Monthly Archives: September 2018

Way of the Passive Fist

way-of-the-passive-fist-gameplay-screenshot-1Beat ’em ups are a genre of game that really took off about 30 years ago. Games like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, River City Ransom, and scores of others were being devoured by people who couldn’t get enough of punching and kicking baddies in the face. Then the genre fell off the face of the earth for a while. In recent years, these games have enjoyed a bit of a return to glory. All sorts of passion projects have come along reminding people how fun it is to clobber virtual street thugs.

As entertaining as all of this is, Way of the Passive Fist takes a very different approach. Here, players don’t punch and kick their way to victory. Instead they block and and dodge attacks until enemies become exhausted. When this happens, a simple poke is all that’s needed to defeat them. The game very much takes a “the best offense is a good defense” approach to how it plays.

The game takes place on the planet Zircon V. It attracted a lot of ambitious colonists eager to strike it rich mining up all of the planet’s valuable resources. However, there were some who warned that the planet was too close to the sun. As such, they feared that this would create incredibly harsh conditions on the planet. Upon arriving, colonists were greeted with the hard truth that Zircon V is a desolate wasteland and living there will be tough.

way-of-the-passive-fist-gameplay-screenshot-2Amidst all of this, the player takes control of a legendary hermit known as the Wanderer. He’s been living by himself in a remote part of the planet and is known for his unusual defensive fighting style. Only now has he emerged to fight the various raiders and other troublemakers of the planet in an attempt to make Zircon V a slightly less terrible place to live.

The art style in Way of the Passive Fist is somewhat reminiscent of cartoons from the 70s and 80s. Character designs have a fairly Mad Max-like look to them. Meanwhile, levels themselves are varied ranging from deserts to mines to exotic jungles among other locales. The sprite work in the game is quite nice, and it manages to set itself apart from other games that use a pixelated presentation. The soundtrack is also very well done with much of the music being guitar-driven. Listening to the music, it feels just like something one would hear from an arcade beat ‘em up circa 1990.

Actual combat is the meat of the game, though, and as was mentioned earlier, it is very unique. While standard beat ‘em ups commonly have crowds of enemies swarm players, this isn’t the case in Way of the Passive Fist. Doing so would break the game. Instead enemies will take turns trying to attack the Wanderer. With that, they’ll give audio and visual cues that they are about to attack, then players need to block and dodge appropriately. As the game progresses, these enemies get smarter and will try to fake out the player. This usually happens with an audio cue, but a delayed attack. So, players need to watch out for this. As attacks are avoided, a stamina bar above enemies’ heads is depleted. Once it is empty, they are exhausted and all the player need do is poke them once to defeat them.

way-of-the-passive-fist-gameplay-screenshot-3Even though players largely deal with enemies one at a time, they need to keep an eye out for ranged attacks and environmental hazards. These can still happen, and may require dashing away in order to avoid being hit by something, breaking a parry chain. These chains are important because they build meter. As the meter fills, increasingly powerful special attacks become available. With them comes a risk-reward system as players need to decide when best to utilize these attacks. These attacks are also necessary for inflicting damage on bosses, so building and maintaining parry chains is very important.

At its core, the game has a 10 chapter story mode. However, there are also additional chapters that are unlocked after completing the main game. Completing the initial game also unlocks a roguelite mode. There players take on all manner of additional battles, surviving as best they can.

As unusual as Way of the Passive Fist might sound, the game is a ton of fun. It takes some getting used to blocking and dodging attacks. There’s a bit of a learning curve to get used to the cues and adjusting as enemies try to confuse the player. Once the player gets a handle on this, blocking and dodging one’s way to victory is quite enjoyable, not to mention a humorous change of pace from basically every other beat ‘em up on the market.

Way of the Passive Fist is available for Xbox One, PS4, as well as PC.


downwell-gameplay-screenshot-1Boots have always been popular attire in video games. Often times they have special abilities imbued in. They might let players do all sorts of things be it walk on ceilings, or jump super fast, or run faster. One type of boot that never really got explored was one with a gun on it. Sure, it sounds good on paper. However, the practicality of such a wondrous device was always a question.

