It’s been a while since I’ve played a decent platformer/shoot ’em up/twin-stick hybrid, so I was at the front of the queue when Many Faces: Console Edition on Xbox One dropped. Coming from the team at eastasiasoft, purveyors of quality shooting titles like the recently released Project Starship, Many Faces: Console Edition is another experience in which the levels are randomly generated, meaning in theory it should have infinite replayability, as the stages and the bosses that you face are different every time. But does the game live up to this promising premise, or do we find it stumbling at the first hurdle? It’s time to lock and load.
The first thing that grabs you is the presentation of the game, being all lovely and retro. I’m not sure what the main character is supposed to be – he looks like an annoyed Pilsbury Doughboy, who after a lifetime of working at the Post Office has finally flipped out and grabbed the nearest firearm. But aside from that the story tells of the Many Face King who has woken you from your beauty sleep. That’s it – he has woken you up and for that he needs to pay with not just his life, but the lives of all his minions. As backstories go, it’s not the strongest I’ve ever heard, but then to be brutally honest a story really isn’t required here. It’s more a case of shoot minions, kill bosses, acquire hats – and that is pretty much all you need to know.
Yep, hats in Many Faces: Console Edition are absolutely vital. These change the way the game plays out massively, giving you different weapons, a variety of abilities and even extra lives. If you do manage to acquire the “extra life” hat, which looks like a halo, then for goodness sake do not take it off, as it is by far the most useful hat in the game. Others are present though, like those which grant you immunity to water damage, the ability to not be pushed around by gusts of air, or the opportunity to upgrade your gun to fire bananas. Yes, you read that right, bananas, and what’s even stranger is the fact that the banana gun does an impressive amount of damage to the bosses.
So, we’ve established that Many Faces’ story is unnecessary and that the action is fast and completely bonkers. But what are you required to do? Well, each game starts off with our hero, hatless, spawning into a side-viewed platform screen with ledges to explore and enemies that spawn in. Pressing the RT button causes your little guy to fire, with the direction of this controlled with the right stick, while the left stick moves our hero. LT causes him to pull off an action film-style roll, allowing him to pass through enemies or bullets, but at the cost of dislodging the hat he is currently wearing. The A button jumps, and that is pretty much it – this is not a game that you will be agonizing over learning the controls for.
The idea is to kill everything that moves, avoiding return fire and then opening a chest that spawns when all the enemies are down. This chest generally contains a hat, and you can check what special ability it brings by holding down the Y button. In a nice touch, if you are wearing a hat and open a chest containing a new one, a swift push of Y will show you what both hats do, allowing you to change if you wish. The only other thing to mention is that sometimes defeated enemies leave hearts behind; grabbing these is usually a good idea, as this is a one death and you’re out kind of game – unless you have that relevant hat, of course.
After defeating three screens of enemies, stage four is always a boss fight. In another nod to making this game random, the bosses that you will face appear in a random order, except the last guy, who is always the Many Face King. The bosses are a varied bunch, ranging from Tough Love – a heart whose heart definitely isn’t in the right place – to Blub Blub, a giant fish that just seems to summon bubbles and tidal waves as he tries to get rid of you. As you can see, if you are going to face Blub Blub, the hat that bestows no water damage on your guy would be useful, but it is wildly unhelpful in other situations. Planning is something that cannot be done in this game, mainly as you never know what you are going to face.
The pattern of the levels is repeated another three times, until the final level, Level 17, is reached. So each run requires you to face 12 ordinary levels, from a choice of more than 50, and four boss fights, from a possible seven, before facing the Many Face King. All this on one credit, effectively. Each time the levels spawn, the enemies within them change as well, and with more than a dozen foes to recognise and their attack patterns to learn and adapt to, there is no shortage of content to go at. And that’s only on the easy difficulty. You can, if you wish, ramp it up to hard – just be aware that this is quite a challenge.
It’s here that we see the good old Xbox One achievements raise their heads, throwing a spanner well and truly in the works. If you play on easy, it is possible to unlock every achievement in just one run through. That’s about 10 minutes of play. While I’m all for easy achievements, this effectively kills the game stone cold dead. What motivation is there to keep playing when you’ve got all 1000G in a matter of minutes? Well, I have to confess, I found it difficult to keep going, but soldiered on and found that, while the game was still good fun and charming, once that Gamerscore had been collected it loses a lot of its lustre as a result of having nothing left to strive for. Whatever happened to the days when you had to play a game on hard to get all the achievements? Have we all become so soft that we shy away from a challenge? I can’t think of any good reason for making all of the achievements so easy.
So here we are at the conclusion, and this is going to echo that which I strung together for Project Starship, that other eastasiasoft game. In all, Many Faces is an interesting experience, with an intriguing random element and some cool hat-based gameplay. It could have had real legs, it could have kept me coming back for more – if only it didn’t give all its achievements away so easily. Again, a good game has one of the big hooks for playing removed; without a target, without a goal to try and achieve, why on earth would we keep playing? I for one don’t think I’ll be returning to this game any time soon, and that is a real pity, as the basic premise of Many Faces: Console Edition on Xbox One is very good indeed.