We can’t recall the last twin-stick shooter we played that wasn’t a roguelite. They go together like bacon and cheese. It wasn’t always this way, of course. In the early days of the Xbox, the twin-stick shooter was either a highscore climber like Geometry Wars, or a campaign experience like Halo: Spartan Assault. Now, though, you can’t enjoy some twin-stick joys without a die-upgrade-repeat structure built around it.
Fusion Paradox, as you can probably guess, is very much the twin-stick roguelite. But rather than emerge weary from the same old mechanics, we ended up liking Fusion Paradox an awful lot. If you’ve got any affection for the genre, we’d recommend you pick this up.
We get the feeling that the designers have fallen in love with the world they’ve created. Check the Xbox store card: it’s reams of text about the Supernatural Threat Reduction Agency, a kind of Men in Black department dedicated to ghosts, which has been frozen in time and taken over by the Goddess of War, Anath. It’s a risk of the job. You’re heaving your way through the different floors of the building to reach her, with only a few Agency operatives (including the fabulously named Gundalf) to help you along.
We will admit to finding it less interesting than whomever wrote it. It’s fine, but it’s a little dense at the start of the game, and we were happy to wriggle out from underneath it and play the roguelite stuff. The world is certainly inviting, though: it’s an attractive voxel world that’s lit gloomily and is dense with Agency desks, photocopiers and office booths. It’s a welcome difference from cobwebby dungeons.
Fusion Paradox’s appeal, at least to us, is how it uses a reasonably conventional framework to try out some reasonably batshit ideas. On the conventional side is the dungeon itself. It’s not hugely special – it’s a procedurally generated set of boxy rooms that sprawls further into any direction that you choose to explore. There’s that traditional dilemma of whether you explore further, risking your persistent health pool, on the off chance that you’ll find a weapon or permanent upgrade that will make the trade-off worthwhile. Complicating the decision further is that we kept finding the boss room early in the dungeon. Deciding whether to explore is so much harder when the steps to the next level are right there.
The shooting is relatively simple. You get a healthy arsenal of guns that you can cycle through with the d-pad, and pump bullets into enemies with a tap of RB. A dash lets you evade combat quickly. Various ghosts, possessed objects, stampeding frogs and the like spawn in the room, and you’re completing the age-old ritual of strafing around, staying out of harm’s way while hoping that you’ve picked off enough enemies for the next circular rotation around the room.
We have a quibble with the guns. Certainly at the very start of each run, the guns aren’t fit for purpose. Fusion Paradox has the traditional default pistol, but also tends to hand you a shotgun, which is about as limp as a shotgun can ever be. It spreads like a blunderbuss, making any mid- to long-range shot ineffectual. When you want to keep enemies at multiple arms’ lengths, the pistol and the shotgun can be debilitating and unsatisfying to use. They definitely could have done with a spruce. You are quickly getting better guns, albeit with more limited magazines. You will need to conserve them, which, again, leads you back into the arms of the worst guns.
While it might all seem familiar – there are bosses at the end of each level, too – it’s all about what Fusion Paradox slaps on top.
There’s a colour-matching mechanic to the combat which keeps you on your toes. Enemies can appear in a spectral form, which is a clue that you might want to switch state. You can be orange or blue, and RT moves you between them. Ninety percent of enemies can be killed by both, which feels right – you don’t want to be switching regularly. But, occasionally, a ghostly Jason Vorhees will appear and you’re changing colour. But each colour has its own permanent upgrades and persistent health pool, so switching means something. We got to a point where our orange character had so many more hearts and upgrades, while our blue was a bit limp. We had to be more careful when we were blue.
It’s not always intuitive, particularly when it comes to meeting bosses for the first time. You might wonder why you’re doing no damage to a giant knight, for example, only for it to twig that – yep – you should have been switching colours. That’s mostly because the rules change from ‘switch when enemies are spectral’ to ‘switch when enemies flash a different-coloured shield’ which is on the inconsistent side. But you soon learn.
Even more bonkers is how Fusion Paradox wants to drop in involved, Professor Layton-like puzzles. A twin-stick shooter isn’t the first game that we’d attach puzzles like these to, but Fusion Paradox at least does you the service of tucking them into nooks. If you come to a room with a particularly coloured statue in it, you know there is a runestone to be shot somewhere in the room. Blast that, and you can enter a puzzle realm where a treasure chest key is on offer. It’s completely optional, but the puzzles take the form of mazes to complete, or escape-room-lite puzzles that – on many occasions – completely flummoxed us.
We’re mostly on the positive side of the fence with these. They’re just so unexpected and barmy that it’s hard not to have some affection for them. But it keeps prioritising puzzles that you haven’t completed yet, and that often means it keeps re-presenting the puzzles you can’t do. We still don’t know how to complete a grandfather clock puzzle, and it keeps shoving it back in our face.
Aside from the innovation, what we like about Fusion Paradox is its boundless enthusiasm for exploring further, and giving you rewards for progressing farther. In almost every run, we unlocked a permanent reward for our character, whether it was greater speed, faster reloads, or more frequent use of our dash. On return to our hub, we’d find that a character would offer us better starting gear, or we’d improve our default state. We were almost always rewarded for avoiding the boss room and pressing onward. Plenty of chests and challenge rooms ended up handing us items that we hadn’t tried before, or shops with guns that we wanted to give a test-run. It’s a pinata of stuff and we didn’t half enjoy whacking it to see what came out.
Fusion Paradox is a twin-stick roguelite that is a little rough around the edges, and its ideas don’t always work. But it’s so full of ideas that it’s hard to stay frustrated at it for long. There’s abundant care in the colour-matching mechanics and huge, rewarding dungeons, and that care wins out over the flaws. Shoulder the shotgun and treat yourself to a few runs.