This run and gun game is surprisingly hard, with most of the difficulty stemming from the bosses and optional challenges, such as a 2 heart run. However, with a shop full of upgrades, there are ways to mitigate the difficulty.
Genres: Platformer, Shooter
Developer: Studio Pixel
Release date: 11 Nov, 2015
Kero Blaster (KB) has great reviews, and the gameplay shown in the trailers is the kind of run and gun, or at least trot and shot (tarry and bury?), experience I enjoy. What’s not so clear is that KB isn’t as easy as Kero’s ambling speed suggests. I played the game back on my laptop around 2018, able to beat the game’s normal playthrough after multiple attempts, but the difficulty really caught me off guard. However, I decided to start the game anew and see whether it’s as difficult as I recall. Spoiler alert, it both is and isn’t.
Kero moves slowly in contrast to other protagonists, but KB is still a run and gun game at its heart. It lacks the backtracking and level of upgrades to be a Metroidvania, but it does have weapon and health upgrades available that you’ll be more than happy to acquire. There are 4 weapons with different bullet properties to use, meaning you’re able to switch guns to address various scenarios you encounter. For instance, the bubble gun bounces slightly and rolls around the ground, which is useful when you’re above enemies. When upgrading them, they cap at different levels and for different costs. Eventually, you’d want to upgrade them all, but the first two guns are the ones you’d use most often. Your health is more straightforward, which can be upgraded to a total of 8 hearts.
As a run and gun game, KB has basic controls, and you can play on either a keyboard or controller. I had to customize the controls to best suit my preferences, and this is how I arranged them. With the controller, moving Kero is done with the ‘L joystick’ and jumping is done with ‘A.’ To switch weapons, I use ‘Y’ and ‘B’ to scroll through either direction. Firing them is done with ‘X.’ One feature that’s helpful is maintaining your aim while jumping and dodging, which you do by holding down the fire button to fire a constant stream of bullets. You’ll face the same direction you started attacking with, and can move around and jump while keeping up the attack. There is no ability to shoot downward though, only left, right, or straight up.
In KB, you play as a frog with a gun (Kermit, no!) whose species makes up half of a company he works at, Cat & Frog. From what I can tell, it’s a “cleaning company” that addresses transporter sites and other technological hubs that have been overrun by biological hazards or messes. You’re taking care of business as usual, and start finding sentient black globs spreading throughout different areas, disrupting wildlife and causing problems. The source of which winds up being closer to home than expected. It’s a simple story, but one that is maintained throughout the game as dialogue comes up in-between levels. I found the characters likable enough, which helps maintain the upbeat tone KB has.
KB’s pixel graphics are well-composed, with stages and environments that have a reasonable level of detail to them. For instance, the wintery level has snowflakes lightly falling from the sky, and when you get the flamethrower it will melt the ice around you. I would say the characters are too simplistic, with the female pink coworker looking like a short, nondescript glob. Their design is decent, but it needed some more refinement. That’d be about my only complaint in this area, as I find the game’s art design and aesthetic works quite well. It’s hard for me to put into words, but I find the visuals to be endearing rather than looking unpolished or poorly done. This may be because I grew up playing the NES.
I really enjoy the music in KB, as it fits the cute, charming graphics and tone underlying the game. It creates an odd dichotomy between a tough game enveloped in a package of charming cutesy-ness. The music has the chip tunes sound to it from the NES era, comprised of sound effects that build together into catchy songs. They aren’t short seconds-long loops that become tiresome, but are good tracks for the different settings in the game. Similarly, the different attack sound effects sync up logically, such as when the weaker spread gun shoots out bullets compared to the futuristic sounding laser beams.
- It’s not always clear where they are, but the checkpoints are a life-saver in this game. Not having to beat a mini-boss you already defeated is also a nice touch.
- Though the upgrades in shops are costly, they make your character much more capable than before. I found the laser gun to be my favorite.
- I don’t know how they got so much content into only 4 MB of data.
- It’s annoying getting to a boss with only 1 or 2 lives, losing the fight from not knowing how to handle it, and having to replay the entire stage again. I think KB would be better off without a lives system, letting you have unlimited retries instead.
- I’m not sure why all 10 achievements are so secretive, both on the Steam page and in the game itself. They’re difficult enough even if you know what to do, so covering it up seems like overkill.
- I wouldn’t say the game is brutally difficult, but it might be too hard for some. Additionally, unless you need to replay stages several times, it’s only a few hours long.
- If you want to earn all the achievements, check them out in advance, as most require you to play with restrictions. For instance, beat zangyou mode (2nd/hard playthrough) without buying any health upgrades, and another that requires beating the same mode without getting any game overs. You’ll have to get quite good at the game to earn them all, so it may not be worth your time. I’ve decided not to pursue them, at least.
- There’s few moves available to you, so dodging attacks largely comes from planning ahead. In levels, this is done primarily by keeping away and learning the stage layout from trial and error. Bosses have more randomness to them, some of which get close to you, so beating them consistently can be frustrating.
Playing through KB again reminded me why I enjoyed it so much, in spite of its difficulty. Having a controller made the first few levels pass by quite easily, but this was misleading as the difficulty starts ramping up about halfway through. The game can catch you off guard at times, yet as you learn what’s approaching, you’ll learn simple ways to navigate around obstacles and enemies. I’d say the levels won’t be the parts that hold you up the most, but instead the boss battles. After all, I was able to beat the entire game with only 2 hearts, until I got to the last boss. I wasn’t willing to keep retrying that fight for the sake of an achievement, bought some more hearts, and took it out easily my next attempt. What makes the bosses so hard is that some of their attacks don’t telegraph clearly enough before they launch towards you, and with the limited movement options for your character, it can be hard to react correctly each time. If you don’t object to a harder game, I’d recommend picking KB up and playing it, as it’s a blast to play. Just be prepared for a difficult, and at times, frustrating playthrough.