I’ve long been a fan of Finnish developer Housemarque’s twin-stick shooters – and for good reason. They’re incredibly adept at delivering old-school arcade gaming with a modern twist, punctuated by an unerring quality.
Almost always, their games have a real “pick up and play” ethos that belies their depth. It’s clichéd sure, but Housemarque’s very good at making games that are easy to play, but terribly troubling to master. There’s always a reason to go back – to have scant few seconds off your time, to rush through and go for a bigger score.
That hardly changes here, but it was the hardest of Housemarque’s games for me to appreciate. For a good while, it’s controls just felt strangely unwelcoming and unwieldy. Playing like a platformer of sorts, your character’s jumping is mapped to one of the shoulder buttons instead of one of the face buttons. It makes sense for this game, but there are so many other things to do and to be cognizant of when the screen is at its busiest that it feels like you’re just seconds away from having pretzels for hands.
It’s a bullet-hell twin-stick shooter, and the screen is almost always covered in fiery projectiles, but to mitigate that threat (at least a little), you’re equipped with an offensive dash. Dubbed a “strike,” it’s good for more than just quick traversal: it disappears bullets and briefly makes enemies slightly more docile, and quicker to beat. It gives you just the right amount of momentum, and has the slightest cooldown, so it’s something that needs to be carefully and strategically timed, instead of mashed with reckless abandon.
Then there’s matter. Your hero can expel a beam of energy that’s otherwise harmless to the robotic spiders and other mechanised nightmares that want you dead. Instead, it can be used to create platforms in prescribed areas, and set off matter bombs that enemies sporadically leave behind. Exploding matter bombs can sometimes create a chain reaction of explosions.
On top of that you can dash through blue matter, while red matter has this terrible habit of making you die. There are also augmentations in play. Saving humans (yes, again) can net you augmentations that can increase passive abilities or give you powerful secondary weapons like heat-seeking missiles or concussive grenades , so there’s a fair bit of experimentation to find a build that works for your play style.
There’s a lot to come to terms with. You’ll have to do things like dash through a barrage of bullets while firing at an enemy, setting off matter bombs while you create platforms on the-fly as you avoid getting hit so as to not lose your all-important score multiplier. Yes, this is another game that’s all about the score attack.
It’ll take just a few short hours to blast through everything Matterfall has to offer, and it ends just as it starts to get really good. There’s a good challenge to be had though, especially on higher difficulty levels.
There’s a story here – some trite nonsense about alien technology being used to power machines, which have now turned on humanity. As a Hunter, it’s your job to dispatch of them. It’s really just an excuse to shoot things. If there’s anything beyond its sometimes cumbrous controls it’s that it’s lacking a distinct visual style. Visually, everything blends into everything else after a while, with a sort of generic sci-fi veneer. That’s okay though, because when it comes together it’s deliciously good.
Last Updated: August 14, 2017