One thing I do know about the PS Vita is that while it is home to a large variety of titles, there is a large section of titles that are devoted to bringing back the history of our beloved hobby but with a twist. Old school 8 or 16 bit graphics combined with retro sound effects and simplistic gameplay and controls attempt to take us back to a time when games were far simpler but then when we are all sitting comfortably, throw in an element from todays gaming. Another addition to this growing niche is Gunslugs from Abstraction Games, available to purchase from the Playstation Store as a digital only title.
Gunslugs is a side scrolling shooter that takes its influence from the ever popular Metal Slug series. From the start you are asked to pick from 2 commandos available and set forth to destroy all in your path. You battle through 5 main missions that consist of 2 levels and a boss level. Very simplistic so far. These missions cover a range of different environments and completing levels is a task of destroying key enemy installations by entering them and blowing them up one at a time once the installations are destroyed you then need to reach the end of the level for a pick up and parachute into the next mission. Each level contains the bog standard cannon fodder enemies as well as some level specific enemies that may come at you with specific weapons, such as flamethrowers or jetpacks, and while you start out with a fairly standard weapon you can acquire these same weapons from downed foes, most offer differing ranges and rates of fire rather than power upgrade. This offers a small nugget of strategy as you are able to take enemies out at a distance or from differing ledges. Your enemies will also drop coins for you and while these look like stowaway’s from a Super Mario game they are useful for purchasing a range of upgrades and taking advantage of small mini games that you will find inside bunkers that periodically appear throughout the levels. Some upgrades offer armour or extra ammo. Others offer full health regeneration or an extra continue if you have been particularly frugal. There is also a checkpoint system of sorts as near the beginning of each mission there is a captured ally who you can choose to save by shooting their cage. Saving these allies offers you the chance to start a new game from that missions 1st level should you die and you will die! The game does its best to overload you with enemies coming from all sorts of angles and by the time you reach the 5th mission or Hell as it is called, you will have enemies coming at you from left, right, above and below and with only split seconds notice.
Okay so all sounds normal, no surprises yet. But that’s when you realise that the levels are all proceduraly generated. This brings a whole new dimension to the game as no matter how many times you play a level it will never play the same twice. This, depending on your point of view, is either a blessing or a frustration. The proceduraly generated levels keep things fresh and can offer challenges and ensure that you stay on your toes. However the downside to this is that towards the later levels enemies and environmental hazards can pop up in what seem like impossible scenarios that you cannot negotiate safely. It may not happen too often but when you are faced with mines on the next 2 ledges, death worm and fire enemies all at the same time. Its hard not to get frustrated when you are inches from reaching the end of level boss. Aside from this one gripe Gunslugs works brilliantly with your characters movements feeling smooth and responsive, weapons that all feel different but dangerous and enemies that just keep on coming and then there are the screen filling bosses!
Controls are extremely easy and only require 4 buttons: Left and Right on your D-pad to move left or… well, right! X to jump and square to shoot. Basic and simple although you can use the left analogue stick instead of the D-pad to move and you can also use the up button to fire your weapon from over crates! Move aside Gears of War!
Graphics are reminiscent of SuperMarioLand on the GameBoy, only in beautiful colour, all the characters and enemies take on the squat look of Mario in his GameBoy debut and bosses are all text-book in their approach, huge with one weakness that you need to find first and then exploit heavily. Everything works well and comes together beautifully in the overall package.
Sound is handled expertly with the games’ sound effects complimenting the 8-bit style that the game utilises so brilliantly, little blips and dings represent gunshots and coins for instance. But the soundtrack is a thing of beauty. The soundtrack is handled by Gavin Harrison and it seems obvious from the start that he recognises and appreciates the type of soundtrack that should accompany this type of game. The soundtrack is nigh on perfect and I have a couple of personal favourite tracks that I must hear while playing no matter what.
Unfortunately there is no multiplayer to speak of or anything in the way of an online leaderboard, but replay value is offered of course through the proceduraly generated levels but also through the objectives system. This system asks you to perform 3 tasks at any one time and once completed are swapped out for new objectives at the end of a level. This can offer unique distractions to the main game and its a shame that there aren’t enough of these to really pump up the replay value as they work well and is another good example of adding fresh elements to an existing gameplay mechanic.
Finally then Gunslugs is a huge amount of fun whether you want a quick 5 minute blast or a prolonged start to finish marathon. The objectives offer a great diversion to the main game while the proceduraly generated levels will offer variety and a challenge, particularly in the later levels!
If Mario had picked up an AK instead of a Monkey Wrench, then Gunslugs would have been the outcome and on this evidence that would have been no bad thing!
At A Glance
- Title: Gunslugs
- System: PS Vita
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: No
- Online Multiplayer: No
- Local Multiplayer: No
- Memory Card Space Needed: 83Mb