Posted by Joey Thurmond
Bang, bang, bang for your buck
Gunslugs offers the promptest path to a dose of explosive Rambo-esque action on the PlayStation Store. When you first boot up this 2D side-scrolling shooter, you’ll be greeted to an electrifying arcade song and the image of an 8-bit inspired military agent decked out in a facemask. A dead ringer for famous cartoon ladies’ man Johnny Bravo, you’ll control this yellow-haired hero through randomly generated levels replete with enemies, weapons, obstacles, and more. But does this smartphone port by Orangepixel fulfil its objectives on the PlayStation Vita, or is it merely a case of mission failed?
The story here follows a group of specialised agents tasked with trying to figure out what shenanigans the Black Duck army are up to. What are this militia’s motives? Where do our heroes come from? What’s up with there being chickens on the battlefield all the time? Trust us, none of these things matter since the minimal story is simply there for the sake of being there; you’re here to shoot and blow a ton of stuff up, and that’s absolutely cool with us.
Mirroring the straightforward narrative, you only need to use three buttons while playing: shoot, jump, and move. It’s a simple control scheme that doesn’t really ever take advantage of its parent platform’s unique features, but that’s unsurprising considering its origins on mobile devices. The most important thing is that the controls are tight and responsive, while there are plenty of options available in the scheme, allowing you to tailor the experience to your own personal preferences. We do think that the game would have benefited from allowing you to shoot in eight directions (like in Contra) as opposed to two, but the shooting mechanics are solid for what they are, and handle well.
The action is frantic and fun, too. There’s plenty of bizarre equipment that you can use for brief periods of time, such as an electric gun, jetpack, small tank, or even a firearm that shoots eggs. It’s a shame that there’s not an option to toggle between the default pistol and special weapon for circumstances where both are necessary, but that’s not a deal breaker.
As you blast your way through the adventure, you’ll encounter themed locations such as the jungle and arctic, but the three levels within each stage are always randomly generated, ensuring that your experience will never be the same twice. In truth, while the changes never seem overly substantial or surprising, the tweaks are enough to prevent repetition, which helps when you can’t pass a particular part.
And you will find yourself getting stuck in some areas on occasion, as the title can be quite challenging. For example, you can lose all of your health instantly if you come into contact with a buried bomb or shoot a toxic barrel in close proximity. The problem is that these accursed obstacles are difficult to spot in the heat of chaotic combat, leading to some frustration. Fortunately, rescuing unlockable characters allows you to restart from the area that you found them, which adds an unconventional but interesting checkpoint system to the release.
Still, that doesn’t ever stop the escapade from being particularly frantic, as coins and ammo packs rarely stick around for long. Mercifully, some buildings host rare items such as drinks that when glugged allow you to slow down the action or score an extra life. You can even use your coins to pay your way into seemingly arbitrary levels that resemble famous platformers such as Donkey Kong and Super Mario. In fact, these aren’t the only humorous pop culture references in the title, with character cameos ranging from Princess Peach through to Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.
Despite the 8-bit art style, though, this isn’t an overly colourful game, with browns and greys used to depict the industrial environments. Nevertheless, the simple backdrops look great on the Vita’s OLED screen, and the sound effects complement the style. It’s the soundtrack that really steals the show, though, with Gavin Harrison’s electronic tunes bringing plenty of appropriate energy to the action. There may only be six songs, but they’re all equally great.
However, while you’ll need to tear yourself away from the music, this is a title that’s best enjoyed in short sessions. It’ll certainly keep you occupied for a number of hours before you beat all of its stages, but we recommend blasting through them in short chunks rather than elongated sessions. In truth, there’s no real reason to return to the escapade once you’ve finished it, but with a pocket change price tag, it’s hard to really complain about the lack of replayability.
Gunslugs packs a real punch by giving you plenty of bang for your buck. This side-scrolling shooter may not be especially original, but its challenging gameplay, catchy audio, and old-fashioned visuals make it more than worth your time. The package may not be brimming with replay value, but if you’re looking for something explosive to fill the odd few minutes, then you should go in guns blazing with this affordable, action-packed indie offering.