The way that an individual perceives video games as an endeavour, not just in regard to their favourite genre, but their attitude and approach to this fine pastime, determines their entire gaming experience. For example, ask a retro gamer which game they first think of when you mention Naughty Dog and they may answer Crash Bandicoot, yet a modern gamer might just as quickly respond with The Last of Us.
A retro gamer who paid £82 to import Street Fighter II for the Super Famicom in the summer of 1992 may subsequently consider a £1.99/$2.49 PlayStation Vita game like Total Recoil an absolute bargain. However, a gamer who focuses their attention on mobile phone gaming may set their 'best-value' price tag expectations to 69p, or expect certain types of games to be free. They might play their games everywhere, on the bus, train, and ferry. However, a Vita gamer is less likely to carry the handheld with them at all times, and may be apprehensive about taking their luxury portable out in public.
Just as Nintendo Life discovered with Aqua Moto Racing 3D on 3DS, many of these issues have a bearing upon how you may view Total Recoil, especially as it's also available for free on iOS and Android platforms. From the perspective of a Vita gamer, though, £1.99 is still a bargain for a twin-stick top-down shooter, especially as it includes 41 wave-attack stages and three survivor pursuits.
Eiconic Games, an independent studio founded in Oxford in the UK, has created a compulsive upgrade system in this single player only game, but it works best during a ten minute blast at the bus-stop, yet it demands lengthy and prolonged play sessions. The weapons, killstreaks, and equipment upgrades are set to extortionate prices, even though it's focused on a fictional in-game currency called 'bucks coins'. You grind more in Total Recoil than a Tony Hawk skateboarding game.
The military themed visuals are adequate, but lack the personality of its iOS twin-stick peers, like Minigore or Alive 4-ever. Once you have witnessed the three main background areas (Oil Rig, Mighty Jungle, and Trainyard) they are recycled over 6 mission dossiers, broken into 41 operations including a boot camp training mission, so the stage design feels like a looping background wraparound in a Scooby Doo chase. The core music also becomes repetitive, and the constant yelling of the announcer grates, even if it's helpful at declaring when you are achieving an "outstanding" kill combo.
For a technically accomplished piece of hardware, it's also surprising to see the Vita chug from loading a boss encounter. We also experienced one instance where using the Hammerhead missile launcher confused the game engine, resulting in us being trapped in an out-of-bounds limbo area, becoming stuck and unable to return to the main gameplay arena, and necessitating a game reset. While the Oil Rig environment is a clear and accessible battlefield, it's cheap and frustrating that the Mighty Jungle stages increase the difficulty level by obscuring your view of enemies, because of invasive foreground palm tree leaves.
This is amplified by cluttered screen real estate, as soldiers, crates, and barrels drop into levels from above, with each word bellowed by the announcer popping up on the screen, all combining to impede your field of vision of enemy placements. Just like in retro top-down run-and-gun games, such as Ikari Warriors and MERCS, at times you get to control a tank. Unfortunately, this can be jarring, as it slows down your efficiency at crushing a wave attack, as the hefty vehicle is too large and becomes stuck behind objects in the environment.
This has a detrimental impact on the gameplay, which is barely rinsed before it's repeated, just like the recycling of the graphics, audio, boss battles, and stage layouts. Yet minor visual hiccups don't break the core gameplay, as Total Recoil encourages you to defeat waves by destroying every enemy within a time limit, so the countdown clock ensures that there's a hectic pace to this shooter. This is best showcased in later mission dossiers, as Echo and Foxtrot operations are the most fun, because the game builds to become more chaotic. It's a shame that many gamers will not have the patience or motivation to grind through to the more riotous later stages, as everything is priced so steeply, and even an extra life costs 10,000 bucks coins. Without any multiplayer option, and no online leaderboards, Total Recoil limits the incentive for you to plod through to completion.
In theory, a gifted player could finish all 6 mission dossiers in less than six hours, but this is unlikely, as difficulty spikes force you to return to earlier stages to save money for upgrades. Later stages are littered with fire pits, toxic green gas, and mines, plus defeated enemies start to respawn as you are bombarded with homing missiles and electricity bolts that lock-on. Once you have improved your character's health, speed, armour, and also bolstered seven different weapons you may have tripled the six hour completion time, especially if you toil to achieve Rank 18 to become General of the Army. The ranking system is Eiconic's most successful addition at incorporating replay incentive, because it's based on fulfilling unique gameplay challenges, like amassing 100 kills without absorbing a single hit.
Different challenges persuade you to experiment with killstreaks, such as artillery strikes and smart bombs, which may be neglected if you focus on upgrading weapons. There are gameplay benefits to boosting weapons, with a sense of empowerment, and mission dossier operations that include blocked areas, which require specific weapons to destroy a barrier. You earn stars as a performance rating for collecting hidden medals and clearing every wave. However, it's indicative of the game's obsession with bucks coins, as well as being counter-productive, that you can pay to skip gameplay challenges. This means that you can cheat your way to earning a Trophy for reaching Rank 18, as long as you are willing to squander coins on an extortionate fee.
Decent smartphone twin-stick shooters, like Dracula: Undead Awakening and Age of Zombies, are already available on Vita, but their roots as Minis mean that they don't take advantage of a right stick to aim and fire. Just as Smash TV was superior to control on PSone compared to SNES, because of the DualShock's second stick, it's the inclusion of real-deal physical twin-stick controls that represent Total Recoil's greatest asset. For this reason, the Grenade Launcher is the game's strongest weapon, because the Hammerhead's rear touchpad or touch screen aiming is too unwieldy. Touch screen inputs for selecting weapons and killstreaks are intuitive enough, but you'll be thankful that Eiconic has also mapped these selections to physical inputs, as tapping the screen to collect coins becomes messy when it opens up menu options instead.
It's also refreshing that Eiconic has not overburdened Total Recoil with unnecessary story exposition; Simon Credland from Eiconic stated that it intended to create an arcade feel to the game. Therefore, once you know that Theodore J Biggs from a greedy oil corporation, Globoco, is using a huge army to bully his way to control oil reserves, any further story embellishment is unnecessary. Eiconic explain it better by encouraging you to focus on the shooting, as in this instance it declares that "stories are for wimps."
Eiconic has set a solid template for Total Recoil, with ample content and generally enjoyable gameplay. However, it's the flaws and foibles inherited from its smartphone roots that spoil the potential of its upgrade system. Therefore, enhancing weapons, killstreaks, and equipment feels too expensive using the in-game currency, so you may find it a chore to toil and grind through repeated wave attacks. The game leaves an impression of quantity over quality, but at £1.99/$2.99, it may still be tempting as an impulse purchase.