Nuclear Throne: A Fallout of Deathly Proportions

Nuclear Throne was a very pleasant surprise, at least compared to my actual expectations for it. I fully believed this was just another one of those indie games that people loved just for the retro nostalgia they felt while playing it. I was not expecting to get completely addicted to it, playing it with my friend for 8 hours straight.

Not that we ever got any better at the game, because Nuclear Throne is not nearly that kind. It is a hellish torment upon those who don’t regularly play horrifically difficult games, and being an avid player of narrative-driven RPG’s, those are basically my exact opposite.

The gameplay is easy to get used to, but oh-so-difficult to master. Balancing between the floaty, imprecise cross-hairs (which can be made more precise with certain upgrades), conserving the ammo for your guns, dodging the maelstrom of bullets inevitably headed your way, and actually remembering your character’s unique ability and how it works is so convoluted, due to how many of them you have to pay attention to simultaneously. That intense difficulty is what really makes the game so much fun, though. Once you’ve had your first moment of skillful, or even just incredibly lucky, gameplay, you’ll be hooked.

The character designs are simple, but memorable. No character feels particularly worse than the others (though I have only unlocked up to Plant), demonstrating a good balance in character power. They all come with unique abilities, some easier to use than others. For example, Fish can roll, allowing him to dodge enemy fire easier than other characters, while Eyes can use telekinesis to move projectiles away from him, and Crystal can use a shield to block enemy fire for a few seconds at a time. Melting in particular has an amazing ability that blows up the corpses of any enemies on the screen, dealing massive damage to their compatriots. In return, however, he only has two hit points in a game where that amounts to a single hit from enemy fire. I love using him.

The weapons can be hit-and-miss. You can find things like assault rifles and SMG’s, which up rate of fire and are generally safe to keep around. You’ll also run across shotguns and sluggers, which bounce off walls to deal with some trickier enemies. Sometimes you’ll even find weapons like grenade launchers and disc guns, which deal incredible damage, but run the risk of hitting and damaging your character, as well.

Boss fights are intense, and you will run in terror every time you see one of their intro screens. They can break out of a wall anywhere in the level, leading to chaos if you haven’t cleared out a significant amount of regular enemies up to that point. One time, I even had the boss of World 1 enter the map right where I was standing, causing an instantaneous death and lots of grumbling from everyone in the room about how unfair it was.

That’s really the biggest catch with Nuclear Throne. It’s a challenging game, and many times when you die it is your fault, but there are times when the random number generator simply decides you will die. In eight hours of playing and somewhere around 140 deaths between 2 players, I would say that at least 30 of those deaths were out of our control, be it from a boss appearing on top of us or starting level 2-1 surrounded on all sides by rats with no means of escape.

I really wish I could talk about the story of this game, but I’m still not entirely sure there is one. If there is, you have to be a lot better at this game than I am to start seeing it. The farthest I ever got was level 3-3, and the I.D.P.D. (Inter-Dimensional Police Department, I believe) began to show up and wrecked me completely. I have never made it that far again.

I definitely will, though, because for all the complaints I have about how unfair it is, the game is still incredibly addicting. I just want to keep playing it. And as far as I’m concerned, any game that gets me invested that much without even giving me much of a story is definitely worth a buy. If you don’t already have Nuclear Throne, get it. I promise you won’t regret it.

Indiebox Review: Nuclear Throne (January #IndieBox)

Right before the year ended, Indiebox decided to raise the prices of their boxes, saying that they would be using the extra money to raise the quality of their boxes. Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to add a monthly series to my site, I signed up for Indiebox right before the price raise so I could look at each one every month. I do want to note, this is not a review of the game Nuclear Throne (that will come later). This is a look at the actual box and the contents within.

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Starting off, I want to point out that I did buy the Indiebox once before deciding to start this. Back in October, I bought the Axiom Verge box, and was disappointed. One of the items you’re meant to get in the Indiebox is a USB physical copy of the game in question, free of any DRM. My Axiom Verge box did not come with the USB of the game, only the Steam key. When I talked to Indiebox support about it, they “solved” my problem by e-mailing me a link to the DRM-free content, rather than sending me the actual USB. I mention this because 90% of the reason I think Indiebox is a cool idea is because of the concept of having a physical copy of a game that was only released digitally, and it still frustrates me that they forgot it in my October box.

Luckily, this month I did receive the USB. It comes in the shape of one of Nuclear Throne’s unlockable characters, Chicken, and demonstrates his ability to fight on after losing his head by having the USB hidden in his neck. It was so hidden, in fact, that at first I thought they had forgotten to send me the game again, and I only realized where it was upon reading the Indiebox Newsletter’s list of box items. Regardless, the USB has a neat design and has an actual collectible feel to it as a result. It’s definitely my favorite aspect of the box.

