If fast paced, randomly generated action is your thing, Nuclear Throne is right up your alley. It’s a roguelike-like shooter set in a pixel-y post-apocalyptic wasteland with a focus on fluid, twitchy combat against hordes of mutated enemies and is currently available via Steam’s Early Access. With randomised weapon drops, a leveling system, and procedurally generated weapons, it’s easy to see the game’s roguelike influences, but the game really shines due to its shooting mechanics.
Immediately upon starting a game, it is clear that Vlambeer have nailed the feel and responsiveness necessary to really make a game stand out in the genre. The controls are simple and tight, enabling you to dodge the incoming barrage of bullets flawlessly if you are skillful and/or lucky enough. This makes every death irrevocably your fault and you never feel like you have been put up against anything unfair as you just didn’t dodge that bullet quickly enough, or you didn’t even notice that enemy.
It is perhaps this particular property that makes Nuclear Throne so good at what it does. I never felt frustrated after a death like I have elsewhere and that feeling of fairness keeps you coming back for more. It is a difficult game, but it is fair in its difficulty, a bit like the popular Demon’s/Dark Souls games, but a lot easier to pick up and play. Much like any good roguelike, as you play more you see where you went wrong and you take it on board, then you have just one more go and try your best to not repeat your mistakes.
On top of this are a few other additions to gameplay that are of great use to you, if you decide to take advantage of them. Killing an enemy, for example, will knock their body around a little bit, which will damage any enemies it hits. Each player character also has a unique trait and special ability that can be to your benefit. One character has severely reduced health but earns XP significantly quicker and has the ability to make corpses explode, suiting it to a high risk, high reward style of gameplay. Another starts with two guns and has the ability to dual wield but is less accurate than the other characters.
If you adjust your style of play to make use of your character’s strengths and special ability whilst minimising its weaknesses you will go far in Nuclear Throne. Well, eventually, there will be many deaths along the way. Take the high risk, high reward class mentioned earlier: it starts with two health points, which makes most hits an instant death, but if you manage to avoid damage and level up you could come across a helpful mutation. Rhino skin adds four points to maximum health, which should go a long way to helping you survive until your next level up, where you could come across a mutation that has a chance of healing you a little when you get a kill.
Some classes are tailored in such a way that you can account for their shortcomings by taking advantage of their strengths, allowing you to choose whichever happens to suit your preferred style of play. Other classes are less obviously geared towards roles and have less distinct differences, so if you would rather not have to play in a specific fashion, that’s up to you. That said, a lot of the fun beyond the excellent combat is finding effective ways to take advantage of special abilities. If you kill a nest of maggots that happens to be near a lot of enemies and use the exploding corpses ability, you can quickly clear a crowd by not only causing a lot of explosions, but by knocking all the new corpses you create into even more enemies.
Currently in the game are seven characters to play as, two bosses, four worlds to work your way through, and a large amount of weapons and skills. The developer intends to add four more worlds, an undisclosed number of secret worlds, even more characters as well as alternate skins for all characters, crown vaults that will contain crown modifiers, which are apparently game-changing if you can get them, as well as the eponymous nuclear throne that all this fighting is for!
At a price of £10 and the likelihood that it will run on any computer more powerful than a leek, Nuclear Throne is certainly worth the price of admission. It is available from Steam for £10 or the Humble Store for $13 (about £8.04 at time of writing). If you are wondering where you have heard the name Vlambeer before, they are the two man team behind Super Crate Box and Ridiculous Fishing (currently available in the Humble Mobile Bundle for Android), both of which are also excellent and worth checking out.