Released with barely a toot of fanfare, Glitchangels is nonetheless one of the best twin-stick shooters to grace the Xbox in recent memory. It may look spartan, but don’t let it fool you: this is a stylish and madcap shooter that has dozens of reward and progression systems layered on top, all dragging you back to play over and over.
There’s no story to be had here. You are one of seven titular Glitchangels, making your way through – what we guess to be – levels overrun by malware. You fire with your right stick and move with the left stick, clearing the level of enemies, which in turn opens an exit to the next. You have a few tools at your disposal, including LT and RT abilities that are dependent on the character you choose. We ran Baphomet, who has a Shield on a cooldown, giving us temporary protection from bullet hell, and a Shock, which paints a square area onto the floor that saps an enemy’s health.
Glitchangels also takes a leaf out of Control’s book and rewards you for being gung-ho. Enemies drop skulls, which you pick up for cash, but they quickly disappear. So, if you snipe from a safe place, you’re going to end the level with empty pockets, and that’ll get you killed in the long run. Of course, if you bravely chase the skulls, you’re also likely to get killed, so horses for courses.
Between levels you get to spend that cash on a stupendous grid of Enhancements. There’s so many to choose from, and most can be upgraded multiple times. The amount of choice encourages you to create builds: do you create an entourage of golems and bots and level them up to do most of the level-clearance for you? Or do you opt to increase the value of skulls, perhaps unlocking the ability to hoover them up at more of a distance, so that you can invest for the future? There are plenty of options here, and reaching the end of a level feels great, as you can almost always afford one unlock – as long as you haven’t wasted your skulls.
The shop is just one of the very many ways that you can progress your character, and it’s a hook in the cheek that keeps you coming back. Every few levels, you will get a randomly allocated Glitch, which will temporarily boost you with bouncy bullets, chain lightning and others. You can also build a library of Applications, which are effectively a deck of ‘bonus rooms’ that have a chance of spawning, and offer a chunk of reward if you complete them. The Baiter room, for example, is a horde-mode of enemies that act as cash-pinatas, but you’ll get nothing as soon as you get hit, so time your exit well.
There are multiple characters, too, offering added incentive to rise up the 55 levels and kill the five bosses that unlock them. They’ve got wildly different special attacks and shield-like effects on the shoulder buttons, so they’re well worth investigating.
If none of this sounds innovative, then you’re arguably correct, but Glitchangels is tight as a drum in terms of controls, and the layered systems make it a joy to play. And regardless, there is innovation here, and it surfaces in the way Glitchangels handles death.
A warning now: Glitchangels is one-hit death. You will die, and you will do so frequently – as is the way with most twin-stick shooters. But rather than restart you from the start, you instead manually rewind time and space to choose a safe point for restarting. It works wonders. You position yourself where you want to restart, and take advantage of the short period of invulnerability to get revenge. Or pre-venge. To stop its over-use, you are limited by a Timeout bar, which can be replenished with power-ups. If you reach the end of your Timeout bar, it’s game over, so you’ll need to sustain a low death-rate to get high-scores and strong level progression.
After every boss, Glitchangels effectively creates a save. You can return to any of these saves, but you don’t start with a refreshed Timeout bar: you pick up where you left it. It feels like a superbly placed compromise between forcing you to restart fully (which would have felt harsh with so many cool collectibles), and just letting you plough through the game in one sitting.
We found ourselves returning to older saves to make each eleven-level-run increasingly efficient, with barely a chunk taken out of our Timeout bar. As a game loop it works, and we kept coming back to Glitchangels to aim for perfection. And while you lose the unlocks that you gained in the levels beyond the save point, you still retain your deck of Applications, so there is some persistent progression to be had.
There are flaws, a few glitches in the matrix, but they’re not deal breakers. Glitchangels does a lot with what it’s got graphically – there’s a cracking fog-of-war effect created by the infinitely high walls, and there’s plenty of pixel pyrotechnics – but it’s nowhere near some of its competitors. It’s easy to imagine a Geometry Wars interpretation, the MacDaddy of Xbox twin-stick shooters, and how it would improve on the visuals. The audio, again, is decent, but we’re used to more memorable or insistent soundtracks from our pixel shooters, and Glitchangels doesn’t quite have it.
The biggest of Glitchangels’ problems is the visual noise it creates. On latter levels, with small enemies that look like bullets, and bullets that look like enemies, and follower-characters that look like both bullets and enemies, it can be a visual cacophony. You will often die and rewind just to see what – if anything – hit you, as it’s often unclear. More often than not, our deaths were down to this lack of legibility, rather than any lack of skill (honest). While Glitchangels is more welcoming than most in terms of fail-states, it still hurts to see your Timeout bar go down, just because a rogue pixel hit you. This won’t be unusual to shooter fans, though: it’s a compromise that’s often made, as the levels progress and the bullets congest the screen. You learn to distinguish friend and foe, bullets and pickups, and it becomes better over time.
Glitchangels might not dazzle with its looks or soundtrack. It might occasionally feel like you’re trying to navigate a fireworks display. But for a penny less than a tenner, you are getting an extremely effective twin-stick shooter and two thumbs up. It’s a joy to control, incredibly more-ish, and it keeps tempting you with more ways to progress. If you’re hungry to play a new Geometry Wars, but are willing to take a hit on the presentation, then Glitchangels is manna from heaven.
You can buy Glitchangels from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S