Confession time. When Luke (Radian Games) first dropped Joy Joy on XBLIG I was a right miserable sod about it. I was wrong, as I often could be, and it was perfectly fine but for whatever reason, I gave it a right grumpy old write up.
I know, I know. I think it’s well documented that past me was a complete clownshoe of a human at this junction but really, I remember Joy Joy especially because without a shadow of a doubt, Luke’s games are ones I look forward to the most now. Filed alongside Yak and Giles, Hermit Games, Vertex Pop and Pumpkin Games, a new one is a really exciting prospect.
Like most of us who work the arcade beat, we all generally know it’s playing selling games on hard mode so it was no surprise to me when the incredible Devastator looked to be Luke’s final foray into the arena shooter. Getting by in games whilst making this stuff is a tough gig and well, at least Devastator would have been one heck of a game to go out on (The Donlan knows).
So, yeah, getting another Radian arena shooter is one of the nicest and most unexpected surprises. Getting one where even the menu screens look remarkable and the game even more so? Bit rude, really. In all the very, very, best ways.
Tesla Force has one of the most immediately disarming structures to a twin stick shooter I’ve played. In a good way, mind.
Picking up from the also wonderful Tesla Vs Lovecraft, Tesla Force reimagines the game as a more open, customisable, less guided experience. With co-op. I really like it but yeah, it certainly caught me off guard at first.
There’s a familiarity there, sure. If you’ve played Tesla Vs Lovecraft then you’ll be instantly at home with the menagerie of beasties, the mech/on foot/mech rhythm and the large array of weaponry, upgrades and whatever you can acquire. It’s all really solid, filling the screen with bullets and colourful explosions hasn’t gotten old yet and I’ve been playing this on and off for ages and ages now.
The surprising part is just how much freedom 10 Tons have built into the progression and how generous it is.
Sure, you’ll be exploding monsters into pretty colours in order to collect gems in order to spend gems to buy more ways of exploding monsters into pretty colours and repeat – fairly standard stuff – but unlike 10 Tons previous twin stickers, Tesla Force is (for want of a better phrase) a roguelike.
Each playthrough has you work your way through a procedurally generated map, moving from node to node until you reach the inevitable final boss. The first few rounds limits the choice of routes the player can take but a few upgrades later and the map is positively sprawling. So far so roguelike! I mean, it works doesn’t it? So, why not!
However, with the exception of the boss nodes, the stages don’t actually end. I can keep playing each one, rinsing them for gems and pretty colours until I decide to leave. As I say, it’s disarming at first. Even the lootiest of looter ARPGs tend to have a point where the player has exhausted things to do in a stage and they’re forced to move on yet Tesla Force leaves that up to the player.
Of course, there’s a wrinkle! This is a videogame after all and they’re tricksy things at the best of times. Once I begin the first stage, a countdown begins – the ominously named death clock – and each time the countdown reaches zero, the game gets a little bit more difficult, harsher, more abrasive. So the longer I spend on a stage, the more things get tricky, the more the stage will require more firepower, more health, more skill to survive.
Sure, I can keep grinding stage after stage but the longer I spend doing that, the more difficult the later stages are going to be. The more difficult the stage I’m grinding is going to be, never mind.
Whereas this would be a pretty oppressive system in most games, when combined with the brevity of each stage and the huge amount of skills and upgrades available to buy with your gems, it’s the other one. It’s remarkably freeing and lets me control the difficulty from stage to stage. If I fancy an easy ride? Get in, complete the objective, move onto the next node until done. Fancy testing myself? Stick around. No matter what happens, I’ll be collecting gems to spend on more upgrades or weaponry, each completed stage hands me a new weapon or ability to add to my arsenal, each game over nudging me closer to another unlock. In Tesla Force (as with a number of other recent roguelikes) a game over is an interruption, rather than an end.
There’s always progress and it’s hardly stingy, there isn’t an unlock that doesn’t make some tangible difference to the game and there is a lot to unlock. I’ve been playing for ages now and haven’t even got round to giving any of the other characters you can unlock a shot. I’ve been far too busy buying more weapons, more abilities, more slots to pop abilities into, more firepower, more time in the mech and on. I’m sure I’ll get round to giving them a go soon but y’know, I’m having loads of fun as it is. No rush!
Tesla Force is a wonderful game. I’ve been playing it on PS4 (and more recently on the Switch) and it’s not got any less enjoyable for all the (many!) hours I’ve pumped into it. In fact, I think I’ll just sneak another go in now whilst no-one is looking.
