Coming from developers Vlambeer is a port of a game that first saw the light of day way back in 2015 – Nuclear Throne. Don’t worry, this isn’t a retrospective article as the game has now, six years later, rocked up at the door of the Xbox community. Is the world of consoles ready for a “post-apocalyptic roguelike top down shooter”? Promising an interesting premise and more bullets than you can shake a stick at, it’s time to go and explore the wasteland, attempting to fight our way to the Nuclear Throne…
The story of the game is a fairly interesting one. The post apocalyptic part of Nuclear Throne’s description is not the normal kind of post apocalyptic time frame we are used to: you see, it’s here where humanity as an entity is extinct, and the mutants and monsters have taken ownership of the world. What this means is that the creatures you control are not people, but fishmen, plants, eyeballs and so on, and in order to level up, they have to collect radiation in order to mutate further. As you can imagine, this is a recipe for chaos, and boy does Nuclear Throne like to bring the boom!
Gameplay is viewed from a top-down perspective. You control your chosen mutant with the left stick, and aim your weapon of choice with the right, before pulling the RT to shoot. So far, so Enter the Gungeon, and to be honest, Nuclear Throne certainly reminds of Gungeon – at least without the bullet enemies. However, visually it’s not as good; the graphics have a certain retro roughness to them. That said, they do the job adequately, and honestly, with the speed of combat and the way Nuclear Throne runs, you don’t get much chance to look around anyway. The audio is all gravy here as well, with some “banging choons” accompanied by many varieties of gunfire.
So, it all looks fine, sounds great and runs at a blistering pace, but how is the actual combat? Well, flipping hard is the family friendly answer!
As you spawn into the random generated levels (yes, no two runs will be the same here) you are armed only with a weedy pistol, and it’s a toss up as to whether you’d do more damage by throwing it at the enemies instead of shooting it. Luckily, dotted around the various areas you find yourself in are chests, and these can either contain ammo, or if you are lucky and RNG is smiling on you, you’ll find an upgraded gun. These range from a shotgun (massive damage if you are standing on an enemies toes) all the way up to a grenade launcher which does massive damage, but will also blow you up if you fire it at an enemy who is too close.
There are other oddities to collect, such as a screwdriver that you can use as a shank, but to be honest, if the enemies are close enough to stab, you’re going to lose. Bullets fly, both from and to you, the enemies keep coming, and every three levels a boss pops up to try and ruin your day further. These guys are the very definition of bullet sponges, and a top tip from me to you is to kill the small enemies on the level first, as there’s nothing worse than fighting the boss, dodging its attacks, and then getting shot in the face by a small enemy that you hadn’t taken out first. And yes, I’m speaking from experience.
As you go through your run, you get the chance to level up if you collect enough of the radiation, and at the end of the level are then presented with four random mutations that you can acquire. These can range from the helpful, such as mutations that give you another chance if you die, or extra HP (which you need as your health points certainly seem to melt away alarmingly fast), to the frivolous. Again, RNG comes into play here, as there is no guarantee that you will get a nice mutation, so it’s all in the lap of the gods.
And that’s about it for Nuclear Throne. Start a run, shoot some baddies, mutate, get to the next level and rinse and repeat. What this game has in spades though is that one more go appeal – that hook that keeps you playing. Yes it’s a simple game, but with each run being so different there’s rarely a time when you’ll become bored of mutating and shooting.
If you like a roguelike, this is an easy sell, but as Nuclear Throne eases you in gently, it’s also a damn good entry point if you want to try your luck with the genre for the first time. The graphical style won’t appeal to everyone, but the gameplay is the star here, and even if it is punishingly hard in the latter moments you’ll be having too much fun to care.
Nuclear Throne is available on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store