Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review - Gunslugs.

Gunslugs is a 2D platforming shooter that dropped for the iOS in January of 2013.  Just over a year later, it arrives on Vita for the very-iOS price of two-fifty, or less if you've got PS+.

I paid two dollars for it, and don't feel gouged.  Having played it, though, I don't feel particularly enthused, either.

A screen from Gunslugs' original, smart phone version.
Vita controls are identical, but utilize buttons - all you need is left, right, shoot and jump.

Gunslugs has its endearments, not the least of which is a pretty catchy chiptune soundtrack and a sense of humor in the randomly-generated encounters you'll find in the bunkers you come across.

The game's hook is that it has the shade of a roguelike on it, with its procedurally-generated 2D stages offering a slightly different gauntlet to shoot through each time you start up a campaign. The intricacies of it may change, but the flavor does not as you run and jump and mow down cannon fodder.

The randomness is most apparent in the contents of the single-room bunkers you come across, which may contain a girl who insists "shhh!  I'm hiding!" before showering you with coins or some crates to break for ammo or any number of nicely weird encounters.  If you're lucky, you'll find a continue you can buy for 100 coins - the only way to survive beyond the single life the game provides - and when you're unlucky you'll step out of the bunker to find yourself mysteriously and instantly killed.

That happens a lot, for the record.  Sometimes I'm pretty sure a barrel just blew up near me, but half the time - seriously - I'll instantly die and have no idea what just happened.  Which is kinda' frustrating.

...but not really frustrating, because I can't admit to ever feeling quite absorbed in Gunslugs' manic action.  I didn't care enough about it to be disappointed, as the entire thing feels very inconsequential.

The game is nicely chaotic when a dozen different things are blowing up at once - when you step into a beacon bunker to deactivate it at the moment an enemy chopper zips overhead, splashing the chopper, which sets off a few explosive barrels - but that same chaos denies the player a clear understanding of just what the heck is going on at any given point.   Gunslugs is deeply retro in spirit as well as form - and I'd suggest it leans towards the old-school Nintendo challenge of the NES era if its random generation didn't ensure the player can never really master its challenge.

We've become so accustomed to old-timey, pixellated graphics in our modern games, it's easy to forget such art was born of a time when games were equally simple.  Gunslugs offers such simple play in spades, but can't overcome the limitations that left, right, jump and shoot impose on it, and provide something... interesting.

There are hints of something more, here.  When you push your hero in to a box and mash shoot, they'll take cover behind the box and lay down fire by sticking their gun above the box.  It's as if Gunslugs knows there are a million interesting things it could do with such simplicity, but chooses not to.

In the spirit of the game, permit me the simplest review I can offer :


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