Tower of Guns is a game far flung from AAA and indie titles alike. It draws inspiration from the basic rule sets and mechanics of two different genres before crafting a completely new identity of its own. This passion project of one-man studio Terrible Posture Games would be more known for its first-person bullet-hell platformer design rather than its appropriately straightforward rogue-like qualities.
Yes, each playthrough is a single run that terminates once you either give up or die, and yes, you fire rounds from the pointed object that protrudes from the bottom right corner of the screen. But that’s where its familiarities end.
Playing to its narrative strengths and limitations, there is no single plot in Tower of Guns. Each run places you in the shoes of an either clueless or curious character that wanders into this tower of guns for whatever reason. You’ll read text dialogues from a “Wasssaaaap!” spewing ‘inebriated scholar’ looking to crash a friend’s party upstairs, to a senile old woman who just wants to deliver some recyclables. There’s also an unfortunate aerobics instructor who’s warned of the dire need to defend herself from time traveling robots that are hunting her down (it took me a minute to realize that this was a Terminator reference).
Tower of Guns’ humour is completely self-sufficient, though it does go along nicely with the game’s art style which is not dissimilar to that of the Borderlands franchise. These bits of story are just as randomized as the randomly generated levels, which made me feel like I was treated to brief doses of bonus content each time a new dialogue thread appeared. This was a neat change of pace to Tower of Guns’ gameplay which consumes your attention in avoiding thousands of bullets.
Tower of Guns moves and feels closer to old-school PC shooters. But what you’re shooting at further separates it from anything else I’ve ever played. The game’s title is quite literal, as you’ll be shooting tons of machinery that want to drown you in a hail of fire. Six, ten, and seventeen barreled cannons, swarms of darting drones, massive floating tanks, infuriating spikeball launchers and much more all simply appear in each level – with an agonizing series of “Poofs!” before firing upon your position until they are destroyed.
Just have a look at the video below:
The unmanned monstrosities that populate this tower make the gunplay incredibly tense. Their impact on the frantic pacing of firefights is almost rivaled by your unique arsenal that unlocks after each completed challenge, and can be leveled up to 5 with accumulated experience points in each run.
It’s best to leave your standard strafing and fire-from-cover strategies at the door, because the enemy placement and level design keeps you moving. Cannon balls and ludicrously large bullets are fired upon you from all directions which leave little room for safety. This, thankfully, is aptly accompanied by the outrageously complex and massive randomly generated stages that give you plenty of options to navigate around the danger zones. Ramps, catwalks, and spinning gears are among some of the more tamed assets you’ll find in some of the earlier levels. Later stages often demand the use of chained ‘motivational jelly’ cubes that catapult you in any direction, and even bodies of mile-high bouncy gel to avoid pits of lava, carpets of spikes, and – your worst enemy – gravity. If you can imagine it, Tower of Guns occasionally feels like a much more violent version of Portal 2.
While the builds are smart, fresh, and exciting, it can also prove to be much too far ahead of itself without recognizing its own limits. Minor annoyances, such as narrow gaps between platforms, can become quite frustrating in mass quantity, especially when knowing that first person games lack the spacial awareness of third person platformers. Other times you may find yourself stuck in the geometry, which is an issue that the developer seems to be well aware of – evidenced by the ‘Tilt’ feature allowing you to instantly return the room’s entrance.
From a design standpoint, some of these areas are in need of much editing as well. One room in particular had pillared sections of almost the entire floor erect in unreadable patterns that constantly opened me up to receiving fall damage. Though ‘inventive’ doesn’t always mean ‘fun’, you can tell here that the developer ran wild with their imagination, which – to a degree – you can hardly fault them for.
One of the key ingredients that makes Tower of Guns such a masterclass in room challenge design are the number of rewarding secrets peppered throughout its stages. You’ll often walk into an area and soon find an item vendor that’s tucked away in a seemingly impossible location several stories above you.
These items you’ll be chasing will often be various types of loot, which you’ll be rewarded in much lesser quantity by killing enemies. You can use said loot to gather currency for vendors, refill your health, gun XP (which depletes whenever you take damage), and your energy bar that allows you to use equipped items.
Special loot – known as ‘Badges’ – augments your character’s stats and abilities on the fly. The usual increased armor, movement speed, and damage output are present, as most complement similar perks you choose at the beginning of each game. However, it’s the use of badges that grant increased jump height, as well as add additional jumps, which – bringing it back to the level design – enable you to reach hidden items placed in outrageous heights. There’s even an item that, once recharged, allows you to instantly add another jump to your character. This steady and persistent growth of your mid-air traversal capabilities serves as an accurate metric to exemplify TOG’s true potential.
This potential is fully revealed in two of TOG’s distinguishable game modes. Normal Mode plays out in your standard rogue-like affair as you attempt to make your way to the final-final boss for an “Uber Win”. But things get stranger in Dice Roll, which liberally plays with TOG’s rule sets by randomizing the conditions of each room with various tweaks, such as super speed, harmful loot, and random hopping. Dice Roll feels like a homage to shooter mods as you’ll be forced to take what you’ve learned from TOG’s untampered systems and make immediate adjustments and accommodations to survive in randomized and often hostile circumstances. However, Endless Mode is where everything that Tower of Guns has to offer suddenly converges.
This mode is defined by the limitless opportunities it offers the player to access its many randomized secrets. Depending on your luck and outfitted gun/perk combination, runs in Endless Mode can last over an hour and a half. This is largely thanks to the mass amounts of badges you’ll come across that stack as you collect them.
Lengthy runs also give you a greater chance to come across hidden weapons that become even deadlier once you combine them with table-turning modifications. For instance, using a mini gun not only eradicates hordes of bots but, with an amplifier mod, could also be used to fire at the floor and slow your descent – avoiding fall damage.
The accumulation of badges, secret guns, and gun modifications ultimately gave me a sense of god-like skill – to the point that I could almost literally fly around rooms and clear them within a matter of seconds. But, just like Tower of Guns’ level design, Endless Mode also proves to be far too ambitious for what it’s trying to accomplish.
The challenge here hits an inevitable plateau far sooner than you hit yours as you grow more and more powerful the longer the run. This is in spite of more frequent and elaborate bosses, along with encountering “Champion” – or just harder versions of – enemies. At this point, Endless Mode stops being a test of skill and endurance, becoming a test of patience and creativity as you experiment with ways to make your own fun.
Still, if boredom doesn’t stop you, the game certainly will. Endless facilitates some incredibly chaotic and, most troublingly, system crippling firefights. As a result, Tower of Guns’ performance takes a near catastrophic hit, nose-diving from 30 fps to a nauseating 5 or less once your run approaches 90 minutes or so. It’s hugely disappointing that TOG reaches a predictable limit in a mode that encourages you to push its own limits; though, the race to the final boss can be relatively short. It gives you the opportunity to end your run without feeling as if you’ve abandoned ship.
With Terrible Posture Games’ solo dev Joe Mirabello at the helm, Tower of Guns is one of the most ambitious – and quite frankly, successful – single man project games ever made. TOG almost creates a sub-genre within a sub-genre.
It splices together the single-life pressure of a rogue-like, the instant gratification of an FPS, the airborne inertia of a platformer, and heightened stimulation of a bullet-hell shooter. It’s a daring title that occasionally over extends itself with some obtuse platforming sections and some severe performance issues that reliably occur in extended endless runs. Yet, Tower of Guns gets more than enough right for nearly all of it to be forgiven.