Side-scrolling run and gun arcade games fill me with nostalgia for my childhood. This nostalgia is broken very easily any time I sit down to play an older run and gun games. It’s the controls most of the time. The controls tend to be pretty bad with older games in general; as kids we just got used to it. Gunslugs is everything those run and gun arcade games are plus really fantastic controls. I’m amazed at how slick the game moves and responds to input. Gunslugs’ controls are approaching perfect.
The graphics are minimalist yet flow very well along with the rest of the game. Developer Orangepixel utilizes simple pixels and backgrounds effectively with a focus on action. It’s not just the act of shooting down other dudes, helicopters, and blowing away large mechanoida—ground gets splattered with little pixel bits of blood, and explosions and dead bodies can obfuscate landmines and other hazards. Helicopters that are blown out of the sky will steal the screen as they careen into a fiery wreck and take out other enemies in its path. On top of all the action, players can duck into buildings and find bonus levels or NPCs who might regenerate health, dole out coins for spending, or sell items. Most of these NPCs homage or parody another form of media quite often. Even the name and core gameplay are homages to SNK’s fantastic Metal Slug series; and yes you can ride in a tank.
The main objective is to plow through each level killing foes and taking out beacons. Once all of the beacons in a level are destroyed, players must get to the end of the level and ride a chopper to the next level. Every third level contains a boss to defeat. Levels and objects contained within are randomly generated. This includes buildings, bonus levels and power ups. Terrain on boss levels is not randomly generated, but the backgrounds and normal enemies are.
Gunslugs has a small cache of different weapons to pick up along the way. Each weapon—including the starting pistol—has a bullet gauge. Once depleted, your character will be unable to shoot until ammo is obtained. Each character has one life and an accompanying health gauge. First-aid kits replenish health. Continues can be bought for 100 coins, but are rare and due to the randomly generated nature of the levels, completely unable to be relied upon. Thankfully, ammo and health drops steadily. But so do explosions and other dangers which take of huge chunks of health. The difficulty leans to the hard side and often falls toward the idea of “Nintendo Hard”. This is, of course, by design.
Objectives are given throughout the game. These objectives are mundane and range from “kill 20 enemies with grenades” to “play through 5 levels without dying”. Some objectives, such as “Play as X character” or “beat this minigame” completely depend on whether or not the game will place said character or game in your path during play. This is where the randomly generated levels sometimes fail—players can ultimately play a full game and not be able to accomplish any objectives since the game did not spawn the necessary object to accomplish the objective. The trophies in the game are mostly linked to the objectives, by the way.
Gunslugs’ randomly generated dungeons can further work against the game. Players can hop into tanks, but the random terrain makes tank use extremely limited. Power ups and minigames, which can be bought with coins found throughout levels, are often placed at points where not enough coins are available to make the transaction. Continues are almost mythological – yet might be placed in the first building a player comes to with no way to have enough coins. And once a player exits the building it is shut off for the rest of the level. Shooting down helicopters is fun until the ‘copter crashes into a random barrel which sets off a chain reaction with a mine, which bumps into the landmine you were next to—and the player cannot move because all of the action is on the helicopter. 99% of the time that is instant death. Little things like that work against the game. Thankfully, the game is incredibly easy to pick up and play, but a good run can be ruined by an awkward set up far beyond the player’s control.
Gunslugs is very good. Controls are excellent, graphics are cute, and the action is fun. Beating a hard level feels rewarding. Levels are randomly generated and tend to have decent design, but sometimes an awkward set-up ruins the flow and forces a restart. Fans of run and gun or retro games will not be disappointed with what Gunslugs offers.
Review copy provided by publisher