You know, I was absolutely convinced I’d put words down on Zeroptian Invasion some time back but perhaps I should have double checked that one sooner because no, no, I had not.
I am really fond of Zeroptian Invasion.
I’ve long nurtured an appreciation of the single screen shooter, from Space Invaders, Galaga and the usual suspects through a whole bunch of home computer games, PD, homebrew and indie titles. In my old age, I’ve lost none of my love for the things and Zeroptian Invasion is no exception.
The opening stage presents the player with a really quite lovely Space Invaders-esque game in a gorgeous 70’s arcade meets ZX Spectrum style. Over the course of a fair handful of stages, it adds a wee bit more complexity to the mix, not a great deal because the game stays wonderfully true to its aesthetic and videogame inspirations, but certainly enough to ensure that it keeps the player on their toes.
Think a modern Gorf, you know? It’s that sort of deal.
It’s the kind of game that had it actually existed in the eighties, I’d have fallen in love with it pretty easily and would probably bend your ear off over even now. Given I’m still every bit as awed by similar games today as I was then, it was pretty easy for me to fall in love with it now, nevermind.
It helps in no small part by it being an absolutely gorgeous game! The sprite work is often wonderful and I’m a real sucker for the bezel artwork too.
After so many years playing Breakout games with a whole bunch of modern conveniences, whether that’s flipper bats as in Gunbarich or more curvy bats as is the trend in casual (and the excellent Shatter), Dungeonoid’s lack of such things certainly ensures I find it a wee bit more challenging than a lot of more recent efforts.
It doesn’t help that my enjoyment of Breakout games is matched only by how rubbish I am at them and Dungenoid is no exception.
My problem, largely is one of impatience. I enjoy a lot of the more hands on arcade games because I am constantly pressing buttons, they’re as much something to fidget with as to play. Breakout, by design, includes plenty of moments of downtime as the ball bounces from brick to brick. I get twitchy waiting and when I get twitchy I inevitably muck stuff up.
Dungeonoid does compensate for this somewhat. Clearing a level is not necessarily a matter of clearing all the bricks, nor a matter of taking out all the enemies or or treasures littering the place, instead it’s just a matter of reaching the exit. Get your ball through the door and whoosh, next level. You won’t score so much in a game that’s about scoring the most but at least it can mean a level is over quickly if need be.
Despite my impatience though, I do love a good Breakout game and have done for a long time now, pretty much since Thro The Wall had me hooked all those years ago and Arkanoid and the lovely Batty cemented it. I’ve been really enjoying Dungeonoid even though my progress through it is incredibly slow.
It absolutely is defiantly old school in its design (and yes, that does include the dreaded ‘reverse controls’ power down), tough as old boots and asks for a lot more patience than most modern takes do. I must admit, this is largely why I love it. I wouldn’t want every game to be this tough for me to progress through but every now and then, the right one comes along and that’s Dungeonoid alright.
Dungeonoid is on the Switch and it’s quite cheap, really. Recommended but with the caveat that it is far from an easy ride.
Whilst the high bar for Asteroids reinventions remains a tie between Spheres Of Chaos (I prefer the older version over 2012’s rejig but YMMV, they’re both available for free now) and Echoes (Again. I prefer + to 3 but honestly. It’s so close in quality as to be unimportant), Debris Infinity (available on Steam too) is certainly worth a mention also.
After being mildly disappointed by the recent Asteroids Recharged (it’s not a bad game but it did very little to excite me, I wouldn’t not recommend it but I’d not enthuse over it in a hurry either) I’ve been on the look out for a fresh & decent new arcade take on Asteroids and stumbled onto Debris Infinity pretty much by accident whilst rummaging for something else I’d forgotten the name of.
It’s a game that fuses, surprisingly successfully, Echoes style arena based asteroid shooting and familiar Geometry Wars enemy wave patterns across a handful of modes. So twin stick asteroids with bolt ons, essentially. I doubt anyone going into this, even having not played either of the games it borrows from, would find many surprises here.
It’s definitely scrappy! The art is a bit all over the shop both in style and in coherence, the asteroids and smaller enemies are great, it’s sort of just the rest of it that doesn’t always come together.
Which is fine, you know? I’m not complaining so much as just stating something rather obvious. I can’t say it bothered me even for a moment because I was far too busy trying not to crash my spaceship into things but it does mean it doesn’t present quite so well in a single screenshot.
So, it all kind of adds up to a game I enjoyed a lot but also, don’t really have all that much to talk about with it. It’s a good, solid, enjoyable Asteroids variant where everything glows really nicely and has enough flashing lights to keep me quiet.
