With a grind that can be brutal and a bullet hell that can be even more so, it’s strange that many gamers use the shmup genre as a form of relaxation, kicking back with a controller in hand, fingers on the triggers, thumbsticks twirling like there is no tomorrow and being tempted in time and time again by their unique mechanics and time wasting opportunities.
But occasionally the repetitive nature of these games gets the best of us, leaving the world crying out for something different, something even more unique. Two things that Boiling Bolt has in abundance.
Although perhaps abundance isn’t a word that should be used with Boiling Bolt in mind, because even with some clever ideas up its sleeve, it ultimately falls short of greatness and content.
The manga story behind Boiling Bolt sees you taking on the role of June, a soldier who has been left to fight against an evil organisation which is attempting to drain the island of Scire of all its power. The crystals which hold the world together are a precious commodity and you’ll need to help June fight back against the masses in order to save the world from utter destruction.
I think that’s how the story goes anyways, as after a few rather lovely manga styled pop up screens before battle commences, much of it has been left by the wayside. Part of the reason for this is that further story details arrive whilst you are in the thick of the battle, and with bullets raining down on June, and fast reflexes needed in order to see her survive, reading into the detail behind the tale is the very least of anyone’s worries. But it’s there, and should you wish to play through a shmup which tries to deliver a narrative then Boiling Bolt just about allows for it.
The main crux of matters though is in the gameplay, and it is here where Boiling Bolt sets itself apart from many. But for all the good ideas, nothing ever comes across as brilliant, instead occasionally teetering on the brink of annoyance more than anything else.
For starters, the play area you will have to get yourself involved in mostly consists of a thin light ribbon in which your ship can move up, down, left and right through. So far, nothing major to concern ourselves with, but with the strange angle and the inclusion of bends and weaves, we see distances and perception thrown out the window. All is great when there is a straight piece of track to manoeuvre around, but drop in those bends – and bullets which seem to fly in different directions – and things get a bit too drastic. A dodge system which incorporates a rather lovely Matrix style bullet-time slowdown is a great addition though, and this lets you take a couple of seconds out before things begin to move forward at pace again.
Should we only see the odd enemy and occasional bullet coming our way then great, as that would all work well, but much like any other twin stick shmup, multiple bullets are par for the course – trying to work out direction, dodging and going on the attack all at the same time is a bit too much. Just give us a standard playing area and Boiling Bolt may well have been able to flourish a bit more.
Another great little addition that Boiling Bolt has in its arsenal is the fact that June’s ship comes complete with no less than five magical forms of attack or defense. Whilst a standard single shot is controlled by the thumbstick (with that upgradable to three and five shot systems), each controller face button – or d-pad direction – is mapped to another weapon.
The Plasma Whip is a short range powerful addition that takes down pretty much anything within its range in an instant, whilst the Thunder Lock allows the targeting of three enemies at once. These are two primary attacking options that supplement the standard stick attack well. Alongside those however are two slightly more defensive additions – the Warp Launcher creates a black hole which sucks anything and everything into it, with the Ice Shield giving a quick shield addition before smashing into pieces and damaging anything nearby.
The variety these bring is good and allow for something just that little bit different from the norm. But, and this is a big but, you’ll no doubt find that they all play second fiddle to the standard ship attack – especially once you get the early chance to upgrade it to a five-shot attack. Yes, you’ll occasionally use them in order to make your way through a tricky section, but for the most part keeping your distance, utilising the bullet-time dodge and ignoring the fancy tricks of these secondary weapons will be the way to go.
Being able to bulk up your ship in terms of attack, defensive options or speed is all well and good too. Available from a very basic, sparsely stocked shop, each addition that is added to increase a specific ship trait will see a reduction in your powers elsewhere. For instance, increasing the attacking prowess by a couple of points will usually see a reduction in your defense and speed, so piling as many extra attacking nodes onto your ship in one go may see you turn into a force to be reckoned with, but one slight hit from a stray bullet and it’ll be life lost.
With three lives kicking things off, and limited continues in place should you wish to occasionally sacrifice your score, you’ll find that there is a need to flick those sticks like June’s life depends on it. Because, at the end of the day, it does.
The problem is her ship is a tad slow and cumbersome, unless you throw every upgrade possible into its speed skillset. This becomes a bit frustrating as when the bullets scatter, without pace, you’re pretty much a dead ship flying. Balance to the upgrades would therefore be considered as key, but with only a limited number available from the shop menu, and only three of your purchases able to be integrated at once, there is never the chance to really take things to the limit and let yourself go mad. We all want to be able to bolster our attacks – pretty much because the defensive line never won a game of football – but the limitations on integrating them with your ship don’t ever allow for the fun times.
Boiling Bolt also lets itself down with the fact that there are only five levels included in the main arcade mode. Now, each of these are a decent length and will take you through some wonderful worlds – the ice caves are a visual and audio joy – but when you die, and eventually run out of precious continues, you’re given a score and left to start all over again.
Yes, individual stages are available from the menu for those who want to best their high scores, but I’m sick and tired of battling my way through the same arcade stages, same enemies and same storytelling pop ups over and over again as I attempt to reach the fifth and final level. I’m sure there will be many out there who see that as a challenge, reveling in the fact that you have to consistently get better in order to move further on, but seeing as my ship has pretty much been maxed out with the best upgrade options after just a couple of runs, it leaves little in the way of enthusiasm.
The inclusion of a Challenge option away from the main arcade mode is a half decent one, and this gives you a set amount of time to kill a certain number of enemies with a specific weapon, or to fly around as fast as June’s little ship will take you in order to grab some crystals for spending at the shop. But again, these are sparse in the fun factor and are only really any good for filling a bit of time.
A local cooperative multiplayer system however does bring something different to the game – should you have a like minded friend you will quite possibly enjoy what Boiling Bolt brings. With all available ship upgrades available to both players, this is the prime opportunity to really see Boiling Bolt push on, with one being able to kit themselves out for attacking purposes, and the other able to promote the more defensive, strategic side of the game. It works well – very well – but again just highlights the frailties within the game amid a lack of ship customisation and online options.
I can’t fault the team at Persistant Studios for attempting something a little different with Boiling Bolt, but it does come up a bit too short to ever worry the big shmup guns. A stunning 3D visual style and brilliant audio system will happily push a game along for a while, but ultimately, whilst there are a number of good ideas included, none of them are ever deep enough, nor addictive enough, to see Boiling Bolt become a smash hit. A game that will chew up and spit out newbies may just about have the draw to keep shmup veterans busy, but even then the lack of real variety will eventually begin to show.
Uniqueness is great, but Boiling Bolt needs to do a bit more.