I have been an avid follower of Orangepixel’s games for well over two years on the Android platform and they have been pumping out a steady stream of pixel-centric games for even longer. What has attracted me to their games is the simplicity in their art and design. On the surface, Gunslugs is a fairly simple 2D side-scrolling shooter. However, like an onion it has many layers and can quickly become challenging enough to make a grown man cry.
It’s not a hard game, but it will test your ability to play by its rules. How good do you think you are at running & gunning while jumping? For me, the answer has been “never good enough.” Gunslugs starts out simple enough with just one selectable character named Johnny Rumble. The controls are simple: d-pad or left analog stick to move, X or L to jump, square or R to shoot. I found holding R to shoot repeatedly while using X to jump was the best method. Gunslugs on Vita completely ditches the touch screen controls of the mobile phone version.
Like I said before, on the surface it’s a simple game. To complete a level, I must capture a series of beacons and reach the end of the level to get extracted, all with just one life. Capturing one of the beacons is as simple as standing on the upper level for a second or two until it collapses spewing out a fistful of coins. All the while, drop ships will steadily deploy small waves of enemies. Mowing the barrage of baddies is always satisfying, but I quickly discovered that watching my ammo count was extremely important.
There are just two meters at the top of the screen to keep an eye on: health and ammo (there is a third for a special slow down effect from a hidden drink). Again, simple. But as I found myself traversing level after level knowing that I’m one death away from having to completely start all over again, I discovered how nail biting this game can be. Refilling those meters requires shooting randomly placed crates scattered throughout the entire game. The crates not only provide ammo or health, but also complicate the platforming for both my character and the enemies.
The first layer of this Gunslugs onion comes in the form of randomly placed explosives such as land mines, strange bouncing mines, and explosive barrels. All of these can be chained when close enough and do indeed instantly kill our hero. On the plus side, nothing is more satisfying than baiting a group of bad guys into a triggered land mine, or taking down a drop ship and one of the giant mechs with a conveniently placed barrel from distance.
Gunslugs is further filled with surprisingly obscure, yet challenging, mini-games and cameos found inside larger single-story buildings. One very important tip I discovered after a few occasions was to make sure I had collected at least 50 or 100 coins from killing enemies and taking down beacons before entering these buildings. Because once I entered only to find that I didn’t have enough coin to pay my way into a mini-game and exited, I couldn’t go back in.
The mini-games were so great for two reasons. They were short vacations from the violent run and gun gameplay found plentifully outside the building. They were also a joy to play because the developer designed them to resemble some kind of classic era of gaming most may have forgotten. One such mini-game changed the platforming to look like Donkey Kong. Another looked like the monochromatic GameBoy and stripped away the shooting completely in favor of jumping on the heads of the enemies.
Each of the mini-games were simple but provided the right amount of challenge to keep you wanting more. Fortunately, getting hit once wasn’t exactly certain death, but rather immediately backed you out of the mini-game and back into the “real world” of war. Reaching the end meant a whole lot of bonus coins. Cameos could also be found inside some of these buildings. Robocop makes an appearance and offers armor for just 50 coins. The princess can be found and will reward you with a bunch of coins. All of these things are additional elements the game randomizes each time and are a nice touch.
The final layer to this Gunslugs onion is the Objectives. Now this is one thing I had a hard time finding meaningful. At first, the objectives were simple, beat a level kind of simple. But right now, as of this writing, two out of three of the objectives are going to take me some serious game time to get through. “Play As Scarlette Sonya” and “Play As Willis Kiyay” are just two of the objectives I can’t complete because I haven’t yet unlocked these characters. Unlocking them requires me to suck less than I currently do. Furthermore, the game’s 13 trophies are linked to completing specific objectives.
I feel like Gunslugs could be considered as a kind of infinite runner in a way. You only get one life to try and get as far through the game as possible. What would a game like this be without online leaderboards and a tight soundtrack? Well, check and check. Both are executed perfectly. The leaderboards effectively show top scores as well as your own high scores. The chiptunes sound track is classic Gavin Harrison, known for composing quite a few video game soundtracks.
Orangepixel has been making amazingly tight retro inspired games for nearly every digital distribution platform on the market today, and the Vita version of Gunslugs has got to be the best version among them all. No loading, tight controls, fast paced action packed gameplay, and several reasons to replay. Not to mention, Abstraction Games who is responsible for porting Gunslugs to Vita has done an amazing job. And they’re not done, as more Orangepixel games are coming soon. Gunslugs is priced perfectly and doesn’t burden the gamer micro transactions or a scheming free-to-play model.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Fun retro-inspired 8-bit graphics
- Classically themed mini-games and character cameos
- Action packed shooting mayhem
- Great chiptune soundtrack from Gavin Harrison
- Stat tracking with online leaderboards
- Highly replayable
- Affordably priced and small file size
What I Dislike:
- Unforgiving difficulty curve
- No multiplayer
- Disheartening Objectives