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APPsolutely Review - GUNSLUGS

Mark Marianelli

I had big plans this week for working on comics, illustrations, blogs and much more. As you can imagine, none of this happened. Why, you ask? ... Oh, you didn't ask? Well, why imaginary you asks? Because I made the mistake of browsing the app store on my iPhone.

Perhaps I'm just a product of my generation, but I'm a sucker for retro gaming. I'll take Contra for the NES over Gears of War (or whatever you kids are playing these days) any day. It's just something about the art style. I prefer pixels over polygons and sidescrollers over 3D free-roam environments. There's a simplicity there that just draws me in. Being an illustrator, I have a love for the second dimension, it's more stylized, more memorable and simply more fun.

Which leads me to a game which has stolen countless hours of my life this week which I don't ever want to get back... GUNSLUGS.

If you've ever been a fan of games like Contra, Metal Slug or Gunstar Heroes, then this game is going to rock your face, socks and butt off. Post-rocking off, I suggest you immediately retrieve your rocked face from the floor and re-attach it to your head because odds are you are going to fail at this game miserably if it does not have your undivided attention. It is extremely hard, but extremely addicting.

The plot is about as simple as it gets, shut down beacons, shoot lots of bad people, get arthritis from playing over and over again. You're fighting against a group of enemies called "The Black Duck Army"... Nuff said. Honestly, I don't care about plot when it comes to the "run n' gun" genre, so the fella's over at Orange Pixel did me a huge favor and spared me the monotonous task of thinking. Because let's be real, the whole purpose of casual gaming is to shut your brain down for a few minutes and embrace the pixelated chaos.

I dig the gameplay. It's the epitome of old school; two buttons, two directions, billions of bad guys. You shoot, you jump, you run to the right. If it moves, shoot it, if you can't shoot it, jump on it. What I like about games that keep it basic is that what they lack in complication, they make up for in content. There's weapons you can pick up along the way (flamethrowers, grenade launchers, etc...), vehicles you can commandeer, characters to unlock and a broad selection of bonus levels to discover.

The graphics deserve some recognition. A lot of the charm this game brings comes from it's old-school pixelated look. Orange Pixel specializes in retro-gaming, and they definitely have it down to a science. It doesn't feel like a modern game trying to pay homage to the classic 8-bit style, it literally feels like this game was pulled right out of 1990. And it doesn't stop with the graphics, the sound effects and the music are deliciously midi and incredibly catchy. They even have jukeboxes throughout the game which allow you to change the music (for the price of one coin).

Right away you see where this game draws its inspiration, the name alone is a tribute to one of the best run n' gun shooters of our generation, Metal Slug. Don't believe me? Is this proof enough?:

Totally a Metal Slug.

But Metal Slug isn't the only game to receive a nod, along your way you get help from all kinds of famous icons. Within various buildings you'll receive help from characters like Gandalf (who restores your health), Robocop (who gives you armor), Princess Peach (who gives you mad amounts of coins) and some random others. You'll even get to play bonus levels taking place inside a Donkey Kong Arcade and a Gameboy. Heck, the Jetpack from Jetpack Joyride has a cameo with all of its flying bullet goodness (Okay, so I'm not 100% that it's officially the Jetpack Joyride jetpack, but it sprays bullets and it flies so get off my back, SON).

The game is split into missions with 2 levels and one boss battle per mission. Surprisingly, the boss battles are easy in comparison to the rest of the game. If you're lucky enough to get to a boss battle, you shouldn't have much of a problem beating it, but only assuming you have any life left over from the level before it. I've been playing this game for a week now and I still haven't made it past mission 3.

UPDATE! - I just made it to mission 4 while on a bathroom break. BOO YAH!

If there were some kind of continue system in the game, I would have beaten it by now, but once you die, you're done. No continues and only on the rarest of occasion will you run into an "extra life" hidden inside one of the buildings (assuming you have 100 coins to buy it). But there's a good chance you'll waste that pretty quickly... It's almost bad to have an extra life anyway because the second you get it into your head that you have a second chance, you get lazy and die even quicker. Basically your only means of starting at later points in the game is to find and rescue the unlockable characters within each mission, if you do this, when you select that character from the home screen, they'll start off on the mission they were rescued in.

I feel like this game was meant to be an arcade game in the 80's, it would have definitely claimed a year's salary worth of my quarters. That's kind of the allure of this platformer, it's the perfect game for the casual gamer looking for a challenge. If you're not that good at video games, you'll have enough fun just playing the first mission over and over again, if you're a good gamer, this game will keep you entertained and never bored.

There's not much negative I can say about Gunslugs. The graphics are fun, it runs smoothly, it's got a great replay value, it's simple, it's challenging and the music and fx are fantastic. I would like to see some kind of continue system implemented, or give the player more lives by default. As much fun as it is, it can get frustrating to come so close to completing a mission, only to step on a landmine and find yourself back at the homescreen... All nitpicky things for a game which I've found to be otherwise flawless when you're looking for something to do in the bathroom stall at work (which I will deny if ever confronted on the matter).

The game is also $2.99, which seems a bit much for an iPhone run n' gun game, but I've been getting my money's worth out of it, so c'est la vie.

My verdict? Well, after weighing the facts, I give this game an APPsolute Rating of "CARPAL TUNNEL" because it will have you playing until your wrists hurt!