Mothergunship Review: Bullet-Hell Extravaganza
Mothergunship wastes little time in throwing you head-first into its fast-paced and over-the-top bullet-hell experience. As the spiritual successor to indie roguelike FPS Tower of Guns, this homage to ’90s action games balances a number of clever mechanics throughout its pulse-pounding jaunt through the inner depths of alien ships. As you’re dodging hundreds of enemy bullets [while wielding a railgun, grenade launcher, and a flamethrower on one arm] you’ll find that Mothergunship offers a satisfying and fun take on classic first-person shooters.
Stepping into the boots of a space soldier in a power suit, you’ll work with a tight-knit crew of rebels, led by The Colonel, who plan to stop an alien invasion of earth led by the titular mastermind Mothergunship. The main story itself is entirely secondary to the action, mostly offering context for the game’s antics. However, the many cheesy voice-overs and the self-aware video game humor throughout are surprisingly endearing, even if it’s mostly background noise. The Colonel and his crew of rebels–which includes an anthropomorphic frog, poking fun at Star Fox’s Slippy Toad–serve great supporting roles as you amass a ridiculous arsenal of weapons and level up your power suit.
When it comes to its core run-and-gun gameplay, Mothergunship keeps things simple. You choose your next mission from your home base–which comes in several categories of various story and side missions that offer bonus rewards. From there, you’re dropped into a randomly generated dungeon where you’ll fight through rooms full of alien robots as you gain experience and funds to power up and buy new gear. But in true roguelike fashion, your trek through the dungeon’s depths will never be the same twice, resulting a constant air of uncertainty.
The dungeons themselves come in three distinct forms, each with their own unique visual style showcasing different aspects of the alien armada. While the layout of specific rooms are the same, which can result in some feelings of deja vu when powering through a run at a fast pace, the order of which you’ll encounter them are always different, along with the contents of each room and any rewards you can expect to find. To spice things up, however, you’ll have the chance to enter challenge rooms that either increase the difficulty or place a unique handicap–which includes poison floors or jump pads–that offer greater rewards. When you die, which will happen often, you’ll not only lose the gear you found on your run, but also the select items you chose to bring in. In some frustrating cases, you may find yourself at the whim of poor results from randomization, leaving you underpowered and outgunned by all the dangerous bots.
With that said, Mothergunship keeps its gameplay focused on fast, twitch-based gameplay in the spirit of old-school FPS games like Doom and Unreal. Starting with only your cybernetic fists and a triple jump–which can be boosted up to 40 jumps, keeping you in the air for long periods of time–you can buy new items in the shops located in the dungeons. Not long after, you’ll find yourself circle-strafing, rocket-jumping, and barreling through waves of enemies with your ever-growing arsenal of weapons–which includes lightning guns, railguns, and different varieties of machine guns. When tied with the roguelike elements, the gunplay feels far more tactical, where picking the right weapon or modifier from the in-dungeon shop can make the next few floors a breeze or a hindrance.
By far the most impressive aspect of Mothergunship is its comprehensive gun-crafting system. As you acquire funds and complete missions, you gain new weapons, connecting parts, and modifiers to amplify your arsenal at the various crafting stations in your base or in the dungeons. While you can certainly keep things simple and roll out with a modified machine gun with boosted firing rate, the real fun with gun crafting comes from jury-rigging different weapons that have no business working in unison. Before you know it, you’ll be gunning down machines with complex creations on both hands, which can easily soak up real estate on screen if you keep adding to them.
Just when you think you can’t fit any more items onto your hodgepodge of armaments, you’ll find a connector or mod that presents new opportunities for you. For instance, boosting a weapon’s attack power can often result a strong kickback, which can surprisingly keep you suspended in the air and boot you through hallways at great speed. You can easily go all out with your creations, but there is a big catch. The more attachments and weapons you place in your hands, the more ammunition you’ll drain. While ammo recharges fairly quickly for both arms, an overly designed gun can be a resource hog–leaving you vulnerable when your gun energy runs dry. This can be especially troubling in fights where you need to move and shoot as quickly as possible.
Coupled with the hectic pace of the game, the weapon system makes many of the fights you’ll engage in fresh and exciting. While it’s disappointing that Mothergunship doesn’t give you that many opportunities to experiment freely with your creations–aside from the base’s worry-free firing range and a bonus endless mission that’s unlocked after finishing the main story–you’ll learn to use and take advantage of the tools you’ve got on-hand in the field.
Mothergunship can sometimes feel a bit one-note in its execution, which is made a bit worse by the lackluster payoff after the story’s finish. While special missions do open up in the endgame, featuring a truncated set of missions modeled after the main campaign that challenges you to clear through the levels without dying, I came away with the feeling that there’s more that could have been done with the game’s endgame, which as it stands, feels undercooked and derivative. Having said that, I can’t deny that I always had a blast powering through many of the dungeons, especially when managing to clear out an entire room of enemies with only a few shots from my ridiculously overpowered weapon.
With the game’s clever gun crafting system added into the mix, familiar tropes and techniques from classic shooting galleries feel super-charged in the game’s randomized bullet-hell dungeons. When Mothergunship is firing on all cylinders, it’s a satisfying and thrilling shooter where it really counts. With an incredibly fun and never uninteresting gun-crafting mechanic, it certainly goes a long way with its clever hook and an endless flow of enemies to gun down.
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