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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: Mode4
Release Date: April 11, 2018

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Switch Review - 'Bombslinger'

by Andreas Salmen on April 13, 2018 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

Inspired by Bomberman, Bombslinger is a Wild West action-maze game filled with explosive single player action and hectic 4 player deathmatch battles!

The indie scene loves its roguelites. It almost seems like every other game has implemented some characteristics into the mix. If you're a fan of that, you likely have an extensive backlog to choose from. If you're not a fan, you should probably stop reading at this point. While Bombslinger is a fun and creative roguelite, it sometimes doesn't do enough to feel special.

Bombslinger marries known roguelite tropes with Bomberman and the Wild West, which may already be the most outstanding feature of the game. After a drought of Bomberman titles that eventually led to the sub-par Bomberman R on the Switch, Bombslinger has a legitimate claim to the throne on the system, given the nonexistent competition. Bombslinger releases on PC and Xbox One as well, after being available on Steam Early Access for a while. Looking at the genre and execution, the Switch version might be the most likely to succeed due to its indie-friendly user base and less crowded eShop.

In Bombslinger, we take control of an ex-bandit-gone-farmer who tries to enjoy the quiet family life with his wife. Unfortunately, members of his former gang aren't as pleased with his recent life choices, so they burn down his farm and kill his wife. Fueled by revenge, we seek out the perpetrators and bomb them to hell, piece by piece.

The basic gameplay loop consists of the standard Bomberman tool set. We're thrown into a grid-based level with indestructible pillars, objects to destroy, and enemies to defeat. Planting a bomb destroys or harms objects equally to four sides, unless we upgrade our abilities or find items for special powers.

This simple concept is expanded upon throughout the adventure mode. Before jumping into the first stage, we can choose one of several items. As we unlock more items, we get more item slots, providing us with a helpful means of progression even when we fail. Items can provide a second life or additional bombs, firepower, health, luck, spirit and more; this enables and encourages experimentation before each new run.

Once we jump into the first stage, Bombslinger's main influence becomes abundantly clear. Each randomly generated level is comprised of rooms that eventually lead us to a boss fight. The layout of the rooms and the stage map look as if they were plucked from The Binding of Isaac — only with a Wild West Bomberman skin on top. When we enter a new room , we need to clear it in order to advance. In doing so, we may earn experience, item, money or spirit. Experience enables us to level up and increase select stats, money is used in shops to buy additional items, and spirit is basically a "mana bar" that regulates how often we can use items, such as firepower or additional health. Keys and treasure chests are also littered around the rooms.

Roguelite nature aside, what makes Bombslinger different from Bomberman is the way the gameplay evolves due to items, which can actually change how you play a level. You can lay traps in an enemy's path, use camouflage to hide, and fire long-range weapons. Add abilities like kicking a bomb down an aisle and dodging bullets, and the later levels of Bombslinger feel less and less like Bomberman. That alone may disgruntle Bomberman fans, but it helps the game distinguish itself. It's also fairly difficult when you're starting out, so the beginning of the journey is a bit of a grind.

As in other roguelites, boss battles are the grand finale of each stage. They are different and challenging, and they maintain Bombslinger's slightly weird vibe. From the first stage onward, the difficulty level of regular enemies ramps up rather quickly. It provides a sense of progression, but you must figure out how to defeat new enemy types while also leveling up your character. As a result, the game feels too tough at the outset. Bombslinger sends you back to square one numerous times until you eventually unlock the second and third item slots, which make the game manageable. Combined with stats that seem too low at the beginning, such as your run speed, it feels like the game is artificially increasing its difficulty, which can lead to frustration.

While the stages are different and have their own charm and appeal, they can get pretty tiresome when visited in what feels like the hundredth time in a row. Separated from the level design, Bombslinger's visuals are very nice to look at and surpassed my expectations. Bombslinger uses beautiful 2-D pixel art sprites in a 3-D environment, and rich and brutal visual effects are on display when you're pulverizing your enemies. The game zooms in when you enter the shop environment, resulting in a peculiar perspective that somehow works with the Bombslinger vibe. The visuals succeed here without any major complaints. The overall performance is also smooth; no matter how you play, Bombslinger looks vibrant on the Switch's screen in handheld mode.

The level design may be randomized, but it works all right. As I'd mentioned, you may grow tired of a few stages because you have to redo them very often, and the variation within stages can be rather limited, so they feel very similar even though the layout has changed. Add to that the rather average guitar riffs that are supposed to emulate a Wild Wong tune, and the game can feel tiresome when you get stuck — and believe me, you will get stuck.

If you're up for some classic Bomberman multiplayer action, Bombslinger also has you covered with local four-player modes:  deathmatch or last man standing. Online capabilities would have been a dream, but local couch multiplayer will provide you with some fun times. It's a solid addition that doesn't feel tacked-on, and it increases the value of a well-executed budget game.

In summary, Bombslinger feels like a mix of several familiar concepts but manages to be greater than the sum of its parts. It's not perfect, with a steep difficulty setting and unfriendly amounts of grinding. The visuals are great, and the overall experience is fun, so you should pick up Bombslinger on the eShop for $12 — unless you hate roguelites.

Score: 7.5/10

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