The variety of 2D action shooters back in the good old days is very much understated. Contra and Metal Slug are the two main ones that gamers both young and old can immediately identify, but there were so many cool action games during the 16-bit and 32-bit era, many of which have since been lost in the shuffle of gaming history. There’s no shortage of Metal Slug and Contra clones in indie gaming today, but then once in a while a truly special and unique game comes along which not only stands out from the trend, but also plays off forgotten classics at the same time. Huntdown by Easy Trigger Games is an easy one to overlook given the truckload of games on Xbox One right now, but don’t make the mistake of letting this slip under the radar.
Back in the good old days of SEGA Saturn, especially during the magical period of Saturn imports which created a niche club of sorts, there was a game called Elevator Action Returns, a spiritual sequel to the 80’s arcade classic Elevator Action. This was a 2D shooter platformer featuring incredibly detailed sprites, and shooting action where a cover system mechanic came into play – a system that wouldn’t be as popular in 3D gaming until the original Gears of War rolled in on Xbox 360. Huntdown on Xbox One, whether intentionally or unintentionally, draws upon the core gameplay design of Elevator Action Returns in many ways, especially with the intuitively effective cover system. There’s a nice sprinkling of Metal Slug found in the shooting action too, with a healthy dose of hidden Mega Drive classic, Demolition Man – yep, a game based on the film of the same name starring Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stallone. Huntdown may draw from a few inspirations here and there, but the sum of all these parts come together to create a very unique whole.
Huntdown takes place in an 80’s neon cyberpunk world where corrupt corporations rule the lands. The only way to make an honest and independent living is by working freelance as a bounty hunter, which is where the player comes in. Although the premise is quite simple, the actual presentation of the story and setting is rather lavish, where the production values most certainly feel like they’re high-end. Excellent voice acting complements beautifully animated pixel cutscenes to really make it feel like you’re watching an action sci-fi film from the ’80s. I’m pretty sure there’s a Kurt Russel lookalike somewhere in the game’s code too. The soundtrack adds to the epic presentation also, filled with duelling synthesizers and epic guitars to create a powerful sense of atmosphere throughout.
Once you select a bounty hunter from the cast of misfits, you’re on your way to, well, hunt down a cast of oddball villains, each with a chip on their shoulder and a handsome price-tag on their head. That’s basically what the game is built around: boss battles with bounties. Each bounty mission starts off as a bite-sized level featuring some intense platforming and shooting action, before it’s time to step into battle with the bounty target serving as the boss encounter. Huntdown is a boss rush game through and through, and it’s really good at it too.
The level design is generally interesting and focused, and each of the stages rarely ever outstay their welcome before it’s time to engage in the boss battle. These battles are the main meat of the game and they’re so fun too, with each boss being more interesting than the last – there are a lot of battles to go through before you’re done with the game. The boss design is strong and memorable right from the first battle, and one of the most notable comes early on, taking place inside a wrestling ring against a masked villain who sounds exactly like Macho Man Randy Savage… Oooo yeah. It is the inventive and creative boss battles like these which give Huntdown a similar style of epic charisma like No More Heroes.
The core gameplay functions really well, with precise shooting and responsive movement control. The cover system adds a level of depth and versatility not quite common in 2D action games, and what’s cool is that once you are in cover mode you don’t actually need to let go of the button to get out. Instead, it’s much more effective to simply press the fire button to automatically step out of the cover and shoot at the very same time. It’s a nice and simple mechanical touch which really feels like a god-send once the action gets hectic in later levels.
Huntdown on Xbox One is a game with immense personality and presentation, featuring a 2D action campaign that is built around memorable boss encounters, and plenty of them too. With so many games out at the moment it’s easy to let things slip by, but don’t let Huntdown go under your radar, lest there’s a bounty on your head for doing so.