REVIEW: Mothergunship

Aug
12

REVIEW: Mothergunship

This first-person bullet hell game provides an exciting experience filled with crazy enemies and even crazier guns, but it doesn’t quite live up to it’s full potential.

Steam: Released
Type: Single-player
Genre: RPG, Action
Developer: Terrible Posture Games
Publisher: Grip Digital
Release date: 17 July, 2018

An entire arsenal in a single gun

Take a huge mishmash of gun parts, and just keep smashing them together more and more to create the ultimate weapon. That’s the idea behind Mothergunship, a sprawling space adventure that will see you crafting crazy weapons, leaping through the air, and dodging bullets bigger than you are. The action is fast and wild, the weapons are satisfying, and there is quite a bit of fun to be had here. But the game stops just short of reaching the greatness that it could have achieved, while also making some rather odd missteps.

Mothergunship starts off with a bang, as you’re soon dumped into the action, with a cast of rather colorful characters explaining your mission: fighting your way through the deadly armada, destroying one ship after another on your way to defeat the ultimate weapon, the Mothergunship itself. I wont spoil anything here, but the writing is consistently entertaining, and it does a good job of introducing the player to this bizarre and violent world while providing a nice ongoing narrative between missions. The dialogue is constantly funny, and it goes along with the game’s tendency to never really take itself too seriously. Also, the same goes for the gameplay. You’ll be building increasingly ridiculous guns to fight mechanical monstrosities in rather outlandish arenas aboard each ship, as you try to make your way to the final room, usually containing the world’s most obvious self-destruct button. It’s honestly a rather simple setup, but one that’s done well and adds to the experience. However, this isn’t really a story-focused experience. This one is all about the gameplay, and fortunately this aspect of the game also holds up, but perhaps not quite as well as one might hope.

Much like the developer’s previous game, Tower of Guns, Mothergunship provides an FPS experience of a rather unusual sort. There’s no cover mechanics or regenerating health here. Mothergunship goes completely away from standard FPS fare, doing it’s best to provide a first-person bullet hell experience, which is quite the daunting task. For the most part, it does this well. Each ship is also a deadly labyrinth, made up of rooms that function as battle arenas, each containing all sorts of foes bent on your destruction. The enemies you’ll find in these rooms are also not the standard fare. Very few enemies in Mothergunship actually use anything whatsoever resembling traditional guns. Instead, they often use hilariously oversized cannons, firing enormous bullets that travel rather slowly. Or perhaps some might create a spinning web of deadly lasers, while others may simply charge at you, forcing you to dash and dodge through the chaos while you do your best to defend yourself. Dodging, not hiding, is what’s important here, and I love that. It’s a wonderful departure from the norm, in a genre where the most common approach is to have you hiding behind walls all the time. Enemy designs are pretty well done, with each having a very recognizable look and attack. Each foe serves a unique role, with groups of baddies coming together to form complicated patterns of flying doom that you must deal with in each area as you blast your way towards your goal. This aspect of the game is quite well done, and I never found myself feeling like any of these threats were ever unfair. It’s not easy to get something like this right, particularly in a first-person setting, and I applaud the developers for managing it. You’ll find loads of satisfying combat here in well-designed rooms filled with all sorts of screwy obstacles and hazards.

Of course, your enemies and the rooms they inhabit aren’t the main selling point here. Mothergunship really is all about assembling loopy weapons to bring with you into each adventure, letting you mow down robotic jerks with seriously over-the-top attacks as you cackle in glee. For the most part, this system works well. You’ll start each run through an enemy ship with little in terms of attack power. A simple barrel or two, and maybe some connectors, depending on what you were allowed to bring for the given mission. Over the course of each mission though, you will get to see your gun evolve into something greater. Shops appear very frequently within each ship, all of them offering a wide selection of gun parts for you to buy. Once you’ve managed to get some more parts, you can begin to dive into the excellent gun crafting system. Barrels, connectors, and special modules are what make up the bonkers firearms that you’ll be using. The crafting itself is as easy as it gets, and the rules behind it all are nice and easy to understand. Barrels will be the source of the destruction that you can deal out, with connectors serving as the base upon which they rest. And those other funky gizmos typically add all sorts of stat bonuses or screwy extra effects to your weapon. With a bazillion different parts, you have a lot of freedom to really get creative here, and the procedural nature of the game and its missions means that you’re going to be carrying completely different superguns each time. The sheer variety of parts here is impressive. You’ve got lasers and rocket launchers, chainguns, even a launcher that chucks bouncing metal spike things all over the place. Get as creative as you want, but watch the energy cost. The more energy the gun is using, the less you can fire it before it needs a moment to recharge, so choosing the right parts is essential if you want to make your weapons effective. With so many interesting decisions to be made, and the concept of your weapons evolving anew every time, the guns themselves never really feel stale, and the mechanic never overstays it’s welcome.

