After a couple quick rounds of guts-filled gunning glory at E3 2015 with ChargeShot developers, Cowboy Color, I was intrigued at the game and what it had the potential to be. It has all the quirky personality of your favorite Adult Swim show mixed with the simple, multiplayer allure of titles like Nidhogg, Towerfall and Samurai Gunn- what’s not to love?
Fast forward to a full Steam release and I was faced with a strong polarizing feeling after playing for an hour; within the span of 60 minutes, I had seen the whole game. On one hand, ChargeShot is every bit as fun as I’d remembered it before. Fast and fluid controls, colorful characters and a sense of humor you can only get from a few developers who know funny. But on the other hand, you have a title that begs to be expanded upon because of how charmingly fun it is and how little it has on offer.
But before we get too far along in explaining where ChargeShot fell short, we should probably take some time to see what the game’s all about. Long story short: there’s a death tournament in space and your mission is to make all of the other contestants go boom. Blood splatters, trash is talked and an array of planets are battled upon all in the name of unexplained sport. Good enough for me. Even more simple than the game’s premise are its controls. I use a PS3 controller and on that setup, the “X” button shoots, the “circle” button momentarily creates a force field that deflects bullets, up on the d-pad makes your character fly up using a jet pack and right and left move your character. Translation: this game uses as many commands as Tetris, so you’ll feel comfortable within minutes of starting your first match – if your first match lasts that long.
In multiplayer mode, sadly there are only two game types: Bounty and Survival. In Survival, you’ll fight to do just that as you and up to three other players blast, block and blow up with only five lives total. In Bounty, players take more of a turn toward Mario mischief as your goal is to be the first person to collect 100 coins. Coins are created and scattered throughout a level when a player is blown up. It’s up to you to decide whether you’d rather scavenge coins and stay out of the fight or blast in headlong trying to gather as much money as quickly as possible. This is easily my favorite mode and can result in matches that last anywhere from 2 to 7 minutes- the perfect amount of time for bite-sized bursts of multiplayer mayhem that’ll have friends saying just one more. Unfortunately, although most maps look great and have their own unique personality, their size stays nearly the same throughout. It’s not a terrible setback, but the game would benefit from a few bigger arenas as it would allow players who prefer the more defensive, stealthy approach the opportunity to play more in the shadows as opposed to always being pushed to the front lines in a jumble of crowded gunfire.
Another small problem with ChargeShot is the inability to shoot up or down. As the jet pack seems to be a constant fight against gravity, the only way you’ll make consistent kills is by staying level with the rest of your opponents and predicting how they’ll react. However, I must say this creates a deathly tense game of cat and mouse that has every player on the map unsure of which animal they are. If you choose to fly around to avoid easy kills and, inversely, deaths, you’re setting yourself up for chaos. Staying on the ground is more of a gamble as reflexes and a healthy serving of luck determines the outcome of most face offs. Again, this isn’t a big problem because it gives ChargeShot its own feel and personality that sets it apart from other frantic, multiplayer options – but it will deter players who don’t mesh with its controls and quick speed.
Twelve stages and seventeen characters (a few of them being free DLC after the game’s release) give some options even though all characters control the same. Maps, while they might all be around the same size, do have design differences such as a death spikes that are deadly to the slightest touch and air vents that not only propel players, but also bullets. I’d mentioned this in my preview, but these air vents offer strategy to the more inventive players and can lead to some of the most hilariously strange deaths. If only the game had a replay and record function so I could share these kills with the rest of the world.
Lastly, we have the campaign mode. Players go up against a gauntlet of foes in campaign and eventually end up battling against ChargeShot’s final boss who takes multiple hits and a touch of strategy to finish off. Only one player can take on this mode with 20 lives and a ‘continue’ option if those lives are exhausted, which can be purchased with 20 coins. In-game coins are collected at the end of each level based on how quickly you win and how many deaths you sustained. They can then be traded to unlock characters or revive yourself in the campaign.
And that’s about it- a phrase that suits this game well. You could argue that the AI is too easy to beat, the matches are too hectic, only being able to shoot horizontally is a problem or the lack of online multiplayer is a deal breaker – but the fact of the matter is that none of this really matters. ChargeShot is fun, the controls are simple, and a great deal of love was put into this by the development team.
Although Cowboy Color is a small team whose efforts have landed them quite an enjoyable piece of software, they’re a small team nonetheless. Where I had hoped there would be a variety of multiplayer types, there is but the option to play against one to three bots and an option to battle against an equal amount of human players. Where I had hoped there might be a small intro video with an adorably, maniacal death match in space, there was, well, nothing. Where I was sure there would be a time attack, score attack and two-player co-op campaign, there was just a campaign mode. Is there replay value? Sure, it’s a multiplayer game. But, they’re limiting the quality of that replay with the miniscule game modes they do give. So, at the end of the day, ChargeShot is made up of a bare bones campaign and two multiplayer options, and the fact that makes me saddest is the game itself is immensely enjoyable.
As I’m sure most budding developers would, Cowboy Color needs to take this as a learning experience. They can either expand upon ChargeShot with a myriad of multiplayer options such as capture the flag, a team mode, king of the hill, or they can transfer all of the knowledge they’ve gained here to their next project and keep progressing. Either way, between the rich world designs, cute characters and quip-filled dialogue, this is a promising step for Cowboy Color and you can bet I’ll be eagerly awaiting to watch as they take their next. Whatever it may be.
An Hour of Fun and You're Done
Fast, fun and frustratingly short. The only thing more upsetting than a bad multiplayer game is a good multiplayer that is in dire need of content.