Have You Played… Nuclear Throne?

nuclearthrone

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Nuclear Throne [official site] is a bullet hell, twin-stick shooter roguelike set in an apocalyptic wasteland. Like, seriously apocalyptic – playable characters include a telekinetic sack of eyeballs, a mutated plant that’s 90% mouth, and a blob of radioactive gloop.

The graphics are matched by impeccable sound design, which delivers crunchy shotgun blasts and satisfying squelches as enemies get popped. Every character has strengths and weaknesses that make each run feel substantially different. The melting skeleton man, for instance, can explode corpses for a devastating amount of damage but starts with hardly any health. That radioactive blob can fire a powerful beam of rads, but that uses up XP.

Getting a random choice of upgrades each time you gain a level also mixes up each run. In one game, you might take no damage from explosions and heal every time you kill an enemy. In another, you might upgrade your melee range and gain the ability to bat corpses towards your unvanquished foes.

It’s still an unquestionably difficult game, but as roguelikes go it’s one of the more accessible ones out there.

31 Comments

  1. LTK says:

    Have I played it? I’ve never stopped. It’s bastard hard, unforgiving and hates your radioactive guts and to keep playing it is an exercise in masochism, but play it I do.

    I think everyone’s sufficiently refreshed on Nuclear Throne given the post about update 99 a few days ago, so I’m not sure a HYP was warranted, but I can’t say Nuclear Throne doesn’t deserve it.

    • Flopdong says:

      Is the local co-op fixed yet? Every time I’ve played the game in co-op, it crashes at some point, or P2 stops rendering, or some other weird glitch happens. That was about a year ago, but it angered me so much that I haven’t played the game since

      • LTK says:

        I haven’t tried playing it in co-op, but since they hired the maker of the Nuclear Throne together mod I assume it’s been much improved.

  2. Inu says:

    Almost bought this game but i’ve heard its FPS capped. That drives me nuts.

    • cakeisalie says:

      The animation is tied to the framerate, so it can’t be changed without speeding up the game. Besides, NT is a 2D pixel art game, so not buying because its locked to 30fps is a very silly reason and you’re doing yourself a great disservice! It’s a brilliant game – funny, incredibly challenging and insanely addictive.

      • LTK says:

        All true, but the 30 FPS lock doesn’t make it any easier on the eyes. Being 2D pixel art has absolutely nothing to do with that, it’s got fast-paced action and the screen is pretty much constantly filled with enemies and bullets. The screen shake makes everything even harsher. I can definitely see why it’d be a deal-breaker for some. You should give it a try before passing judgment, though.

      • Daiz says:

        >The animation is tied to the framerate, so it can’t be changed without speeding up the game.

        I hate whenever this argument is brought up because it is completely untrue. You can play animations at any speed you want and it can be completely frame-independent. No animation would need any extra frames or get “sped up” by having an increased or even uncapped framerate. The fact that making the game run at 60FPS would be a lot of effort pretty much solely comes down to bad coding on the developer’s part (and Game Maker, which is what the game was made in, encouraging such bad development practices).

        >Besides, NT is a 2D pixel art game, so not buying because its locked to 30fps is a very silly reason and you’re doing yourself a great disservice!

        The fact that it’s 2D is also completely irrelevant here. What’s way more relevant is that Nuclear Throne is a fast-paced action game, and such suffers way more from a low FPS cap than a slower-paced title would be. Combined with the low native resolution, the screenshake in the game legitimately ends up making me nauseous, so I have to turn it off to basically play the game at all (this is much less of an issue with something like eg. Enter the Gungeon, which runs at 60FPS and has a somewhat higher native resolution). And even then it always takes a slight adjustment period whenever I fire up the game.

        30FPS is definitely one of the worst things about Nuclear Throne and a very real black mark on an otherwise great game. I really wish it would have gotten the same treatment as Hyper Light Drifter and gotten a 60FPS patch somewhere along the way (that was another Game Maker game made with a 30FPS cap originally and where it was also a real detriment to the quality of the game), but sadly that’s unlikely to ever happen since the developers have very much moved on (the recent U99 patch was essentially outsourced to a modder too – a great modder at that, but a modder regardless, and they’ve now declared it very much “done”).

        • Static says:

          Legitimate question here:

          “You can play animations at any speed you want and it can be completely frame-independent.”

          As an animator with limited coding experience, can you explain this in more detail? ‘Cause playing animations at any speed you want usually screws up the intended timing of the animation. Animations are made with specific timings of frames in mind and usually to match a specific framerate (traditionally anywhere from 12-24fps). But that’s for film, I’ve no idea how it works in video games.