So, when Downwell came along it turned a lot of heads. It took a simple concept and made it extremely fun. Players would control their little on-screen dude as he jumped down a well, blasting monsters in his way with his trust gun boots. Gun Boots! They just make sense in a game that has nothing but vertical environments.

Basically, players want to get to the bottom of the well in order to win. So, from the surface they jump down and begin their journey. As they continue to plummet downward, the denizens of the well will begin to attack. Controls simply allow for moving left and right, jumping, and firing the gun boots. As such, players will leap from ledges and rocky outcrops, then either attempt to maneuver through all of the monsters trying to attack, or blasting them to bits with their boots.

downwell-gameplay-screenshot-2At first, things aren’t too hectic, but after a few stages the pace really picks up. Players begin to strategize on the fly, figuring out the safest path to fall, when to go on the offensive, constantly monitoring how many charges the boots have left. The last bit there is important because if players are trigger happy, the current clip of ammo in the boots will run out. When that happens, players won’t be able to shoot again until after they land on a ledge. At that point, the boots automatically reload.

Downwell has some roguelike qualities to it as well. Each playthrough, the stage layouts are a little bit different. There are themes to different sections of the game, which remain consistent (the first few stages are caverns, followed by catacombs, etc), but where the ledges, bonus rooms, shops, and monsters show up change with each run. At the end of each stage, players will also get to choose from three power-ups to help them on their journey as well. These can range from health boosts, to improved accuracy, bullets blasting out of bricks that are destroyed, and a bunch of others.

With each playthrough, progress points are accumulated and as milestones are reached various goodies are unlocked. Some of these give players new styles they can utilize in the game. For instance, one causes far more weapons to spawn in a run, but reduces the likelihood of shops appearing. Another gives players more hit points, but there will be less power-ups to choose from between levels. It’s also possible to unlock new color palettes over time. These give players all sorts of options for how their game can look if the red, white, and black default isn’t to their liking.

downwell-gameplay-screenshot-2Aesthetically, Downwell goes for a very simple, retro look. Stages have very catchy chip tunes playing, and the visuals have a fairly minimalist pixel styling. What it lacks in fidelity, the game more than makes up for in personality. The way players’ character waves its arms around trying to stay balanced on the edge of a ledge is adorable. Meanwhile the game’s shopkeeper comes off as quite cordial in a way that makes it clear he’s happy to take your money.

Since the game first released in 2015, it has gradually been ported to a number of different platforms. It is available digitally for the PS4 and soon the Nintendo Switch as well. There are iOS and Android versions, and the game is also available on Steam, of course. Downwell takes a very simple, but also very unique concept that makes for an extremely enjoyable experience. It’s great for both people who just want to kill 10 minutes and those who want to get sucked into a game and lose themselves for an hour or so.

In Development: Garrison: Archangel

garrison-archangel-gameplay-screenshot-1Back in the 80s and 90s, mecha anime was all the rage. Shows like Gundam, Macross, VOTOMs, and countless others battled it out for viewers’ attention.  For a lot of fans, these things were the future. Who cares about flying cars when you could have giant robots instead?

Of course, as these things’ popularity grew, all sorts of merchandise related to them began to spring up. It was only a matter of time before mecha video games would become a thing. During the late 90s and early 2000s, there were two series that captured people’s imaginations for a time. The first was SEGA’s Virtual On. The second was From Software’s Armored Core.

While they both had players doing battle in giant robots, the series took decidedly different approaches to them. Virtual On went for a pure arcade experience. As a result, combat was very fast as players whizzed around arenas blasting at their opponents before hitting their thrusters and going in for a melee attack. Each robot was like a character in a fighting game. The mechanized killing machine was pre-made with a very distinct identity to it.

Meanwhile, Armored Core felt a bit more like it was trying to be a simulation. There was a lot more variety in how mechs handled. Some were pretty nimble, but there were a lot of other ones that had a slower, lumbering feel to them. This is largely a result of the extreme levels of customization that players had at their fingertips when choosing a mech here. They could swap out torsos, arms, heads, legs, even do away with legs in favor of tank treads. There were internal systems that could be swapped out as well. This doesn’t even take into account weapon load outs. Really there was a ton of options in terms of how players could go into battle when it came to the Armored Core series.

garrison-archangel-gameplay-screenshot-2So, there were two very good mecha games that each approached the genre in their own way, each garnering their own audience of dedicated fans in the process. They were both good games, but that’s all in the past now. Studios haven’t made games like that in a very long time. It’s kind of sad, really. But perhaps fans of giant robots shouldn’t give up hope just yet.

