The indie games market has been defined by pixel art, randomly generated roguelikes. It’s an incredibly addicting genre but this comes with the caveat that games really need to stand out to make an impact. Colt Canyon absolutely makes that impact.
Colt Canyon starts off rather peacefully. You and your companion are sat at a campfire as you are given a very brief tutorial. This involves learning roll and hit mechanics, learning to shoot and being taught to destroy items for ammo, health and new weapons. As you successfully shoot a set of bottles in the distance, bandits come in, kidnap your companion and leave you for dead. This is where you really take over; half a heart left and revenge on the brain.
In this sense, Colt Canyon takes rather obvious inspiration from revenge-focused Spaghetti Westerns, the lone hero venturing to a new land in search of payback. The story beats are brutal but relatively unimportant. It doesn’t matter if you’re invested in getting your partner back – what matters is if you have a fun time doing so.
Luckily, the gameplay in Colt Canyon is great. The game is split up into a few main areas, all of which have unique styles and enemies, with each area split up into levels. You can go between any of the levels of the area you’re in to collect missing loot and upgrades, much like you would in the likes of Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon. These levels culminate in a boss enemy who, when defeated, allows you to move onto the next area. This isn’t a new progression system but it works well enough to let you mow down more enemies. The comparison to Enter the Gungeon is possibly one of the most apt in terms of gameplay as Colt Canyon combines its roguelike nature with a top-down twin-stick shooter. You have to take stock of the weapons and bullets you have before going into fights to maximise damage given and minimise damage taken. Every fight is fast and frantic with the TTK of enemies being very small, at a bullet or two with most weapons. This almost brings to mind the gameplay style of Hotline Miami. It is very fast-paced and involves going from battle to battle quickly, sometimes seeing you overwhelmed in numbers near the start.
This is, ultimately, where Colt Canyon is at its best. Frantically dodging, attacking, and shooting multiple enemies to give yourself a small bit of breathing room is endlessly fun. It is helped by the power of weapons and accuracy of shots. Colt Canyon goes a little easy on you with your shots, sometimes hitting targets you probably shouldn’t have, yet instinctively snapping your thumbstick 180 degrees to get a brutal headshot is immensely satisfying.
The brutal nature of the game is something felt in every aspect too: it’s dark and rather solemn Spaghetti Western soundtrack adds a certain grittiness to the tone, whilst the blood and specifics of each kill heighten the death around you. Enemies don’t merely die, they often stumble or get blown away in gruesome fashion, making you feel both vindicated and a little guilty.
This guilt is often washed away by some of the other actions you can take in Colt Canyon. As well as the central premise being based around saving your companion, you can find random civilians in levels to gain a permanent upgrade. These include things like extra health gained from pickups, faster reloads or a permanent companion that helps you until they perish. Once a companion is downed, you can choose to revive them by holding “A” on their body. By doing so, you give up one of your own hearts – Colt Canyon’s HP currency – to save them, and so this give and take felt with companions is very deliberately designed. Upon recruiting someone, you must supply them with one of the two guns you are able to carry – if you don’t, they are left with nothing. This means you can give them your best weapon in the hope it will defend them better or give them something mediocre to keep the best for yourself. You can also choose to heal one of their hearts for half of your own.
This carries even further to the co-op mode, an addition that feels great in a game like this. Having a multiplayer option is a standout move that helps to further set Colt Canyon apart from the competition. There are a multitude of characters to choose from and each of them has a choice of starting weapons that get better with each unlock. This gives a great level of replayability to Colt Canyon. Unfortunately, the limited enemies and bosses cut down the replayability somewhat; running into the same bosses and little amount of upgrade choices often makes each run feel somewhat similar. You don’t need the 400 odd items Binding of Isaac has to be interesting, but more could definitely have made the base replayability a great deal better.
Colt Canyon on Xbox One is a great little randomly generated roguelike. Taking inspiration from the likes of Enter The Gungeon and Hotline Miami, the gameplay is smooth, fun and brutal. As well as this, the addition of a co-op mode adds a great deal to the overall experience. Whilst the lack of bosses and unique items does cut down the sense of freedom and replayability other roguelikes have, it is well worth picking up for its cheap price point and unique style.