I’ve been dipping in and out of it on the Switch but the game’s available most other places, except for PlayStation for whatever reason. Definitely worth a punt.
Sitting at the intersection of glitchgoth and cybergoth, Glitchangels is Berzerk reimagined as a Nuclear Throne-alike. Throw out the unending maze of the arcade classic, replace it with discreet rooms with tight corridors, clear the enemies to open the exits, paper it with Droid Assault inspired art – strip out the Paradroid elements, keep the store and upgrades.
Glitch everything, movement, firepower, everything. Play the videogame as VHS, make a mistake, rewind and forward your angel to safety. It’s weirdly now. It could really only collect all these things together and vibe like it does in the now but yes, it’s an EBM arcade dancefloor Robotron.
What a heady mix for a twin stick shooter all this makes. Instantly familiar to anyone who’s even mildly been paying attention in our post Geometry Wars world and it’s not like the game makes any effort to hide or obscure its influences anyway, quite the opposite. It’s there in the credits, it’s there the moment you spawn into the first screen. 40 years of twin sticking, goth’d up, glitched up.
Buy it on Switch, grab a cider and black and sit in a tree to play it, preferably in a graveyard. In Whitby if you need to. Maybe get the flourescent gear out, meet the game on its terms, you know? Sod it, chuck a glowstick or two in your bag whilst you’re at it. If you know anyone with a dry ice machine, I’m not saying it’d complete the vibe but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Or, y’know, grab it on the PC or Xbox. Whatever works. But really, do grab it. It’s good. I’ve been having an absolute ball with the thing.
Fight. Die. Glitch. Win. It totally does what it says on the tin.
Look, I’m not sure how I managed to make it through to 2020 and have nothing on here about Assault Android Cactus before now but it’s clearly incredibly slack of me because Assault Android Cactus is wonderful.
It’s been pretty wonderful for the near five years it’s been out there now too. I’ve been enjoying it on and off for most of those five years as well.
I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been slacking here. Five bloody years! Molyneux save me. It’d be excusable if it wasn’t one of my favourite things.
To be honest, I kind of know why I’ve been putting it off. It’s an easy game to do a mammoth injustice to because when you write it all down it’s easy to go “so, err, what?”. It’s an intimately familiar looking, familiar feeling videogame. It’s born of purest Dreamcast, not the Sega Blue Skies of a thousand UK Resistance dreams but the final gasp of the arcade at home before digital downloads changed so much. It *looks* like a Dreamcast game too, though obviously more as my memory would like to convince me of what the games looked like than what they really did. It’s got a vibe. It’s good. It’s committed. It deserves the right words.
There’s so much game there too. It’s positively abundant. Ridiculously so! Full on call the cops and arrest these people for making the rest of us look like we don’t put enough game in a videogame stuff. I’m not sure I’ve played a twin stick shooter that crams quite so much in and where so little of it feels superfluous.
Some of it is unsurprising – multiple characters with different weaponry, ridiculous cosmetic tweaks (normal head mode! JJ mode for when you need so much lens flare you can’t see the screen! More!) – it’s a lot but it’s kinda an expected lot.
What isn’t quite so expected is the amount of videogame scenes the game runs through. At times it feels like an A-Z of arcade videogame levels. Never pastiche, never a nod and a wink, videogame levels because there’s something the game can do with them. It reminds me of Mutant Storm Empire in that regard though much, much, much more focused.
Early on you find yourself riding a very videogame lift, you know the kind – it’s in a hundred or so FPS, a multitude of top down shooters, it’s in Valve’s Alien Swarm, even Destiny couldn’t resist the lure of riding a lift whilst aliens hem you in from all sides. Then before you know it, it’s a stage where robots are pouring out of the floor, there’s lasers everywhere, flames, bullets, pick ups and there’s a stage where the room is built around you and then and then and then.
It’s like the team responsible wanted to cram every idea they had for games into one game. It’s astounding. More so when you realise how normal this sort of thing used to be, how arcade games at home would let themselves spiral outwards rather than just retain a really narrow focus, done well. I didn’t even realise how much I missed that but I do. I really do. It makes me feel spoilt, ruined, like you can’t possibly be giving me all this? Seriously, you are? Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Oh, there’s local co-op too because of course there is. Why leave any stone unturned?
It’d all be for nothing if it didn’t play so well, obviously. Which it does! It plays wonderfully, always pushing you into the swarms of killer drones rather than running backwards, rather than the circling of Geometry Wars. Wade in, knee deep in roboguts, needing to grab batteries to make it to the end of a stage alive. It takes no time to find the rhythm the game wants you to fall into, alternating between primary and secondary weapons, rushing for power ups, aiming for that ever enticing higher score.
