In the buildup to the release of the next/new generation of consoles, one of the major talking points was the rise of the indie game into the mainstream realm of gaming, and the promise of a more open and diverse marketplace on consoles for these indie games to thrive. Upon release of the new Playstation 4, gamers with a Playstation Plus subscription were lucky enough to find that two of these talked about indie titles were available free on day one.
One of these games, Resogun, is a 2.5D side-scrolling shoot ‘em up (or shmup for short) developed by Housemarque, a Finnish developer also known for its Super Stardust series. It is hard to imagine that a game with such a simple concept could be considered an early “poster-boy” for the PS4’s graphical and visual capabilities, but having sat down and played it in person it is safe to say that a strong case could be made for this opinion. Draped in a sleek metallic color palette with hints of neon, the game features some of the most impressive lighting effects that I have seen in such a small game. Shooting and destroying enemies creates bright and colorful explosions that make great use of the PS4’s capability of particle effects, which is a subtle but greatly effective inclusion. Destroying larger groups of enemies creates a beautiful light show that is like candy for the eyes and will keep you from growing weary of the visuals. Each level ends with a cut-scene of a dazzling and gorgeous fireworks display that never fails to impress me each and every time, and represents a nice cherry on the cake of the already beautiful visuals delivered throughout the game.
While on the surface it may appear to be just a pretty side-scrolling bullet hell (though, that would be fine, since the game is incredibly fun anyway), there are small details added in that expand the strategy of playing the game that you must use in order to increase your scores and work your way up the leaderboard. Each level has you defeating wave after wave of enemies with your regular weapon, which you use with the right thumbstick, and any of the other weapons in your arsenal, before finally facing a boss. However, as an added challenge, you are tasked with saving 10 “humans” (little green men who look like the avatars on washroom signs) before the end of the level. You don’t have to save them to beat the level, but you get higher scores by doing so. To save them, you must destroy special glowing spaceships that the game calls “keepers.” When you destroy all in one group, a human will be released from a glass cube somewhere on the map. You must then retrieve them and drop them into one of two receptacles, where you will get an immediate bonus such as a power-up to your weapon or an extra life. This concept adds a fresh layer of strategy not normally found in shmups or bullet-hells which will satisfy the hardcore or those who want more of a challenge, but being that it is completely optional it also does not deter from more casual players who don’t care for the high-score reaching.
Apart from using the control sticks to move and shoot, each of the shoulder buttons on the Dualshock 4 does something unique that comes into play when trying to achieve the best score possible. Pressing R1 allows you to unleash an overdrive attack that is useful when surrounded by enemies as it slows down time and attacks at long range, letting you destroy large amounts of enemies and racking up your score. On the other side, pressing L1 allows you to boost across a level and comes in particular handy if you are unable to use your overdrive attack or if you need to zip across the level to save a human that is about to be destroyed.
The other two shoulder buttons include moves that would generally be considered “last resort” functions. If carrying a human, pressing L2 allows you to throw the poor guy away to safety if you believe you will be destroyed by an onslaught of enemies or bullets (since a human carried by a destroyed ship will be killed as well). R2, on the other hand, unleashes a bomb that decimates the entire field of enemies but drastically reduces your score, a tough call for the more hardcore players. Knowing when to utilize each of these functions adds more strategy to the game and pulling off each of them correctly can result in extremely satisfying and potentially epic situations, in which escaping by the hair on your neck will keep you firmly placed at the edge of your seat with adrenaline pumping. Even without all of these options, the gameplay is so fast, frantic, and fun that you will feel this same sensation of excitement playing the game more casually, and it will be this deeply satisfying gameplay that will keep you invested in Resogun over time.
There are five levels to progress through in the arcade, each set up in a cylindrical plane with their own unique level and enemy design that keep the experience as fresh as it can be for the type of game it is. I do wish that the developer would have switched up the color palette away from the metallic blue hue that covers the levels, and perhaps included a few more levels to expand the experience a little, but these are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things.
One thing I adored about this game immediately was how epic the boss battles were. After defeating a set amount of the main enemies, you are left to fight a giant geometric shape of sorts that could easily be the size of 100 of your ships. The comparison of scale makes you feel like David fighting Goliath and is all the more satisfying when you finally break the monster down to pieces. Defeating the bosses is pretty straightforward: There are clearly placed weak-points that must be attacked as the boss moves around and exposes them to you. While this seems easy enough, in the higher difficulty levels the challenge comes in your ability to maneuver with precision to avoid all of the bullets that will be coming your way. If you believe you have found the perfect spot on the map to exploit the boss’ weakness, you better expect a bullet to be flying your way as soon as possible. The result is a usually exhilarating encounter where careful movement and precise timing will keep you alive and utilizing your skills in this regard is ultimately satisfying, exciting, and just plain fun. With the boss fights, as with the rest of the game, the challenge comes through the gameplay itself without any hindrance from the controls, which are very responsive and tight. All of this makes for greatly satisfying game feel, and high-octane excitement.
In addition, because of its design, the game also has an endless amount of replay value. With no narrative that would make it an open-and-close experience, with focused gameplay and motivation in the form of high scores, it is the epitome of a pick-up and play experience. With all of its addictive visual feedback, gameplay, and simple yet effective strategic elements, you would actually have to make an effort not to play it a little every day. The trophy list that accompanies the game truly mirrors the game’s addictive design and replay value quite well, and serves as a solid checklist for those who want to expand their experience even more. Complete the arcade mode and looking for a different kind of challenge? Try collecting each of the ten humans on every stage. If accomplished, you get the satisfaction of facing and overcoming a higher challenge than the game demands, and if you care for them, a trophy to prove your accomplishment.
And, if you care to try, there is an online cooperative mode to boot.
Apart from my wishes that they would expand the game a bit more by adding a few more levels or even add to the three ships to choose from with small varying attributes, Resogun is a fantastic and focused game in a tight little package. The game is all about providing very addictive and fun gameplay with the ultimate goal of breaking high scores and it makes no mistakes in delivering that experience. With awe-inspiring visuals, energetic music, unlimited replay value, and small yet crucial tweaks to set it apart from your run-of-the-mill shoot ‘em up, there is no reason to pass this game up at a $15 price point, let alone free if you have Playstation Plus. If the game sinks its claws in you, you will be playing for a long time.
Resogun is Resofun.