You’ll have an example off the top of your head, but I’m struggling to think of the last twin-stick shooter that put a big emphasis on downtime between blasting, with NPCs, a decent chunk of story, and an RPG-style upgradeable roster of characters. That’s what Tower 57 rather modestly offers, all through very pleasing chunky 16-bit art.
The setting is a dystopian, yet rather bright and cheerful future. Tower 57 is one of many vast metropolises that have been stacked vertically, and then controlled by an oppressive regime. But this is a whimsical take on the notion, played for laughs rather than GRIMDARK -SOOTHSAYING. You’ll learn of the conditions via news terminals you can read in both combative and friendly zones, which lean heavily in the direction of silly-satirical, creating a breezy attitude that’s very welcome. You’re tasked with bringing down one of the senior meanies, and that’s going to involve surviving a series of expansive levels packed with enemies and their rather unique approach to hurting you.
You, in this case, is three people selected from a pool of six. Each have their own specialisms, including weapon types and special attacks, and when one of them dies, the next steps in to carry on. Lose all three and you’ll go back to your last save position, and indeed there are (tricky) ways to revive characters – this is no roguelite. In fact, it’s just one example of what Tower 57 isn’t that has drawn me in.
Because not only is Tower 57 not roguey, it’s also not procedurally generated. I love me a roguelite, and I love me some procedurally generated funtimes. But goodness gracious, you don’t know how much you’re missing the alternative until you’ve got one right in front of you. Here the sprawling levels are bespoke, deliberately crafted places with which you can become familiar. And on losing all three characters, I was bemused by the realisation that I didn’t now need to start the whole game again.
A rather excellent feature is the loss of limbs. Not in real life. In real life that’s quite the worst. But it appears by this point in the future it’s significantly less of a big deal. If one of the big blue beasties bites off an arm or leg mid-fight, and you survive despite this, you can hop/crawl your way forward, ideally toward a vending machine that offers “ARMS” (DYSWTDT?). Here you can replace missing appendages for reasonable prices, and further, upgrade the ones you’ve already got. In fact, it gets quite so silly that should you need a cash injection, there are butchers to whom you can sell a limb if you think you can spare it for a bit.
Combat is familiarly twin-stick, with a limited collection of weapon types that can be swapped in and out with ease. However, I rather like the way it slowly ramps its way up to something resembling the bullet hell you might expect from the genre. It starts off fairly gently, letting you play methodically against a few enemies, and even offering you a blitz-the-lot-of-them attack before things even become slightly overwhelming. Which makes the moments later on when you do find yourself in a merry hell of attacks feel much more manageable.
Beyond this, there are no enormous surprises. But I’d say the surprise of offering a format that’s become so immediately associated with permadeath and procedural generation without either is intriguing enough. It re-emphasises progress amd reintroduces a desire to see what the story’s all about, along with a willingness to take risks that aren’t viable when losing everything is on the table. I’d almost forgotten these were things in arcadey top-down shooters. That, plus calm populated areas with shops, NPCs, hotels and the like betwixt the action manages to make twin-stick shooting feel fresh, despite its faithfully traditional early 90s vibe.
The result of a successful Kickstarter, and released the traditional year later than planned, Pixwerk’s debut seems like a proper treat. And looking at the game’s screenshots on Steam, my early exploration shows I’ve seen barely any of the environments and weapons/vehicles on offer here. At less than a tenner, I’m rather taken.