Hitting the Black Duck Army where it hurts.
Had it been released in the 80s for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Orangepixel's Gunslugs would have made a fine birthday gift. Instead, this homage to side-scrolling shooters debuted on iOS and Android last week, and it's still a worthy addition to any retro player's library, thanks to its 8-bit visuals, chiptunes soundtrack and at times challenging difficulty.
Similar to games like Contra and P.O.W., the developer doesn't bore players with some convoluted plot. The Black Duck Army is up to no good, and your mission is twofold: take down enemy beacons and then haul ass to the escape chopper while leaving bodies in your wake.
As you can imagine, this involves a lot of shooting, and just like the story, Gunslugs' controls couldn't be simpler. Left and right arrows to move, along with a button for jumping and firing one of several weapons, including a pistol, flamethrower and something that allows the hero(s) to shoot in either direction. You'll need that and more to take down the lowly soldiers, grenade-chucking warriors, giant robots and other baddies. At least on the positive side, tanks and jetpacks help even the odds a bit.
By and large, keeping a finger firmly attached to the shooting button makes for a fun time. Because of this, it's easy to feel like some unstoppable commando, but your little soldier can in fact die, and there's a harsh penalty for running out of health. Croak, and you must restart from the beginning of the game, regardless of how far you've traveled. There's the option to purchase life saving continues, but these (like many power-ups) don't appear often. Now throw in the fact that you're constantly running out of bullets with each button press, and fans of those 80s/90s games will definitely appreciate this title's old school vibe.
This also carries over to the presentation, where Orangepixel arranged a satisfying mix of sprite-based visuals and cool chiptunes music. The only thing missing is the annoyance of blowing into the NES cartridge to clear dust.
Praise aside, the only thing that bugs is are the bonus levels, which play a bit different from the main game. One of the better ones takes a page from the original Game Boy, which is a nice touch. The other is more of an endless-runner that requires the hero to parachute onto a moving train, but we often land awkwardly and the mini-game abruptly ends, leaving us confused and poorer as a result; gold coins serve as the game's virtual currency.
Otherwise, Gunslugs is a fun throwback that joins the already impressive Orangepixel lineup. Regardless of which iOS or Android-powered device you own, there's quite a bit to love about this twitchy blast-a-thon.
Review code provided by Orangepixel.
What's Hot:Frantic shooting, customizing the button layout, multiple weapons and playable heroes, retro graphics and music.
What's Not:Weird mini-game issue.