em up games.
The player has 6 space ships available and he can restart the game 3 times in the last visited level. In the 2 player mode this number is increased to 6 for both players together. For certain score levels an extra ship is granted to the player.
Starbirds manages two different highscore lists for the 1 player mode and for the 2 player mode, which can be saved to the Starbirds floppy disk. A sound menu is also available, which allows to play the 11 songs outside the battle zone.