          Now for my own opinions:

          You can turn off the screen shake, it’s the first thing I did after buying the game. I agree it’s a dumb effect that actually detracts from the game play.

          Now for more fps stuff, How does having the game run at 60fps make it easier/better to play? Surely, in an ideal world, the speed of the game doesn’t change, so I don’t understand why having extra frames displaying the exact same information does anything other than help with the illusion that the sequence of stills is actually moving.

          Also, I’m generally curious about how folks who hate 30fps games feel about movies and normal motion graphics? Because the vast majority of moving images people digest are not 60fps at all.

          But then again, they don’t require fast reactions either. Still, I find it hard to believe that having an extra 1/60th of a second to react to something changes a game so radically.

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            MajorLag says:

            Animations can be pretty much whatever frame rate you need them to be in games. Just because the framebuffer has a certain refresh rate doesn’t mean your animation can’t have its own independent rate, it just places limits on when its frame transitions will actually be seen.

            For instance, if you have a “guy” sprite with a walking animation cycle that takes place over five frames, you can set the frame transitions to arbitrary timings. First frame is displayed for 27ms, the next for 45ms, whatever. When the renderer runs, it will know how long it has been since the animation started in real time, so it will know if it needs to switch which frame of the animation it is rendering. The animation frame timing is independent of the actual framerate of the display.

            Of course, certain timing/framerate combinations will cause noticeable problems, but in practice this rarely occurs because the animation frame timing is usually much longer than the screen frame timing. Your average pixel-art walk cycle has something like 4-8 frames of animation and a cycle time of, let’s say, half a second. If all those frames are spaced equally along the interval, each one will take 500ms/8 = 62.5ms to complete. At 60hz framerate (~16.6ms per frame), that means we’re displaying a frame of animation every 3.75 frames. So what we’d get is 4 display frames each of animation frames 1-3, 3 of 4, 4 again of 5-7, and 3 of 8. If you double the display refresh rate, you just double the frame timings. If your framerate dips below 16fps (our animation frame timing), you’ll end up skipping frames.

            It should be noted that not every engine decouples the simulation rate from the display rate like this, but it is quite common.

            To answer your question about 60fps providing a better experience even though the animation rate is the same: it can, if the simulation rate is not tied to the frame rate. Just because the animations can’t display more information (fancy interpolation aside) in the extra frames doesn’t mean the scene as a whole can’t. Positions will update every frame, so you’ll see smoother movement of objects and projectiles.

        • Daiz says:

          MajorLag already addressed the point about animations and framerate independence, so I’ll just talk about gameplay and framerate. To begin with, here’s a review of Hyper Light Drifter that covers the problems that locked 30FPS causes for the game, and basically all of those complaints apply to Nuclear Throne as well.

          Basically, 60FPS literally makes the game twice as responsive compared to 30FPS, and it also helps hugely with fast and big movement like camera panning, which is something that happens a LOT and is explicitly controlled by the player in NT with your aiming. Nuclear Throne also gets really bullet hellish with its projectile counts, and the increased framerate helps a TON in keeping track of any incoming projectiles on the screen, especially the faster they are moving. It’s really easy to notice by for example playing Nuclear Throne and Enter the Gungeon back-to-back – the latter runs at 60FPS, which makes the core gameplay just that much smoother and more responsive. (The fact that the game itself is overall still a lot worse than NT just makes me more annoyed that NT unnecessarily falls short in this regard.)

          >Because the vast majority of moving images people digest are not 60fps at all.
          >But then again, they don’t require fast reactions either.

          So basically, you hit the nail on the head here. Passive media is just that – it doesn’t have to react to user input in any way in normal usage. Games on the other hand are interactive media, and now what’s displayed has to react to user input. The higher your framerate, the more naturally responsive the picture can be, and the faster the gameplay, the more of a difference it makes for the game feel itself (not to mention the benefits of the overall smoother image in itself).

          Also, while it’s often brought up how films play back at 24fps, they aren’t really directly comparable to games at all. For one, with film you get natural motion blur. To compare this to games, let’s say that “real life” has a framerate of 1000 frames per second (ie. 1 millisecond is one “frame”). A film camera essentially “captures” all 42 “frames” (1000/24 = ~42) of motion and produces a single high quality frame out of those. A digital game render on the other hand will always just represent a single millisecond of motion despite lasting for several “frames” (eg. 1000/60 = ~16ms). Besides the whole thing with input responsiveness, this is another reason why high framerates are much more important for completely digitally rendered footage like games.

