This Vita port of the run and gun iOS shooter has earned its retro stripes and upgraded with better controls, says Matt Martin.
– Vita controls make this iOS port much more accessible.
– It’s cheap, it’s fun, it’s instant.
– Banging soundtrack by Gavin Harrison.
– On-screen action can become overwhelming leading to immediate death.
– It’s a hard game. Like, pretty damn hard in later levels.
– Some explanation of the specials before you buy would have been helpful.
Originally developed by Orange Pixel for iOS and Android, now adapted by Abstraction Games (the team who ported Hotline Miami to Vita), Gunslugs may be a simple game but it feels better suited to Sony’s Vita handheld, where real plastic buttons and sticks replace insensitive virtual screen prodding.
It’s a run and gun shooter with a heavy nod to the Metal Slug series, but it also throws in the Roguelike attitude of randomly generated levels, meaning each run through has just enough difference to keep it feeling fresh. In a game that initially only has a handful of gameplay tricks, that seems a smart way to keep the player coming back for more.
Levels are frantic and random. They’re awash with crates, bullets, enemies, first aid kits, chickens, mines, arcade machines, jet packs, speech bubbles and bosses that half fill the screen. It’s great fun – a little too hectic in places – but this is a game that doesn’t pause for breath.
You’re charged with deactivating enemy beacons as you run through these 2D battlezones, before being confronted with a final boss and then it’s off to the dropship for evacuation. As has become standard with Vita and indie titles, there are additional challenges thrown at the player – air-kill a dude, complete three missions without getting killed, find a specific item, kill 5 enemies from cover – no surprises there, but in this case familiarity is welcome.
What initially starts out as simple soon requires a little more tactical – or at least quick – thinking. Cover shooting from behind crates (which disintegrate to reveal ammo and first aid) is more useful than dashing ahead into the enemy no matter how skilled you are at bullet-dodging. You can run over mines to set them off a few seconds later, and target exploding barrels that will flip into the air. There’s the classic bullet-hell dilemma of which dropped weapon should you pick up (flamethrowers suck!) and you can tactically run over mines to set them off a few seconds later, as well as make use of discarded tanks where you trade better firepower for less manuverability.
Enemies drop gold as they croak, which can be spent on various items in the buildings in each level. You’ll find lots on offer, again randomly selected so no play through is the same as the last, with everything from one-of-a-kind specials to new characters on offer, provided you’ve got the cash to pay for them. Some doorways even take you to an extra scrolling level if you’re good enough to keep up with them. Almost all are a gamble but it’s usually worth stumping up the cash, it’s not like you can take it with you.
Gunslugs is yet another slick little indie game for the PlayStation Vita. It knows its games history and borrows heavily from the past, but it’s made with such care and attention it’s difficult to be cynical about another retro-inspired shooter when it’s as well thought out and accomplished as this.
With a reasonable price of £1.99 (and 20% off for PS Plus subscribers during its first week) it’s an easy game to recommend, something that can be filed comfortably beside Spelunky, OlliOlli and any number of other bubblegum games that are helping Sony’s handheld shine as bright as its OLED screen.