I wonder if many other publishers will follow in Devolver Digital’s path of hiring a bunch of indie developers to create a smattering of tie-in games. I know there’s the requisite Facebook/iOS game, but none has gone as far as those offering us Serious Sam 3: BFE next month (if they can stop delaying it). We’ve had Double D, and Kamikaze Attack. And now comes Serious Sam: The Random Encounter. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s fun. Here’s Wot I Think.
A 16-bit style and ethos, but with slightly more up-to-date graphics, The Random Encounter is as top-down dungeon exploring RPG-lite, with turn-based combat. Which is an obvious way to interpret a run-n-gun shooter, right? It’s the work of indies Vlambeer, known for Radical Fishing and Super Crate Box. And it’s very silly.
An extremely basic RPG, you wander small environments, stumbling into invisible fights with every other step. But in keeping with the Sam vibe, these fights are not against four or six enemies, rather dozens and dozens at a time. Sometimes hundreds. Yet it’s still turn-based. The onslaught charges toward Sam, and any other characters you may have in your party, and every five seconds things pause and you are able to issue commands.
So perhaps you’ll have Sam fire his rocket launcher into the crowds, while the Cowboy uses a special item that speeds up all attacks, and, uh, the guy in pink uses a laser rifle to hold back the charge. So it is that you apply tactics against the madness, while still maintaining the signature backward running and sense of impending doom that makes a Serious Sam game Serious. Which is smart, if ridiculous.
You have an extra layer of control as you play. Once you’ve selected your players’ moves, and the charge continues, you can still move the gang up and down the side-scrolling screen. This means you can dodge enemy attacks, and since you choose the direction in which a character will be firing, you can also move them into place to catch more enemies. And dodging is especially important, because none has that much life to spend. Once they’ve expired they fall to the ground and are left behind, unless you have a “Revive” you can play on your next turn. But using these is darned tricky, as reviving a teammate immediately in front of a big group of enemies is going to see them get knocked backed down immediately.
The controls are especially retro. You select menu options with the cursor keys, and select with z, go back with x. There’s no mouse here – nor a need for one. Although I think it would be nice to see a 360 controller implemented. Or even any control options at all.
It’s packed with lovely details. The music is especially great, managing to capture that tepidly bombastic style that occupied the gaming of the late 80s, with a synthy edge. Then there’s cute features, such as when you fight in the water, the whole screen, menus and all, are washed out, delivered with a tacky wobbly effect. There’s also the fun of Sam making remarks in text at the bottom of the screen, grumbling about puzzles, the tedium of finding keys, and lines like,
“Fork Parker would be proud of us.”
To which the dude in pink replies,
It’s also incredibly tough. It’s not difficult per se, but you’ll lose a lot. Because, again, that’s the way of Sam. Death carries little penalty. If all three of your mans go down, you’ll get a couple of lives to continue just before the battle that did you. If you run out of those, you just restart in the room you’re in. Admittedly that can be a setback of a good five or six battles, but it’s still not a genuine game over. As tough as it is, it’s not being a dick about it. Apart from when it suddenly assaults you with spawning masses of giant beasts giving you no chance whatsoever. But that’what we want.
There’s no more useful recommendation than my ridiculous desire to keep playing. It really doesn’t offer a great deal in terms of complexity or depth, but what’s there is just enough to make me want to keep bloody playing it. It entertainingly (and rather blatantly) teases you with constantly being near the end, almost from the beginning of the game, as you hunt down Mental so you can “shoot his face off”. “Mental should be through here” your characters say at the exit of each level. And this obvious trick makes me feel even more inclined to just reach the next screen.
At £3.59 (on Steam) there’s absolutely no reason not to. Unless you hate having fun, or something.