Way back on the Sega Megadrive, there was a game called Cyborg Justice. While it was a relatively generic side-scrolling beat ’em up, it hit gold on a single mechanic: you could punch arms and limbs off robots, and then clonk them onto your own robot’s body. Suddenly, you were wielding gigantic pizza cutter arms, or spring-loaded legs. It was brill.
Limb Hunter imagines the joy of Cyborg Justice, but transplanted – limb-like – onto a Turrican or Contra. Like Cyborg Justice, you are killing robots for their body parts (don’t be fooled by the title, as Limb Hunter likes to drop heads, torsos and legs too) before merrily bolting them onto your own chassis. Part of the satisfaction comes from trialling a new limb: is a wheel better than some hydraulic legs? The only way to find out is through some good-old trial and error.
As you’d expect from a Contra-a-like, Limb Hunter is a brutal, unforgiving little game. Enemies take multiple hits (bosses take what feels like hundreds), and a single whiff of damage from them will cause ninety-percent of your health bar to fall off. Die, and you are teleported back to one of the game’s service stations (less McDonalds and Greggs; more like a mini factory). Here, half of your wealth is wiped off, and there’s no recovering it, Dark Souls-like, from your carcass. Your cash has gone.
The punishing difficulty is to such a degree that it will only appeal to a certain attitude of player. You have to be the type who values incremental progress; getting as much satisfaction from reaching a new save spot than defeating a level in any other game. The slow-crawl towards progress has to excite you, and you need patience as enemies surprise you and effectively end any chance of getting further in the level, let alone purchasing the next upgrade.
To our tastes, it was all a bit much. The halving of our cash reserves meant that we played Limb Hunter in a way that the designers probably didn’t intend: we would gather cash and then run back, not forwards, to the last save point in an effort to purchase some upgrades that would make us more powerful for the challenges ahead. We embraced a kind of reductive grind, yet Limb Hunter likely wanted us to press on.
Nowhere was this more true than with the impressive and imaginative bosses. These are little phased treats, and they really test your ability to memorise and master mechanics. But they are unforgiving little gauntlets, simply because they ask you to hit the boss hundreds of times – more if you have a poor loadout. It ground away at us, and we would have loved some punchier boss battles.
But it should be noted that Limb Hunter is never less than fair. While enemies can surprise you, they have clear telegraphing – represented as an above-head dial that shows when they’re about to shoot. It gives you time to get out of the way, even if the sheer number of enemies makes it occasionally impractical. You can also tap on the analogue pad to peer down below your character and see what threat might lurk there, meaning that there are no blind jumps. Very generally, Limb Hunter gives you all the tools you need to succeed. We just failed – a lot – because the skill ceiling is so high, and we jumped and couldn’t quite reach it.
When you get in that flow, though, Limb Hunter can be good fun. Finding, purchasing and then using a new body part is great. Trundling over to an enemy and using caterpillar tracks to see if they have as much mobility as cheaper options is a pocket joy, and Limb Hunter is puckish enough to offer you upgrades that are very much downgrades. Just because something costs more, doesn’t mean it’s better.
If there’s a wrinkle here, it’s that Limb Hunter showers you with loot, but doesn’t have enough variety to carry it. We ended up with dozens of the same thing, and soon found ourselves with a loadout that we didn’t want to shift from. In a looter like Destiny, it might have worked, but this is the Little Looter That Could: it doesn’t have the budget to achieve the gratification and variety of some of the big hitters in the genre.
Levels are simple but sprawling, with divergent paths should you want them. Sometimes, it’s hard to know where a level ends and another begins: they flow seamlessly into a larger, Shantae-like world. But while it sprawls and offers choice, the world isn’t massive. It’s possible to reach one of Limb Hunter’s endings in a couple of hours, and that may not be enough for your £4.19. There’s certainly no reason to replay.
We often banged against the window like a nano-bee, dying over and over as we failed for the same reasons in Limb Hunter’s vast levels. But while it exposed our limitations at Turrican-style shooters, it wasn’t what we would call unenjoyable. Limb Hunter is a fierce but fair action-platformer, and its big idea – the ability to swap in and out different robotic limbs – makes it well worth a play.
You can buy Limb Hunter from the Xbox Store