Indigo Entertainment has been working on a mecha game of their own for the last while: Garrison: Archangel. What makes it particularly interesting is that they are trying to combine a lot of what made Virtual On and Armored Core great, and put it all into one game.

It takes the fast-paced arena combat of Virtual On while giving players the customization of Armored Core. As such, players are given a lot of options for how they want their giant robots to perform with regards to stats, appearance, load outs and the like, while being greeted with very frenetic gameplay when competing in matches.

So far, customization provides a lot of options, with millions of possible combinations as to how one’s robot will look and perform. This mode will give players a lot of avenues as to how they want to approach combat. There is a worrying lack of tank tread or quadruped options in the leg department, but here’s to hoping that maybe these get added at some point.

garrison-archangel-gameplay-screenshot-3Meanwhile, the matches’ tempo are very quick, making them very reminiscent of Virtual On. Mechas have thrusters equipped the that allow for quick side dashes, blasting forward to close space, as well as taking flight. All the while, players will blast away at their opponent and / or slice them up with a melee weapon. It all happens very fast, keeping fights very exciting.

At the moment, many of the arenas are very sparse. In versus matches, they tend to be large, open rings. While these give a lot of room to maneuver, having terrain to work with would add a lot to the experience.

So far, the game’s horde mode appears to be the only place players will find this. Here, players find themselves in a seemingly virtual environment with wire frame buildings. These give one places to take cover from incoming fire, as well as opportunities to take advantage of high ground. This adds a lot to combat and it would be nice to see this in other modes as well, or at least make it available as an option.

Thus far, the game’s graphics are looking pretty decent with some nice mechas to choose from. Meanwhile, the soundtrack has a feel to it that is very similar to arcade games of the 1990s. One can quickly tell that the game’s developers have spent a lot of time with classic mecha games and are pouring their enthusiasm for these into the game’s aesthetics (and everything else too, obviously).

There will plenty of game modes for players to sink their teeth into in Garrison: Archangel. The game will include both a single player and online versus mode. Versus combat will actually support up to four players, so things can get pretty hectic. There will be a survival mode where players face off against one robot after the next. Also, there will be the horde mode alluded to earlier, which does exactly what players will expect. Between all of these and heading off to the garage to make custom robots, things are shaping up to give players plenty to do.

As it stands, there is a lot to like in Garrison: Archangel. The game has quite a bit of potential. At this point, it largely needs more meat on its bones. It’s still in early access, though, so there will be plenty of opportunity for that. Versus-styled mecha games sort of fell off the face of the earth. This game could help to bring them back. It’ll be exciting to see where the developers take things from here.

The game is currently available on Steam Early Access.


distance-gameplay-screenshot-1After all these years, Distance has finally been released. At first, the game’s developers turned some heads with the game’s predecessor, Nitronic Rush. It got people taking student projects a lot more seriously. Before this, game design schools were still in their infancy, and the few that did exist quietly pumped out graduates without drawing much attention to themselves outside of their regular ads in game magazines.

Then Nitronic Rush came along and showed a large audience what these places were actually doing. It was a really fun, futuristic racer with its high tech cars, towering skyscrapers, and dazzling neon lights. Folks who took it for a spin wanted more.

So, now out of school, the game’s developers got together and launched a Kickstarter all the way back in 2012. Their goal was to make a bigger, better version of this game. They wanted to make Distance. So, here it is. Six years have passed, the game spend quite some time in the oven, it’s finally out of Early Access, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Right out of the gates, it is clear to see that this is a very pretty game. The folks at Refract Studios took everything that made Nitronic Rush look so good and cranked it way up for Distance. The level of detail has been ramped up considerably. Lighting is extremely vibrant without becoming a distraction. There is also an excellent sense of speed. The game just looks fantastic with its futuristic cities and cars. It really drives home that this is intended to be much more of an atmospheric racing game.

distance-gameplay-screenshot-2Meanwhile, it also has a very nice soundtrack. It’s all electronic music, so no wheels have been reinvented in the creation of Distance‘s soundscape. There’s just a nice mix of catchy tunes that add a lot to the experience, getting players pumped as they soar down the game’s highways in the sky.