At the same time though, the crafting never quite reaches the extremes that the game’s trailer promises, and here’s where we start getting into some of the game’s problems. When you watch the trailer, you’re going to see some seriously nutty stuff. Guns so big and complicated that they take up half the screen, unleashing massive waves of chaos and destruction when fired. These weapons are very impressive, and it really makes you excited to dive in there and build your own wild creations. However, you never get to do quite as much of it as the trailer shows. One of the game’s biggest issues is it’s structure. Unlike Tower of Guns, Mothergunship’s action is not confined in a single large “run”. Rather, it is divided into a great many small missions, each one being rather short. I found that most missions were done in about 25 minutes or so, and that’s with my rather methodical playstyle… you may find that your missions are even faster than that. And the fact that they’re so short does hurt things. You just don’t have time to build up your guns to the levels seen in the trailer. By the time they seem to be getting awesome, suddenly, the mission is over, and the next mission will see you starting with very basic guns once again. It’s a very strange design decision. The very nature of the gun crafting, and the fact that it’s done over time through parts bought in each mission, says that the missions should be long enough to give the player plenty of time to go to town with it. It’s the sort of misstep that kinda makes me wonder “what were they thinking here? Did they really not see that this bit was a problem? It seems so obvious!

And it’s not the only misstep of that sort. Perhaps the biggest problem I ran into during the game was visibility issues. It can be genuinely hard to see what’s happening, and that’s a problem. Sometimes things may sort of blend into the background due to the color schemes (particularly in fire-themed rooms). Other times, the violently flashy effects obscure the action. And then there’s my favorite example… the item pickup glare. When enemies of any sort are defeated, they explode in a shower of shiny little pickups for you to grab. Experience, money, health, energy, whatever. They explode into many of these, and with every single one you pick up, the screen sort of flares for a moment to indicate that you’ve grabbed something. This would be fine, except for the fact that the sheer number of pickups means that this obnoxious effect is pretty much constant, never really stopping, particularly since pickups fade rather quickly… you cant just leave them all over the floor and go grab them after the fight is over. You must pick them up during combat, and during combat is the worst time to do so. Enemy designs are not unfair, but the game still produces some moments that feel unfair, simply because you didn’t see what hit you due to the visual chaos. This is of course provided you’re even aware that you got hit… there’s a bizarre lack of feedback for taking damage.

Not that you need to worry about that too much. Mothergunship‘s difficulty is oddly on the low side. Your enemies are many, but none of them are hugely threatening. Bosses in particular fare badly. There are very, very few bosses, and all of them are underwhelming, which is odd considering the sheer amount of firepower they bring to the table. This low challenge also means that the guns themselves feel a bit less important than they otherwise would. Sometimes I would get the feeling that, sure, I COULD try to min-max the strongest gun, but… did I really need to? Nothing was truly threatening enough to really warrant it, and this ends up lowering the impact that the gun crafting would otherwise have, as you really just don’t need hugely absurd weapons to deal with things. Likely, even if you’re getting hit a lot, you’ll probably find that your progress through the game is rather fast, and it wont be too long before you’ve beaten it. On top of that the guns are pretty much the only thing you have on your side. Gone are the special badges and active items that Tower of Guns used. There’s no way to build up your character over the course of each run. At least, not in interesting ways. You can find extremely basic health, energy, and jump upgrades in each level, but that’s about it. As good as the gun crafting is, the game ends up feeling a bit too basic much of the time. And the repetition is high. You’re going to encounter the same enemies in the same rooms over and over.

Verdict

Mothergunship is, overall, a fun game. There’s lots of action, lots of dodging to do and fun environments to do it in. The gun crafting system is as good as it looks, and there’s a ton of fun to be had here. But the experience is short-lived. Unlike Tower of Guns and many other procedural games, you may find yourself beating the game very quickly, and it will be a bit too simple the entire way. The game is good, but it just doesn’t meet the potential that it very clearly has. Hopefully, some changes and additions are made over time, but for now, it stands as just “decent”. This is one of those games where you may want to wait for a sale before picking it up. It’s a decent game… but it could have been so much more.

About Misery

I've been a gamer for my entire life, having been playing since the days of the Atari 2600 and DOS PCs. I'm a huge fan of shmups, roguelikes, and fighting games, and have a tendency to gravitate towards anything that promises to be brutally difficult. Having grown disillusioned with AAA games, I tend to stick to indie titles instead.

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