Gosh. I love Assault Android Cactus so much, you know? There’s few games I’d use the term masterpiece for but in this case, Team Witch Beam have worked for it and earned it. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s the right and proper good stuff. It’s an arcade game, a not Dreamcast really but totally Dreamcast videogame that the best part of five years on still excites me.
Which, let’s face it that’s what you want from an arcade game. Okay, okay, it’s what I want anyway. I genuinely couldn’t ask for more. Well, except maybe for some fish but that’s just me. Maybe the next one, eh?
Crikey. I can’t say I was prepared for quite how brutal Radio Squid was going to be. Its largely-in-vogue white on black with the merest hint of a colour cute graphics hide quite the vicious little videogame.
I’m not complaining, I really have been rather enjoying myself with it and the unforgiving nature of it is certainly part of the draw for me! Just took me by surprise, is all.
That’s what I get for just buying a game because it was called Radio Squid without reading a single thing about it (including not reading the description on the store), I guess. As ever, my own silly fault.
In my defence, it’s called Radio Squid. How could I not just buy it? Yer ‘onor etc…
It turns out that the rules of the game are fairly simple – you take control of a small rhythmic squid who has to shoot a strange bunch of nasties to the beat, grab some money then make your way to the next room, ever so slightly richer.
Complicating all this is the Crossroads/Forget-Me-Not style shooting where your bullets wrap around the edge of the screen and yes, your own bullets do kill you because that’s sort of how bullets work. There are quite a few exits for the bullets to wrap around too. In summary: oof.
Slightly (only slightly) confusingly there’s a number of different screens to each room to progress through with each screen needing to be cleared before you move on to the next, with the ultimate objective being to clamber your way through as many rooms as you can.
Difficulty aside it’s all quite breezy and there’s a lot of character squeezed out of both a simple premise and the not quite monochrome but nearly artwork. I can’t say I have the slightest clue of what the story is supposed to be because my eyes glazed over with it – that’s a me problem rather than a game problem though. My eyes glaze over quite easily these days.
With the warning that it might well make you swear like a trooper, Radio Squid is an easy recommendation from me. From not knowing what to expect through to now, I’m really enjoying my time with it and certainly don’t regret the sight unseen purchase – quite the opposite, I’m well chuffed with it.
I’ve been hammering away at the PS4 version, other consoles are available etc…
Polybius is the videogame as fairground ride. You must be this tall to play. Scream if you want to go faster. I can’t hear you, I said scream if you want to go faster.
Polybius is a Doug Trumbull dreamscape – the 2001 stargate made game, the TARDIS in the time vortex. This is your brain in slitscan.
Polybius is the dull thump thump thump of the sound of a sweaty club dancefloor heard from the bar, the bogs, somewhere, it’s walking from the sidelines to the euphoric centre, the relentless drive of the music building, building, building and…
If Slave Of God is the game as local nightclub after one too many, Polybius is a case of white labels, a warehouse and let’s hope the fuzz aren’t onto it.
It’s a game that grips and releases like no other I’ve played. It is dance music. It is the videogame rave. It’s really incredible. It is a night out, in. I don’t know how this works, it just does. Trust me. It works.
Polybius is purest videogame. Polygon spinning, pixel shattering, the ultimate arcade videogame. The very definition of The New Arcade, impossible in 1983, oh so possible today.
Polybius is I, Robot, Polybius is the modern Blaster, Polybius is Tube Panic. Polybius is Horace Goes Skiing?!? Polybius is a lot. Seriously, it’s so much.
A game that dares to wear the name Polybius has to go hard. No questions, that’s the deal. Polybius goes hard. Polybius, the game, earns its mythical, legendary name and then some.
Polybius is a Nine Inch Nails video. I don’t know either, it just is.
Polybius leaves me breathless. No exaggeration, no kidding. I can only play it for so long before I need a bit of a sit down. Problem? I’m already sitting down. I haven’t worked out how to deal with this yet.
Llamasoft are at the top of their game right now, Jeff and Giles leaning in to the beasty, furry, psychedelia. Reaching deep for the soul of the arcade, pulling out videogames that feel profoundly digital, made from finest ones, zeroes and silicon. Implausibly ending up with videogames to dance to.
Polybius is a few years old now and unjustly ignored. That feels like a wrong that needs to be righted, you know? Even to a die hard Llamasoft admirer like myself, it feels special in ways I can’t put into words anywhere near well enough.