There are actually a number of different game modes available. These include a story mode, arcade mode, and a track editor. Story mode has a couple of different narratives. After players complete the first, which consists of a little over a dozen tracks, a new story is unlocked. There isn’t much too them, but they do touch on virtual realities and simulation theory with interesting little things the game does to drive the story as players are driving. In this mode, there aren’t any other cars on the road. As a result, the game feels more like an obstacle course than an actual race.

As such, there is a certain degree of trial and error as players get used to a course layout and how their futuristic car functions in different areas. The tracks can get pretty crazy with lasers, buzzsaws, and other obstacles that must be avoided. Meanwhile, there are areas where players must rotate their car 90 or even 180 degrees to ride the walls and ceilings. Then there are other sections that require the vehicle to sprout wings and fly. So, there is a lot to deal with just trying to get to the finish line.

distance-gameplay-screeenshot-3With that, players will quickly notice that their car has a lot of thrusters on it. These allow it to jump, rotate, push itself into the ground, and, of course, there is also a big one on the back of the thing for a speed boost. These provide quite a lot of additional maneuverability, open the door to tricks, and need to be constantly monitored so not to overheat the engine, destroying the car.

All of these flips and barrel rolls that the thrusters provide also come into play with some of Distance’s arcade modes. Some of these modes are very straightforward. For instance, there’s sprint. Here players just try to be the first to the finish or challenge mode which is more obstacle courses. Then there is stunt mode with tracks specially designed to accommodate particularly death defying maneuvers for big scores. There is also a neat mode where players can type in any word they want. The game will take this and generate a track based on it.

Due to all of the maneuverability of the cars, solid controls are important. With that, Distance is very responsive, but most players will likely go through a bit of a learning curve getting used to things. There are a lot of thrusters to deal with and it’s not exactly intuitive given how novel these vehicles are. So, players shouldn’t be too surprised if they spend their first hour or so in the game crashing into walls or falling off of the race course. Everything is going to feel a bit weird at first. It’s not the end of the world, though. Once everything clicks, it’s extremely satisfying nailing particularly tough parts of a given track, shaving seconds off of one’s personal best time.

distance-gameplay-screenshot-4If the modes and tracks that the game provides aren’t quite enough, there is also a level editor. Here players can design tracks to their heart’s content. It also means that people can download tracks from a massive database of user-created content. As such, there are a ton of tracks to fiddle around with for those so inclined.

Regardless of what mode one plays, there is just so much to enjoy in Distance. It looks and sounds fantastic. There is lots and lots of content. Then, once players get used to controlling the cars, it’s super rewarding nailing difficult tracks. It’s been a long time coming, but the finished version of Distance is here and it was definitely worth the wait.

Distance is currently available for Windows, Mac, and Linux via Steam.


shinkendo-gameplay-1There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned sword fight to bring people together. Two opponents facing off with their elongated stabby tools of choice can manifest itself in so many ways. In the case of SHINKENDO, it was an entry for GBJAM5. GBJAM is a game jam where entrants’ games must meet certain technical specifications in relation to the original GameBoy. These include a maximum resolution of 160px x 144px and using only four colors. As readers will see by the screenshots, this leads to a very minimalist approach to presentation for the games submitted.

However, not only does this game’s aesthetic abide by a very simplified approach, but the gameplay also follows this ethos. Players control a samurai and fight a rival on a bridge in medieval Japan. It’s a very typical setting for this sort of thing. It looks good, gets the point across and is very functional.

There are only four buttons to control the person. One for moving forward and another for moving back. Another button is for an overhead slash, while one final button does a slash that sends the sword in a sweeping, upward movement.

