In Meltdown, you assume the role of Zed, a former marine working alone on a private mining station located on Charon, one of Pluto’s moons. When the AI controlling the station goes haywire he is trapped and must find his way to safety. Or at least that’s what the game’s website says. In a very NES-era method of storytelling, nothing exists outside of that bit of written text, and somehow that ends up working out just fine.
Meltdown is a top-down isometric twin-stick shooter for up to four players, either co-op or competitively. It’s full of randomly generated levels, a high energy electronica soundtrack, and vividly colored spacey settings that do tend to get a bit on the repetitive side, but it’s still visually charming. You can play locally in an Arcade mode, the more grind-focused online mode, or even a dedicated PVP mode, but the beauty of the game is the fact that it’s cross-platform. It’s currently available for OUYA, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android, and regardless of which one you pick up, you can always play with your friends on their platform of choice. I wish more games embraced this.
“For a few hours I found myself grinding out gold on easier missions just to unlock some of the other classes, but I sorely missed the depth of playing the game online.”
As I mentioned above, Meltdown isn’t really about the story. Partly because there isn’t one, as it primarily focuses on run’n’gun shooter gameplay and an addictive RPG style of grinding for new weapons, perks, and sweet, sweet loot. All three modes of play are completely separate as well, and depending on your ideal play style, you may or may not have as much fun as I did.
For those of you more interested in local co-op, or ideally prefer playing offline, Arcade mode features 30 different missions that are progressively unlocked as they’re completed. There’s no leveling up, no upgrading loot, no character progression; just choosing a class and mowing down baddies. Completing missions and killing enemies awards gold that is only ever spent on opening up additional job classes, so your ultimate goal is already pretty slim.
I started out with nothing more than a generic class with the most basic of weapons, and that didn’t take me further than the first 3 missions. I decided to dip in to the gold I had already accumulated online, unlocking another class that gave me access to the more powerful shotgun and chainsaw weapons. For a few hours I found myself grinding out gold on easier missions just to unlock some of the other classes, but I sorely missed the depth of playing the game online. It just wasn’t the same.
I honestly don’t think I’d ever spend much time with Meltdown if I was only ever playing alone and offline. Arcade is a decent option if you have reliable local friends to pick up the slack, but it was brutally difficult and a fairly boring grind by myself. The standard online mode, however, is pure shoot-em-up bliss. It features the exact same mission structure of 30 randomly generated, repetitive level designs, but includes the ability to level up, prestige, apply an RPG level of perks, unlock and upgrade a healthy variety of weapons, armor, and accessories, as well as play online; whether it be with friends or randos.
I spent the better part of 20 hours playing online with random people, jumping in and out of games with little to no trouble at all. The OUYA isn’t exactly known as an online gaming console, but Meltdown is a prime example that the tiny little box is capable of some pretty great things outside of the couch. No matter when I logged on, whether it was 3am, 10am or 8pm, there were always other people playing that I could join up with. We were 4 total strangers tackling the game’s endless Wave Mode, grinding out levels, gold, and upgrade chips. We plowed through half the campaign together, downing challenging bosses and increasingly difficult swarms of enemies. It was a complete blast. And unless the host’s connection sucked, I didn’t run in to any connectivity problems on my end.
The upgrade system is what really skyrocketed my enjoyment with Meltdown. Rather than having the Arcade Mode’s variety of classes to unlock, leveling up online allows the allocation of perks to customize your play style. Combining things like Vampire, which heals you when you land melee attacks, with Brawler to increase your melee damage, drastically altered my approach to combat. I typically ran around with a fully upgraded grenade launcher (complete with regenerating ammo and damage increasing perks), but having the additional melee damage and self-healing, I was happy to invest a few thousand of my hard earned gold on a vastly superior melee weapon.
“The OUYA isn’t exactly known as an online gaming console, but Meltdown is a prime example that the tiny little box is capable of some pretty great things outside of the couch.”
Eventually I hit the max level of 55 for the first time, unlocking all of the available perks in the process. I had also spent a fair amount of time grinding out the gold I needed to buy a new set of gear, as well as fully upgrading my grenade and rocket launcher weapons. I had played a lot of Wave Mode with strangers, so I was level 55 well before I was even halfway through the campaign. Unfortunately the only thing to do at that point was to prestige, which reset all of my campaign progress and upgrades that I acquired thus far. It was a kick in the junk, sure, but prestiging is the only way to unlock certain pieces of gear, and also provides permanent upgrades to health and shields. It was definitely more pro than con. I jumped right back in without a care in the world, teaming up with more strangers to once again battle my way through Meltdown’s procedurally generated, repetitive level designs, enduring its cliche dubsteppy background music, and waiting for the next upgrade to come my way.
In what’s sure to turn a few heads, Meltdown is always happy to make things easier by way of microtransactions for real world cash. Anything from permanent double XP and gold gains, to additional lives, upgrade chips, and boatloads of gold could be yours for between $1 and $10 USD. I never, ever felt the need to buy anything, but grinding isn’t for everyone. It’s not very intrusive as there’s no pay-to-win aspect, so you can’t outright buy weapons or gear without unlocking it first; and even then it’s with in-game gold, not the almighty dollar. Microtransactions exist, sure, but they’re not necessary or beneficial outside of speeding up the leveling process.
Overall, if you plan on playing online with friends or strangers, Meltdown is a must-have for the OUYA. Your options are already limited, but there’s just a ridiculous amount of fun to be had and a pretty ludicrous amount of loot to unlock and purchase. The downfall of Meltdown though is that it always feels rather grindy. If that’s not your thing, the complete absence of story in the game’s campaign is going to give you even less of a reason to play through Arcade Mode’s inferior offerings. Online, though? Man. I never wanted to stop playing.
Recommended for fans of: Co-op shooters, online gaming with friends, or even just arcadey shoot-em-ups.
*This review is based on the OUYA version of Meltdown, which is also available on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. Unless we find significant differences between each version, consider this our definitive review.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and an aficionado of bizarre indie games. If it’s weird and pixely, he’ll like it. If he’s not writing, he can usually be found glued to his OUYA and Xbox One, or knee-deep in an MMO. Get in touch with him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.
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My review of the cross-platform twin-stick RPG-ish shooter Meltdown is up at What’s Your Tag? Give her a look!