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Moving beyond that, the box is at least interesting. The title of the game is on a removable rectangle of plastic, so if you want, you can have the box look like it’s just the mouth. It’s well-designed and visually appealing. The box is very stiff, though, making it hard to open the top without bending the cardboard to a permanently noticeable degree. Also, if you don’t pack it back exactly right, the surrounding plastic won’t fit back around the box due to the bulges the items create, forcing you to repack the box. I feel like the rectangular plastic was an interesting touch in theory, but in practice, it would probable be better just to have the name on the box instead.

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The box came with three mini-figurines of bosses within the game. They’re made with decent material, feel light and soft in your hand, and there aren’t any extruding pieces or movable parts that might easily break. They would make a decent desk accessory, but in the end, they’re just something pretty to look at, and they’re so small that if you keep them out of the box, you’re bound to lose one or two eventually.

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As with every collector’s edition of a video game ever, Nuclear Throne’s box comes with a soundtrack CD. Personally, I’m not a fan of just listening to a game’s soundtrack. There are a few standout tracks in every game, and then a lot of what amounts to ambient noise. The music is best appreciated by hearing it during gameplay, as far as I’m concerned, but if you want the CD, here it is. The music’s pretty good, too, so if you’re really into video game music, this will be right up your alley.

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Also included within the box is a plushie Maggot, one of the regular enemies found within the game. Personally, I feel that going the plushie route was a poor choice for Indiebox, as it draws some negative comparison to LootCrate, infamous for including useless “collectible” garbage like this. The mini-figurines were at least interesting and well-made, allowing them some leniency as a genuine collector’s piece. Nobody collects plushies. It’s a very simple design, with an additional poor choice of having the zipper on top of the Maggot, rather than on the bottom. At least I assume that’s the top. It looks better that way than it does flipped, either way, so I’m calling it the top. At any rate, I would recommend Indiebox veer away from the plushies in future releases, as no matter how hard you try to sell it as one, there is nothing collectible about a cheap, half-assed attempt at being cute.

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I love instruction manuals. In the past couple years, as I’ve grown a bit of a collector’s mindset to my game-buying habits, I’ve started to refuse buying a lot of games unless they have the original case and manual. Flipping through a manual is just such a great feeling, so I have a bit of bias in that I will always love it when a game comes with a physical manual. If this box just had the manual and USB inside, that would be enough to satisfy me. Alas, this is the last good thing within the box. The rest, like the Maggot plushie, is LootCrate-style garbage.

“The rest” really just refers to these themed stickers. I hate stickers. The only thing less collectible than a sticker is a temporary tattoo. These are even worse than the plushie, which really infuriated me. Indiebox, if I wanted stickers and plushies, I’d be buying LootCrate. I’ve heard that you guys sometimes do things like themed controllers for your boxes. Do more things like that, things I can put to actual practical use and won’t damage the collectible value of my box when used, or at least more tangible objects like the figurines. I don’t want your garbage stickers. Please spend the sticker money elsewhere. Sincerely, Wombat Lord.

Overall, though, it’s a decent box. I can’t hate it, but it’s definitely a hit-and-miss effort. I will mention that not only did this box come with a USB copy and Steam key of the game, but also a Playstation Store code, giving you three copies of the game across two platforms. Add in the manual, mini-figurines, soundtrack CD, and the box itself, and this Indiebox was definitely worth the price. It’s just a shame they had to throw some leftover garbage in there, as well.

 

Depression

You may have noticed that, for the past month or so, I haven’t written anything at all. My last post said I was taking a few days to recover from illness, and that was true. But after I recovered, I still didn’t write anything new, and there is a reason for that. This is my explanation and apology.

Depression is a meddlesome thing. I am fully aware that I am depressed, and I want to work past it, but I can never summon the energy to do so. It’s easier to do nothing than it is to do something. And although my head says that I can beat these feelings, my heart is apathetic at best.

That’s another thing about depression. I don’t necessarily feel sad. Mostly I just feel empty. I’m not upset about things going wrong in my life; rather, I care so little about them that it hurts and baffles me. When I do feel emotion, it’s usually just an outburst of anger or hatred. There’s no creative or positive spin I can put on what little emotion I can drag up.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I do still have fun, and I do have moments of happiness. The problem is that they are only moments. As soon as whatever made me happy is over, the feeling recedes, and emptiness takes its place once again.

So how do I fight my depression? Well, this is how. Writing for this site was how I was intending to combat the apathy. However, once I had an excuse to stop writing in the illness, it was all too easy to start saying, “I’ll write tomorrow.” Tomorrow never came, and so I let the site slip into stagnation within a month of starting it.

No more. I’m making the necessary changes in my personal life to raise my spirits and crawl out of this emotional slump I’ve been trapped in for far too long, and that means I’m going to post more. I’m going to write everyday, and post as frequently as I can, even if it’s just something random to occupy my mind.

So, if you’re reading this, thank you for your time and your support. I don’t mean to be such a downer, and I’m definitely not looking for pity. Rather, I’m promising you that I’m only going to get better from here on out, regardless of whatever curves life may throw at me. Once again, thank you, and I look forward to writing to you and for you in the future.