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.