Gunslugs – Review

Title   Gunslugs
Developer  Orange Pixel / Abstraction Games
Publisher  Abstraction Games
Platform  PlayStation VIta
Genre  Side-scrolling shooter
Release Date  February 18, 2014
Official Site

Gunslugs is a run-and-gun shooter that originated out in mobile phone land as one of many games by the highly-profilic Orange Pixel game studio. After a great reception from critics it has now been ported to the Vita by Abstraction, the team that converted Hotline Miami. In preparation for this review, I gave the original mobile version a go (on an HTC One) and while the simple controls (left, right, jump and shoot) translate better to the touchscreen than most games of this type, it’s still a frustrating experience so it should be more at home Sony’s little handheld wonder.

Taking its cues from games such as Contra and, more obviously, Metal Slug, Gunslugs puts you in the boots of a soldier who has to work his or her way through each side-scrolling stage in traditional arcade style killing everyone, and everything, who gets in their way. It’s a genre that has become somewhat under-represented since the widespread adoption of the twin-stick shooter but is still one of the best ways to have a little bit of murderous fun.

The game doesn’t score highly on subtlety and variation but what it does, it does quite well. Each stage is a pacy feast of violence that never really lets up and a supply of weapon powerups helps Gunslugs achieve that most important of goals – making you feel like a badass. Which is just as well given that when you die, that’s it.  Game over. Old school gaming just like Mum used to make. That is unless you grab an extra continue (available when you collect 100 coins from dead enemies.

That said, death doesn’t come as easily as usual for this type of game. Sure, you only have one life, but you do have a healthy energy bar and can take quite a bit of punishment from most enemies before keeling over (although explosions will mess you up if you’re stood too close). This helps keep the game going but can lead to a little complacency. Usually in this type of game you’d be wrenching the arcade stick clean off its mountings in order to make a last minute leap out of the way of some hot lead, but in Gunslugs you’re something of a bullet sponge. Right up until the point where death has caught up with you.

The core gameplay is pretty good. It lacks the precision of Contra opting instead for a faster, more chaotic approach but the shorter levels and well-judged in-game objectives allow for steady progress and encourage you to return game after game. The speed of the game and sensitivity of the controls is maybe a tad too much for my tastes but it’s still a very playable, and accessible, shooter.

Unlockable additional soldiers to play as (all based on action movie favourites) also give an added incentive to keep going and, rather nicely, each one acts as a checkpoint so that you don’t have to always start from level one.  The conditions for unlocking some of them aren’t exactly clear though, which is an annoyance.   Also, each level contains buildings that can be entered. The contents of these buildings are randomised but can contain some interesting bonus features, including some nice gameplay twists. I won’t spoil them here but they should bring a smile to your gob.

When it comes to presentation, opinions may be divided. Some will love the 8-bit style visuals and chirpy music whereas others may think it’s a lazy, irritating way to give your game some quick and easy charm. I’m somewhere in the middle. The graphics are a bit too rough, even by current neo-retro standards, and they don’t specifically echo any one game, which makes it all feel a little cynical but crucially they don’t get in the way of the action either and they do a job. That said, when I popped my first trophy on the game, I was shocked as I had previously thought this must be a PlayStation Mobile game given that it looks no better than recent PSM freebie Super Crate Box.

Aside from that, there isn’t much more you can say about Gunslugs. It takes a simple premise and doesn’t run too far with it. Nor will it demand too much of your wallet or your time. It’s the sort of game you can pick up for five minutes or longer if you want to really work at boosting your leaderboard position while the in-game objectives, and associated trophies, add some much-needed depth and structure to the game. This elevates it from the usual mobile fodder but with the Vita now being home to absolute time-killers like OlliOlli, Surge Deluxe and TxK, Gunslugs has kind of arrived at a bad time.

  • Easy to get into and enjoyable gameplay
  • Cute retro stylings may please some gamers
  • In-game objectives link well with PSN trophies and are well-judged
  • A tad shallow
  • Chaotic action is masking some deficiencies when it comes to the gameplay and level design.
  • Graphics and animation are miles off the standards set by games like Metal Slug.
  • Later levels can be hard enough to discourage casual play.

Gunslugs is a fun little run-and-gun shooter that comes straight from the old-school. The production values are low but it's a cheap and cheerful arcade romp with a few nice touches and enough incentives to keep playing for a while. It's not the best example of the genre and often feels a bit rushed but Gunslugs achieves what it sets out to do with no fuss and no pretence.

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