Despite there being so few buttons, there’s a lot that players can do with their little samurai. The movement buttons can actually be double tapped to dart forward and back, and can even be used to cancel attacks. This turns combat into a bit of a mind game as combatants try to trick each other into committing to an attack. Because actual sword swings are a fairly involved process, if one of these samurai miss their attack, their opponent cant capitalize and land a blow before the other person has a chance to get their defenses back up.

shinkendo gameplay screenshot 2Of course, if the first player actually manages to cancel an attack, the tables could also be turned. The person looking for the opening may wind up exposing themselves instead. There is a constant back and forth like this as players look for openings while feigning to lower their defenses.

It’s possible to play against the computer or to go with two-player local coop. The CPU is pretty manageable for the first two or three fights, but after that difficulty ramps up quickly with the opponent getting much more aggressive. Also, the stage is the same, as is the rival, each fight. This is a game jam entry after all, so this sort of thing is to be expected.

Those interested in the two-player local coop mode will have a lot of fun. The only concern here is that both people need to use the PC’s keyboard while playing. This will leave folks playing shoulder-to-shoulder and makes for a tight squeeze.

SHINKENDO captures a lot of what makes fighting games great: the mind games. Stripping away so many buttons and tossing fancy inputs by the wayside keeps the game very pure. Players will spend their time trying to get in their opponents’ heads reading their moves while trying to trick them into making mistakes. This is a game that both fans of fighting games and those who have never played will enjoy.

SHINKENDO can be downloaded at the game’s page.

In Development: WORLD OF HORROR

world-of-horror-gameplay-screen-1Games on the original Macintosh had a certain charm to them. There was so much detail for the time in many of the games to appear on it, especially graphical adventures. Seeing as the computer didn’t have a colored monitor, developers had to make do with the gray scale graphics that it was capable of.  Games like Deja Vu, Corruption, and Shadowgate all wowed players with what they could do with the Mac’s graphics.

These games carved out a visual niche that hasn’t really been re-visited until now. One-person Polish developer, Panstasz, plans to do something about this with their upcoming adventure game WORLD OF HORROR.

The game will take the gray scale visuals of early Macintosh games, then combine it with the spooky sensibilities of Junji Ito and HP Lovecraft. Moreover, rather than telling a single story, WORLD OF HORROR will give players the choice of three creepy tales, each with their own protagonist. Well, there are three stories to choose from in the demo. Maybe there will be more in the full game? Who knows?

As mentioned, the game has three scenarios available thus far. One features Kirie Saito who is a recent transfer student to her high school. Students have been daring each other to stay in the abandoned washroom after school, which is apparently a scary place. However, when one of them dies trying this people start wondering if the legendary killer Aka Manto has returned. It’s up to players to help Kirie solve this mystery.

world-of-horror-demo-gameplay-2Next there is Kouji Tagawa, the classroom photographer. His friend was killed recently by an otherworldly being described as unnaturally tall woman with an monstrously wide smile. Kouji must go over his friends notes as to how he can correctly summon the creature to this world and kill it forever.

Finally, there is Mizuki Hamasaki who is an aspiring teen idol. She has been invited to a remote village for a festival that only happens once every 27 years. However, upon arriving she discovers strange sounds emanated from the nearby forest. This just don’t add up and Mizuki has to figure out just what is going on.

By the looks of things, there may be more that players will be able to do with these characters in the final game, but it’s hard to say. Presumably there will me more, otherwise WORLD OF HORROR would be very short.

Once players choose a scenario and are given the lowdown on what’s going on, they are then given a few choices on how to proceed. Some of these appear to have stat checks against the character being played. If their stats are too low, the check will fail. If it’s high enough things will be fine. This feels like it could wind up being a bit like Long Live the Queen where players will have to make mental notes of where they failed and either make sure their stats are high enough to succeed in future playthroughs, or simply pick another option the next time that choice appears.

While players are doing this, they will acquire items that should make life a lot easier. This is especially the case when discovering a weapon that they can equip. Battles aren’t terribly frequent, but being armed for them makes it easier to dispatch deranged foes. Combat itself is a simple turn-based system reminiscent of old 8-bit JRPGs. Players will be presented with a portrait of the enemy and a handful of options. These include observing the enemy to see what the player is up against. Then there is a special move (often associated with magic) and the ability to actually attack.

