You know what rocks about indie games? Independent developers have the freedom to explore any premise that they damn well please. Unbridled autonomy has led to some genuinely fantastic gameplay experiences that would have otherwise never seen the light of day. A perfect example of this at work is the recently released Strikers Edge. Marrying the worlds of fantasy action and competitive dodgeball, this quirky competitive shooter shows plenty of promise in a bite-sized package. Can its home-grown charm manage to cast a spell on PS4, or are does it end up fizzling out before the kill shot?
It doesn’t take very long to figure out the appeal of Strikers Edge. Take all of the chaos of a twin-stick shooter like Geometry Wars and then meld it into a competitive multiplayer experience. That would have been enough to sell me, without ever seeing a frame of gameplay. The sheer insanity of the control scheme alone should be enough to illicit a mild glisten of flop sweat. Taking away half of the screen to navigate only complicates matters further. The result is a fast-paced shooter that plays like a legitimate competitive sport. I mean, each of the game’s encounters actually take place in a makeshift (and in some cases literal) arena, complete with cheering spectators.
Players can choose from a roster of eight different characters, complete with their own unique weapons and special skills. The combatants take the form of a random collective of different architypes like a mage, knight or—wait for it—a ninja? Sure, the combination doesn’t exactly make a ton of sense, yet somehow it still manages to form a quasi-cohesive in-game universe. Somehow, the pixelated presentation and indie production values seem to dull the edges enough to make even the most implausible scenarios not only fun, but downright charming to boot.
The combat itself possesses the gratifying dual edge sword of being simple to grasp but far more difficult to master. Everyone entering the stadium has essentially the same base attack, in the form of a hurtled projectile. Whether it be a spear, ninja star, or arrow, these objects fly at roughly the same speed and are equally difficult to dodge. Sure, there are block and dodge-roll abilities, but once things really get going these moves begin to feel more like an afterthought. Granted, on the higher difficulties being able to avoid attacks are almost as critical as launching them, but at least early on, the pace is so fast they are hard to even consider using.
Keeping the Balance
What makes the differing warrior types work is the fact that they all have faults. To counter each of these key shortcomings, there seems to be an equally menacing yin to their proverbial yang. These counter-balances take the form of special abilities, which can manifest in either practical weapons or mystical abilities. For example, who wouldn’t love to be able to fire off a high-powered shot that would latch on to the opposing player and temporarily tether the fighters together? Another character can plunge a hefty mace into the wall on the opposite side of the field. This mace can then be electrified for a short time, temporarily stunning the unobservant opposition in its vicinity. For the more magically inclined, there’s the ability to take the trail created by firing off a power shot across the stage and temporarily set it ablaze.
As was alluded to earlier, initially the controls can be a bit difficult to grasp. The left stick is utilized to navigate the combatant around each environment, while the right stick is used to aim the direction in which each shot is being fired. Thankfully, they had the good sense to provide the player with a faint arrow on the ground, which designates where the aim is pointed. While I can’t really think of a better way that the navigation could have been approached, suffice to say that the learning curve is rather steep. For those of us who can’t tap our heads and rub our gut simultaneously (myself included), it does take a bit of practice before you truly get the hang of it. Unfortunately, the tutorial is so surface level—at least as far as the mechanics are concerned—that it’s damn near impossible to get a feel for combat before you’re chucked onto the battlefield with nothing more than a hearty, “Good friggin’ luck.” I hope your character’s life insurance policy is up to date, because their family will be collecting VERY soon.
A Brutal Misfire
Herein lies my main rub with the game: its difficulty. Sweet Mother Mary is this game brutally unforgiving. Even when the difficulty is set to normal, expect to witness more death than if Disney rebooted “Groundhog Day,” staring Bambi’s mother. Don’t expect to be able to dive in and immediately start kicking ass. Even I had to ratchet things down to easy for a bit, until I became more accustomed to the control scheme. It was hard to shake the feeling that a bit more difficulty ramp-up, not to mention more practice in general, would have been extremely helpful to include in the tutorial. Being thrown to the wolves immediately isn’t fun for anyone.
It’s also extremely important to note that at that Strikers Edge, while fun in small doses, runs out of steam FAST. Your mileage may vary depending upon how you’re actually playing the game. If you’re only playing one of the eight extremely brief character campaigns, most likely you will have your fill after completing a couple of characters. If you’re playing with others, either via 1v1 or 2v2 couch co-op or the online multiplayer, the fun will most likely be sustained for a bit longer.
For a short time, I was genuinely in love with this game. It managed to be so damn fun, despite the fact that it was whipping my ass right and left. The low-fi production values and unique character designs and power-ups only deepened my affections. However, the fact remains that while it was fun, it was a supernova of a game. It burned hot and bright for a short period of time and then fizzled out almost as quickly. It’s surely worth a glance, but it may be best to wait until you can play this with friends, where it has the chance to truly shine.
Strikers Edge review code provided by publisher. Version 1.0 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.