The Black Duck Army is back, and it’s time for Sly Rocko and the gang to return to battle in the aptly titled Gunslugs 2. For the unfamiliar, Gunslugs is a fast-paced 2D arcade shooter, similar to games like Contra and Metal Slug, but with procedurally generated level designs and throwbacks to 80’s action films. It’s a pretty straightforward concept that features a simple-yet-charming pixel art style, a great retro chiptunes soundtrack, and seemingly more bullets than your pulpy flesh can handle. But is it actually fun, or is it just an exercise in frustration?
While its randomness ensured that no game was ever the same, sometimes RNG just wasn’t on my side. We’re talking lasers and acid puddles below ladders, spikes under health packs, and rockets flying out of the worst possible locations. I took it in stride since that’s all part of the game, but sometimes it felt like I was being trolled by a hidden developer camping out in my closet. If you were in there Pascal, I apologize for the clutter.
“It scratched my rogue-like itch without penalizing bad RNG with perma-death, which I really appreciated.”
To combat this, OrangePixel implemented a solid checkpoint feature where dying within a level restarts you on a new seed instead of chewing glass on something that may otherwise seem impossible. There were times where we’d both die within 60 seconds due to the sheer brutality of the level design, only to steamroll it on the next go. Gunslugs 2’s use of RNG prevents each level from feeling scripted, and avoiding that sameness made subsequent play-throughs easier to swallow for me. It scratched my rogue-like itch without penalizing bad RNG with perma-death, which I really appreciated.
Although levels are randomly generated, the game features a variety of static environments that are structured the same throughout. I battled in typical shooter fare, like railways, jungles, enemy bases, and snowy mountains through the standard, non-boss levels, all while locating and destroying beacons in order to proceed to the next. I enjoyed collecting coins from the corpses of my enemies, which could then be spent at random shops, offering a chance at double ammo, or invaluable armor bonuses that turned me in to Bat-Man or Robocop. That alone is a selling point.
Once enough beacon towers have been taken down by your muscly meatheads and vicious vixens, you’ll GET TO DA CHOPPAH!!! and proceed to a massive boss encounter; which, while impressively designed, aren’t always as challenging as the levels themselves. The first boss, for instance, was an intense game of hurdling rockets and dealing with baddies coming from the rear, all while trying to fill its mouth will bullets. However, the 2nd boss simply required standing on the middle platform and resting my finger on the trigger until the ho-hum encounter was finished.
If you’re familiar with the developer’s previous games, like Meganoid, Groundskeeper 2, or Heroes of Loot, you know the art style all too well. I’ve grown to love OrangePixel’s brand of art and humor, and I’m happy to see them sticking with the pudgy pixel heroes in Gunslugs 2. It’s charming, and it works. Although the nature of the backdrops were all things I’ve before seen in other arcadey-type shooters, their quality was good enough to make them feel memorable, even though everything else was going to be totally randomized on my next go round.
The problem I have with the graphical style, however, is actually the same problem I had with other OrangePixel shooters–the bullets. Bullets fly and people die, that’s just the nature of the beast in Gunslugs. But they also happen to be the same exact color, regardless of who’s gun they’re propelling from; thus making them nearly impossible to avoid 90% of the time. This issue is exacerbated when playing with friends, as a majority of your screen is full of tiny white bullets flying from left to right. Granted, it’s not much of an issue once you start picking up more standout weapons like rockets and flamethrowers, but go in expecting your fair share of cheap deaths. You can also find safety behind boxes and strategically shoot from cover, which adds a bit more depth to the usual run’n’gun gameplay, but said cover actually existing is again highly reliant on the RNG of the game. Sometimes I found it best just to die and let RNG do its thing on the next attempt. If that didn’t work, I just chalked it up to not praying to the RNG gods hard enough.
“If you’re a fan of 2D shooters, especially SNK’s Metal Slug series, Gunslugs 2 should be a no-brainer.”
Now Gunslugs 2 is an arcade shooter, and a throwback to a time when games were actually difficult. My complaint with the bullet color is a mild one, and even then I still really, really enjoyed my time with the game. Having to adapt and adjust our play-style depending on what situation the RNG threw at us was awesome, and pew-pew’ing from cover instead of taking rockets to the face was always a better alternative. I’m okay with seemingly cheap deaths at the hands of being caught in a hail of gunfire, especially with levels being relatively short, but part of me still wishes I had a fighting chance instead of panic-jumping while holding down the trigger.
If you’re a fan of 2D shooters, especially SNK’s Metal Slug series, Gunslugs 2 should be a no-brainer. It’s an awesome love letter to 80’s action films, and an absolute blast to play with a buddy at your side. If you’re playing on the OUYA, rest assured knowing that it performs identical to the PC/Mac version–sans achievements, of course–and pairs perfectly with your Xbox 360 controllers for all your co-op needs. If you find yourself needing a break, you can always quit out to the main menu and pick up where you left off; making Gunslugs 2 easier to swallow for those of you short on time. It’s an easily accessible game with an affordable price, regardless of your platform of choice. The fact that it’s all developed by one person over the course of nine months is also impressive, and I tip my hat to Pascal Bestebroer for putting together such a solid game. So grab a friend, grab your guns, and fight back against the Black Duck Army. Not just for justice, but because it’s just really damn fun.
*This review is based on the OUYA release of Gunslugs 2, which is also available through Steam, the Humble Store, Google Play, the App Store, and ChromeOS. Unless we find significant differences between each version, consider this our definitive review. If you’d like to support the developer, share this post and help spread the word about OrangePixel and Gunslugs 2. You can also follow them on Twitter @orangepixel.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling news, reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and an on again/off again WoW player that blasphemously favors consoles over PC. As a Marylander, he naturally puts Old Bay on everything and loves the Orioles. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.