          Then there’s also the fact that some film makers aren’t satisfied with 24fps either. Even with the ability to “sample” a lot of “frames” over time, you still run into certain hard limits with framerate that low. Big camera movements end up looking either janky or become a blurry mess (just look at basically any shaky cam action movies – a higher framerate would make those much more interesting because you could actually see much better what the heck is even going on). This is also why screenshake is something I leave on and have no problems with in Enter the Gungeon but turn off completely in Nuclear Throne!

          So yeah, bottom line is that framerate matters. It matters for films, it definitely matters for digitally rendered content in general, and it very specifically matters for interactive content.

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      Phasma Felis says:

      I’m so glad I don’t have whatever visual defect makes people hypersensitive to frame rates. You guys miss out on some great games.

    • Ronrocken says:

      Go get your eyes checked or something?…

  3. aliksy says:

    Played it, never beat it. Some of the upgrades seem straight out better than others, which is a bummer.

    • Flopdong says:

      Yeah, some runs you will just get garbage abilities. It seems like the options you see are somewhat tailored to the character you play. Whenever I play as the chicken, who starts with a katana, I tend to see a lot of melee upgrades, and almost never see them with other characters

  4. Ossian says:

    It has become my go to “quick-get-in-get-out” game, recently supplanting Binding of Issac, as I’ve gotten semi-good at BoI. The kind of game where if I have 10 or 15 minutes to do with what I want, then I will load up this game. Usually I can get 3 or 4 tries at Nuclear Throne in that time. I don’t think I’ve ever played it for more than about 15 minutes at a sitting, and I don’t think I’ve lasted more than about 5 minutes for any one run…definitely less than 10.

    Success is relative for me with this game. It’s a fun journey and worth it. It’s the kind of game I don’t mind being bad at, because I have such a good time with it.

    • wackazoa says:

      Thats me with Enter the Gungeon. If I have some time to waste waiting for food to cook or someone to pick me up I turn it on and play a bit. I am complete rubbish at it, having never made it past the 1st level in 50 lives, but it is enjoyable throw away. I am looking to get Nuclear Throne for my Vita and Issac for my Switch for something to keep me occupied when Im on the go.

  5. nimbulan says:

    I never understood why people think so highly of this game. It’s just far too punishing – you tend to die very suddenly, often in rather unfair ways, and very very rarely make any progress that could improve your next run. I don’t think I ever even made it halfway through the game and lost the will to continue very quickly.

    Listening to the soundtrack is much more enjoyable than playing the game.

    • stringerdell says:

      Nothing in NT is unfair before a loop, every death is preventable. It’s brutally difficult no doubt about that but the player always has a fighting chance once youve been to each area a couple of times and learned the attack patterns.

      • LTK says:

        I’d agree with you if it weren’t for Lil’ Hunter. There are many times when I get dropped into a configuration of 5-3 where I have zero chance of surviving unless I have a godly combination of weapons and mutations.

        • Turkey says:

          Try to find a tight little nook when you get to his level. It seems counter intuitive, but he’s a lot more manageable when you’re not fighting him in an open area.

    • and its man says:

      On the contrary, I always feel I should have seen my doom coming. ->retry.
      I never raged against the machine with Nuclear Throne.

    • Bull0 says:

      Progression isn’t really the focus and the game is much better for it. If I have to grind for ages to get the decent characters/abilities/weapons to make it more survivable why not just take the grind out of the design and let me start at the good bit?

      Roughly why I hated Gungeon.

  6. Synesthesia says:

    +1 to the “never stopped” camp. Such a fun, rewarding, hard-but-fair game. Still have to loop it once.

  7. Bum Candy says:

    I have it on the Vita. That and Crypt of the Necrodancer keep me going on slow work days.

  8. Bobtree says:

    30 FPS in a twitchy, unforgiving shooter like Nuclear Throne really sucks.

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    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    The better question is what have Vlambeer been working on since since this game’s release.

  10. malkav11 says:

    I’ve tried it briefly. I found it almost impenetrable. I’d like to be into it but I don’t think I have the twitch skills.

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    Neurotic says:

    I enjoyed it from time to time on my PC, but really started loving it playing it co-op with the kids on the PS4. NT is so crazy and vibrant and full of non-stop madness, it just seems much more at home (and plays better to my mind) on a big telly screen.

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