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Colt Canyon

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Headup Games
Developer: Retrific Game Studio
Release Date: June 16, 2020


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PC Review - 'Colt Canyon'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 31, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Colt Canyon is a stylish 2D pixel art twin-stick shooter with roguelike elements in which you control a cowboy (or a cowgirl!), whose mission it is to save his kidnapped partner from ruthless bandits.

The Wild West remains a fascinating setting for games to this day. Part of that is due to the fact that it hasn't flooded the market like zombie apocalypse and World War II titles during their respective periods of popularity. Another reason is because of how the setting has been adapted to several different genres recently, including strategy titles like Desperados III, top-down shooters like 12 Is Better Than 6, and multiplayer affairs like Thief Town. Colt Canyon brings the setting to the "it" genre of the moment, the roguelike, and it does so with good results.

The premise is that you and your partner have been camping for a few days and are ready to leave for a new spot — when you're ambushed by a roving gang of bandits that leave you for dead and kidnap your partner. When you regain consciousness , the only thing you know is that the group headed east, and that's where your journey to revenge begins.

As with many roguelikes, this is presented as a top-down, twin-stick shooter; aim with the right analog stick or mouse, and pull on the right trigger or press the left mouse button to fire. Moving your aiming cursor further out decreases accuracy; the penalty isn't steep, but it is something to keep in mind since ammo is scarce. Ammo is split into various types, and that becomes important since you can only carry two guns at a time, and you can swap out weapons when the opportunity arises. To conserve ammo, you have a melee attack that works well against barrels and crates, and it works in a pinch against enemies. The melee attack is much more effective when you use it coming out of a dodge roll instead of during head-to-head combat. This is probably one of the few shooters in recent memory where using melee attacks in a frenzy during a run isn't feasible unless you specifically practice for it.

The other expected traits of the genre also appear in Colt Canyon. Every level is procedurally generated, but they're also quite sizable in area. The goal is to head east, but you have enough area to explore and find multiple routes along the way. A run can occasionally let you meet up with a shopkeeper who'll sell you different guns or refill your ammo. A run can also give you a chance to free prisoners who let you refill ammo and health, give you a permanent ability for the run (e.g., faster reloading), or offer to join your quest. That last option is nice in a pinch and gives you the opportunity for a third gun in your arsenal, since you need to give a gun to your unarmed companion, but don't expect them to be smarter than the opposition. More often than not, they will likely run out in the open and miss their shots as they fire into the rocks and trees.

A high difficulty level is also present, so expect to die often. You keep nothing from your previous run when starting your next one. This eliminates the feeling of grinding to improve, and it emphasizes developing the skills needed to advance in the game. The title still feels fair, since deaths usually occur because you're not paying attention or not managing the mobs well enough.

In exchange, Colt Canyon offers up some unlockables in the form of new characters and loadouts. The former is more than just skin changes, though; it means changes to starting weapon and stats, such as higher dodge distance, lowered health, and variable gun proficiency. While it gives players an extra challenge in terms of having to master several different characters, it also allows them to find a character better suited to their play style for easier runs. Loadouts, on the other hand, are character specific and give you a different starting weapon, which also impacts the run but not as much if you get lucky and find a better weapon early on. While the first three characters are easy to unlock, the rest (along with the loadouts) are more dependent on luck and exploration, which gives the game tremendous legs if you're the type to unlock everything.

All of this comes together to form a game that remains exciting even if the formula doesn't change too much. Playing it with stealth in mind is a fun experience, as it matches well mechanically with other titles that specialize in this gameplay style. Gunfights are tense because of the limited ammo and the varied enemies you face, whether it's foes those who prefer a good melee rush, a sharpshooter who prefers to stand back and pick their shots, or canine attackers. The fights also get exciting because the environment plays a big part, with trees and rocks acting as natural cover. It also helps that enemies will give chase if they spot you, and they'll do so over long distances. Even moving to the next stage doesn't help, since enemies in pursuit will follow you, causing some interesting gunfights and early deaths if you transition into an ambush while also being followed.

As far as presentation goes, it works well in most parts. The sepia tones of the backdrops give Colt Canyon a look that matches old photos of the time period while also looking distinct amongst other games set in the Wild West. It meshes well with other details, like light from lanterns and smoke from campfires, but it doesn't do so well with crates and barrels since their flash from being hit isn't too visible. There are a ton of moving elements, like the flowing fields of crops that sway with the wind and bend when you move through them. The game doesn't slow down when there are tons of on-screen enemies.

People may have split opinions about the character designs, as everyone takes on a very pixelated look reminiscent of older indie games where there's great animation but little to no detail. There's also a lack of color, as everyone is painted with one color tone, making it sometimes difficult to discern the kind of weapon anyone is holding if it isn't a pitchfork or a bow.

The music, on the other hand, is something that will unite more people since it fits the setting perfectly without being overbearing. Snippets play when no action is going on, and it ramps up when enemies spot you, going from calm to rousing in a second without sacrificing sound effects to do so. It is excellent stuff all around.

In the end, Colt Canyon is a solid roguelike shooter. The tight mechanics and various characters give most players enough to keep their interest, while the high difficulty and adherence to restarting from scratch on each run makes it appealing to those who are more experienced in the genre. The presentation might be hit-and-miss depending on what you're into, but there's no doubt that it contains a magic that'll keep you coming back after you fail another run for the umpteenth time. Colt Canyon is well worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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