Events in the game give things a roguelite element, as they recur on multiple playthroughs and can happen in different characters stories sometimes. With that, there is a slight RNG feel to some of the events in the game.

Interestingly, with many of the choices that a player makes a Doom Meter of sorts begins to fill. It’s implied that when it reaches 100% an Old God of some sort will enter the world, and this really sounds like a bad thing. There doesn’t seem to be a way to reach 100% in the demo, presumably because there isn’t enough content to get there. However, it does act as a tool to nudge players along and not doddle. They will already have things that they need to do in a timely manner for their main quest (Kouji’s scenario in particular exhibits this), but the Doom Meter adds an extra layer of urgency / tension to the mix.

This is something that WORLD OF HORROR is doing a good job of so far: setting a tone. The game is heavily influenced by Junji Ito and HP Lovecraft after all. With that comes an onslaught of unsettling art and situations. For using such a simple color scheme in its graphics, the game quickly makes the player feel uneasy, worrying about something terrible happening to their character. There will be frequent situations where players enter a room and are greeted with a scene that makes them think, “Well, that isn’t good!”

There is also the constant reminder that Old Gods are returning to the world and people are losing their minds. As such, there will be random unsettling moments that may not even be entirely related to a given game scenario. These serve to give a sense that even if these high schoolers weren’t solving some creepy mystery, they wouldn’t have a happy, safe life to return to. The world as a whole is still going down the tubes in the worst Eldrich horror way possible.

From what can be seen of WORLD OF HORROR thus far, it looks promising. It has the art style and mood locked down. The stories being told are suitably creepy. Mostly what it needs is more content and maybe more ways to impact choices. There is plenty of time to work on that, though. The developer isn’t planning to release the game until at least 2019. As it stands, the game is being developed for the PC, PS4, and Switch, so a number of different platform users have something to look forward to. In the meantime, there is a demo available for those curious. Feel free to download it from the dev’s page.


roguelight-gameplay-1There can never be too many rogue-likes out there. Well, there probably can be, but if they’re good ones, then the more the merrier. Roguelight was released by Daniel Linssen a few years ago and it brings its own set of features that help it stand out from the crowd.

The game is a side-view action platformer. In it players control a green-haired girl exploring some caverns. As one might expect, caverns are dark places and it’s tough to see in them. In order to address this issue the girl is carrying a bunch of fire arrows with her. These can be used in a few ways. The most obvious is to fire them at oil lanterns conveniently strewn around the levels. This will ignite the lantern and illuminate quite a bit of the surrounding area.

She can also simply have an arrow drawn and use it to temporarily light the area immediately around her. This only lasts a short while, as the arrow will eventually run out of fuel and go out. At this point, it is only useful for killing enemies and players won’t be able to see around them anymore. Finally, it is also possible to fire a burning arrow into the ground or a wall, with those areas being illuminated for a short time.

With that, players do have a few options for how they can light up their surroundings.  Even with this, they still need to be careful, as they will only have a limited number of arrows. If one gets trigger happy and runs out of ammo, they are going to have to wander around and find more arrows.

roguelight-gameplay-2Once they do, they may not even have the option of lighting more lamps. They may have to focus on taking down enemies instead. The caverns have various denizens lurking about, some more dangerous than others. If our green-haired hero isn’t careful, she may be killed by them. Taking them down first will yield coins and extra arrows, though, so hunting these things down is well worth the effort.

Early on, this will be a big priority for players. Collected coins can be spent in a shop after each death. Here one can improve their character in various ways for subsequent trips into the cavern. Upgrades include items that give more health, extra arrows, enhanced arrows, and various other doodads that will make life easier for our green-haired protagonist. So, it will make a lot of sense to unlock things that increase the speed with which one gets coins. From there, go with whatever upgrades best suit one’s play style.

