Have you ever looked at Enter the Gungeon and thought “Yeah, it’s okay, but what this game needs is more amphibians”? If so, first of all you are a little strange, and second of all, have I got great news for you!
It’s as if the clever folk over at 2Awesome Studios and Playstack have had a direct feed into your fevered imaginings for they have developed such a game, featuring a host of cute axolotls. Called AK-xolotl, as the main character is an axolotl with an AK-47 (bear with me here), what the game promises is a roguelike bullet hell shooter as our cute little guy attempts to eat, and eat, and shoot lots of guns. Sounds like an ideal weekend to me.
I think the kindest thing that can be said about the story found in AK-xolotl is that there was some effort put in to making one, at risk of damning with faint praise. We are an Axolotl, and we need to eat. We have also developed the necessary coordination to not only carry a firearm, but to cock it, load it and fire it as well. And it is just as well, as between us and our next meal stands a host of cute critters who have also learned how to use guns. Raccoon with a shotgun, anyone? Crab with a flick knife? They are all here…
Presentation is pretty standard if you’ve played or seen Enter the Gungeon. The screen is viewed from a top-down perspective, full of enemies, and the door to the next room won’t open until they are all dead. ”Try not to die!” As Scooter might say!
Each run is procedurally generated, so no two runs are the same – the route to the boss of each biome is different every time, and with rooms giving us the chance to earn extra weapons, extra ingredients for our next meal and all sorts of other stuff, the scene is set for an interesting showdown. The graphical style is firmly retro, with cute pixel art axolotls and enemies running about the place. The sounds are also quite well realised – lots of boomsticks and squishes as either our foes or ourselves meet their makers in a variety of grim ways. All in all, nothing to moan about here, especially as the game moves at a very good lick and the action is pretty non-stop.
Continuing in the “I saw that in Enter the Gungeon” vein, the action on display is also exceedingly reminiscent of that other game. We spawn in, we run around and shoot things in a twin stick style – move with the left stick, aim with the right and press RT to shoot. And we also have a very handy dodge move that will allow us to dash through enemy fire without taking damage. This proves very handy, as even the weakest foes are proper little bullet sponges and require a lot of persuading to kill.
Run through a series of random rooms, choosing our way in a limited degree by deciding what sort of loot we want at the end of each room, until we reach the boss and usually die horribly. The first boss is a crab with a flick knife, and he is a word I can’t use on a family website, spewing bullets and then bouncing swords everywhere. Taking him down was a major gaming high, let me tell you!
Choosing our type of axolotl is also pretty cool, as each type will specialise in a different set of weapons. These weapons will then spawn into a run for you. Do you want to use automatic rifles, sniper rifles, or even melee weapons? Running around with a katana is pretty interesting, as the enemies usually get your “point” pretty swiftly (Sorry, I’ll get my coat).
As we go through AK-xolotl and explore, there comes the chance, every now and then, to find an axolotl egg in a room. Taking these home (as I call the hub level that we return to after dying) allows you to hatch them into axolittles, and these can be nurtured to make them happy. Nurturing an axolittle takes one of a few forms – you may need to put a nappy on them, clean them or even burp them to make them feel better. Once they are happy, you can grow them by feeding, and they will then turn into other axolotls that you can use on a run. Each one has a different set of abilities and stats, allowing you to go finding a creature and a set of weapons that suits your playstyle. I could do with one that resembles Colossus from the Marvel universe, basically invulnerable to everything… and even then I feel like I’d fail. This is not an easy game, suffice it to say.
Luckily, as we go on runs, dying and rising again, the hub that we go back to each time continues to expand as other critters turn up to help us in our quest. There are the obligatory shops, where we can buy new perks and weapons to make our next run a little better than the last one, and there is also an ominous crystal that appears. This crystal allows us to suck out the happiness of our resident axolittles, giving us new powers if we do. It does seem somewhat morally wrong to make a baby happy and then strap it to a crystal to have its happiness sucked out of it though.
AK-xolotl is a really good little game. There is a decent challenge on offer while the grind is certainly real (buying new weapons seems to cost an arm and a leg, almost literally). That means the urge is there to have just one more run. It isn’t as polished as others, but it feels like the devs are looking to embrace it with new content on a regular basis, so I’m hopeful that over time it will grow and be polished.
As it is, if you fancy a challenge, like shooters and axolotls, there is no other game that will scratch the itches than AK-xolotl.