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Wot I Think: Brute

N++ with a spaceship

Brute [official site] is N with a ship in place of a ninja. That change aside, there's the same challenge of grappling with the particulars of the game's physics, the same love of alternating bright colours, and a similar menagerie of deadly pursuing enemies ready to destroy you with a single touch. Luckily, there's also the same sense of satisfaction to be found in trying, failing and eventually overcoming each of its tricky levels.

Left click shoots, right click thrusts, and both happen in the direction of your mouse cursor. It's a simple control scheme, but steering your ship is anything but easy thanks to the way in which momentum continues to carry you forward after you stop thrusting. To slow down and avoid hitting the deadly walls or barreling into a swarm of enemies, you'll need to thrust in the opposite direction. That's hard to do right when you're under pressure from something chasing you, when you're in a tight space, and when you're also conscious of having to conserve fuel - use too much or fail to replenish it via collectibles placed in each level and you'll have to manually restart the level.

By contrast, your bullets are infinite and are how you interact with each level, using them to destroy and stall enemies but also trigger environmental hazards and switches. Enemies such as little swarming triangles that relentlessly pursue you, trigger-happy yellow horse shoes that spray bullets as fast as you do, and deadly dots that chase you but deactivate if they touch a wall. Environmental hazards such as destructible scenery, which you and enemies can chew through strategically, and another object which slows down anything trapped inside its area of effect when shot. Switches are used to temporarily disable certain bullet-deflecting walls.

There are 50 levels, structured in such a way that new enemies and functionality are introduced gradually, so that you're always comfortable in expert with one thing before another comes along. You don't have to complete every level to complete the game (which unlocks an arena-style minigame), but completing a 'row' of levels unlocks access to five, harder twists on the originals. I was able to complete the initial 50 levels in a couple of hours, but that was after playing an earlier version for hours previously. I think it'd take people longer than that if they're coming to it fresh, and I think it'd take me at least a couple more to make it through all of the hard versions.

Even with an existing basic proficiency, there's little I'd describe as 'easy' in Brute. I died dozens of times on every level, as my progress through them followed a steady arc. First, there's the tentative sneaking, taking every corner slowly and using the mouse cursor to scout as far ahead as possible. Then I start to get a little better, get a little further, till eventually the number of deaths ticks up far enough that I grow a little impatient. Not enough to quit, but enough that I'm going to have a series of reckless lives in which I die at the first hurdle. This is OK; it makes me better, and soon I'm able to clear those early hurdles faster and more efficiently than before.

You'll recognise this arc yourself if you've played any of these instant-restart games, whether N or Trackmania or Flywrench. It's a simple pleasure. Brute feels like a simple game, deliberately sparse in style, but the presentation sets it apart from many other games I've quickly dismissed. The feel of movement I've already discussed is one example, and the sound effects are another. Creator Michael Manning works as a freelance sound designer ordinarily, and his experience shows. Every thrust, every explosion, and every collected power-up tickles the ear drum. It takes flat, geometric shapes and gives them weight and heft, and the game along with it.

Brute introduces a few twists as you go along that I haven't mentioned here, but doesn't do enough to establish its own identity and step out from underneath the shadow of its inspirations. That doesn't make it any less fun. If you've tired of its inspirations and are looking for something new, then it'll scratch that same itch.

Brute is out now on Windows for £4.99/$6.99 via Steam and Itch.

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