It feels like Roguelight‘s developer really likes the GameBoy Color. The game’s aesthetics are very reminiscent of titles in that system’s library. The game has a very lo-fi pixelated look to it with minimal detail, while the music and sound effects very much come off like something one would hear on Nintendo’s classic handheld. The simple look and feel certainly have their charm. People who are fans of these retro games will enjoy the aesthetic and it also enhances the sense of mystery in the game. It’s already hard to see much detail far off from the lanterns, and this simple 8-bit graphical style makes it all the more difficult to figure out what might be lurking in the shadows.

roguelight-gameplay-3At its start, the game will be pretty tough. There will be frequent deaths as players get a feel for things. However, once people have gotten the hang of balancing lighting their way and killing baddies, things should progress far smoother. From there it is simply a matter of making the game’s heroine stronger. Then she can delve as deep as possible into the cavern with a much higher chance of survival.

There are a ton of rogue-likes out on the market right now with more and more on the way all the time. Roguelight does a good job of setting itself apart from the crowd with its light mechanic. People who are curious about the game can download it for free at (and possibly donate a few bucks to the developer if so inclined).

Door Kickers: Action Squad

door-kickers-action-squad-gameplay-1Door Kickers: Action Squad has turned out to be quite the pleasant surprise. With the original game being a much slower-paced, tactics-heavy experience, this arcade-styled spin off has shaped up to be a very nice stab at doing something a little bit different.

In the game, players will have five sets of 12 missions, with each set having its own theme. This includes going up against organized gangs, radical terrorists, cartels, and the like. With that, players will choose which squad member they wish to use. From here they proceed to infiltrate whatever house, apartment block, or other nefarious facility that these evildoers happen to be evil-doing in.

Busting down doors and capping criminals is the name of the game. It’s oh so very satisfying to burst into a room full of crooks and gun them down before they realize what’s happening. Even better is that there are five different characters to play as while doing this. First there is the Assault who uses a semi-automatic rifle. He has the most accuracy out of everyone in the squad. However, it’s not advised to just lay on the trigger. His gun does have a decent amount of recoil. Doing that will result in him spraying bullets everywhere as he loses control of his gun. Just a quick pop-pop-pop is all that is needed, then wait a moment before firing again. That’s the way to keep his aim on point.

Next there is the Breacher. This is a no nonsense, shoot first, ask questions later kind of guy. His weapon of choice is a shotgun, and he likes nothing better than to kick in some doors, and mow down whatever baddie he finds on the other side. His guns are quite powerful and can take down multiple enemies in one shot at close range.

door-kickers-action-squad-gameplay-2Almost acting as a counterpoint to the Breacher is the Shield. She carries a large, heavy shield that protects her from incoming fire while shooting back with her trusty pistol. She takes a slow and steady approach to clearing rooms. Her shield is pretty heavy after all. While it reduces its user’s speed, it more than makes up for this with the added protection. She still needs to be careful though, because despite being able to block bullets, the Shield is extremely vulnerable to melee attacks. As such, she needs to prioritize particularly stabby enemies before they get too close to her.

Taking an even more cautious approach to things is Recon, who relies more on stealth to get around. Several of his guns have suppressors on them so as not to draw unwanted attention. He also has devices that help him to see what is happening in locked rooms. This allows players to see its layout and what sort of enemies are in it. He is very squishy compared to other members of the squad, though. As such, the element of surprise is of the utmost importance in taking down criminals before they all gang up on him.

Finally, there is Agent Fergie from the FBI. She’s an extremely aggressive character to play as. Armed with a pistol as well as knives, she’s the only member of the squad with both ranged and melee weapons. She can take a bit of a beating, but needs to get in fast and dispatch of enemies ASAP in order to survive. Agent Fergie is much better suited to people who want to play with the pedal to the metal and be a lean, mean killing machine.

Those wishing to take this approach, may want to wait for subsequent playthroughs of each mission, after they’ve had a chance to familiarize themselves with the stages. This is because despite all the crooks players will need to put bullets in, there are also a lot of hostages on most of the stages. If players aren’t careful of where they’re shooting, or are not cognizant of which criminals don’t care about their hostages well-being, then there may be a bunch of dead hostages by the end of the stage. This is bad because then the player won’t get a three out three star rating at the end of the level, and who doesn’t want a three star rating? Stars can be used to unlock new weapons and items. This stuff is important! There’s probably some moral argument in there for saving hostages as well, but come on! Power-ups!

door-kickers-action-squad-gameplay-3With that, despite the strong action elements in Door Kickers: Action Squad, it still tries to stay somewhat close to its more tactical roots. A lot of times, players can see in surrounding rooms before busting down a door, so judgement calls need to be made. Would it be best to coax enemies away from hostages? Are there any highly explosive substances around, and if there are should they be avoided or taken advantage of? Are there particularly troublesome enemies in there? Should a sniper strike be called in? It’s not just wanton death and destruction. A certain amount of planning is still often required.

Players even need to consider resource management. The last thing someone wants is to be caught reloading while several enemies are bearing down on them. Also, whenever an enemy is killed or a hostage is rescued, a meter at the top left of the screen fills a little bit. The more full it becomes, the more options the player has for calling in useful items. Cheaper items include body armor. A little farther up is health packs, followed by extra lives. Then there are special moves at the high end of the meter. Most players have overlapping specials to a degree with the ability to choose between a couple while selecting loadouts at the start of a stage. These include the aforementioned sniper strike, while some people get access to small automatic weapons, and Agent Fergie gets a particularly badass special.

It’s important to manage this meter because it’s not uncommon to completely fill it up, so the player needs find ways to use some of it so that they aren’t just rescuing hostage and killing baddies without receiving the benefit of more meter. Doing otherwise is basically leaving money on the table so to speak. So, at the end of the day, there’s still a lot to think about while playing this game.

Action Squad is also pretty challenging. Early on there is mostly cannon fodder that is simple enough to deal with. As the game progresses, though, there are particularly violent enemies that won’t hesitate to use hostages as shields or perform reprisal killings if pushed into a corner. These guys are tough to deal with for players who want to minimize civilian casualties.

door-kickers-action-squad-gameplay-4Then there are the worryingly large enemies that one can tell mean trouble. These guys have large clubs, flamethrowers, and the like combined with body armor and large hit point pools that guarantee they’ll be a huge pain to take down. By the time players get to latter levels, they’ll also have to deal with mad bombers that have explosives all over the place rigged up to a remote control. These guys are especially troublesome. Sometimes they’ll have bombs strapped to hostages. If you shoot these crooks, they’ll try to detonate their explosives with their dying breath. Fun times!

So, the game gradually becomes more difficult the further along one gets. However, there are some slight spikes in this later in the game. At that point, some particularly tough enemies get dropped on the player with significantly greater firepower and body armor.

Thankfully, the game provides two-player coop (both local and online). So, if things are starting to get dicey, players can bring someone else along to help. This makes taking down baddies all the more exciting while opening the door to interesting combinations of characters that can play off of each other’s strengths.

door-kickers-action-squad-gameplay-5Unfortunately, despite all of these criminals to shoot, tactics to use, and squad members to play as, there isn’t much in the way of mission variety. The vast majority of the time players’ main objective will be to rescue hostages. A distant second to this are kill missions. Here all one has to do is slaughter every crook in the building, due process be damned. After that there is the occasional bomb disposal mission, and these are actually quite intense. Then once in a blue moon players will be asked to arrest a person of interest. These individuals must be taken alive. So, in terms of objectives that will be presented to players, there isn’t a whole lot on the table. Thankfully this lack of variety is overshadowed by all of the good things that have been mentioned up to this point in the article.

Aesthetically, the game went with a 2D pixelated look. It won’t knock anyone’s socks off, but there is a decent enough amount of detail to the levels. Rooms are well furnished and buildings set the tone for each stage. Enemies are easily distinguishable and have a bit of personality to them. Meanwhile, Action Squad’s soundtrack feels like something straight out of a 1980s police TV program. A lot of the game’s music would be right at home in something like Miami Vice. The pieces are well put together and add to the excitement. Also, they are regularly rotated while playing so as not to wear out their welcome.

Action Squad is a spin off that no one asked for but it sure is nice that it came along. Who would have thought that its developers would come along with an action packed, arcade-y reinterpretation of their tactical strategy game? It really does a wonderful job of capturing the thoughtfulness of its predecessor.  Meanwhile it injects a more cavalier, guns blazing attitude that both fans of action and strategy games can enjoy.

Door Kickers: Action Squad is currently available for Windows on Steam.