For better or worse, cheap indie games of dubious quality litter the video game marketplaces of PC, consoles and phones. Rare in innovation or nuance, they typically revolve around one gameplay mechanic with ugly visuals and bargain-bin audio samples. These games wouldn’t thrive without their cheap price tags, enticing unwitting players to download and install them. That being said, some of these titles can be a lot of fun. Comb through these weeds and you might uncover a small gem, worth the cost and time you’ll spend on them. Null Drifter might be the gem for you.
Null Drifter’s gameplay is not the star of the show. Its gameplay is so shallow that it can be told through a simple screenshot: move around the screen, shoot unlimited bullets at alien enemies with a push of your right analog stick. Strafe around their attacks, blow them up and dash around as the enemies become tougher and multiply. Die and repeat, trying to survive longer and longer. There’s more to it than that though, with you buying upgrades to shoot faster or dashing through enemies to kill them.
The enemies are standard fare, rushing towards you or shooting lasers and bullets in different patterns. You can also unlock new bosses and enemy types, which is pretty interesting as the game seems to improve as you progress with it. Unfortunately, these additions are pretty artificial as I’d seen everything Null Drifter has to offer within an hour, unlocking every achievement in the process.
So what makes this game special? What sets it apart from every other shoot ’em up game?
It’s chill attitude and demeanour. The game prides itself on being 1-bit, showing reverence for those old arcade games on CRT screens. While I grew up on the 3D platformers on Nintendo 64 and have no history with the Commodore 64, I have really enjoyed the aesthetic it has gone for, even opting to utilise a ‘screen-fade’ option in the game’s options menu. Furthermore, the game lets you unlock different colour variations to start a new run with, adding new visual flairs to familiar gameplay.
The star of the show, however? That soundtrack. I felt the same warmth playing Null Drifter as I do listening to particular YouTube channels as my demeanour unfurls in the hours of the late evening. The lo-fi beats that make the game’s soundtrack might not be for everyone, but I found them to be so spectacular that they actually enhanced the gameplay. I expected a familiar high tension to the gameplay mechanics as I’ve felt in its listless contemporaries, but I never felt the need to sit up or wail as I died before reaching a new level. It’s rare that I’ve found that a soundtrack adds so much to a game’s replayability, but I enjoyed going for more and more, even after unlocking Null Drifter’s last achievement.
Null Drifter on Xbox One is, at the end of the day, a good experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game, however familiar it may be. I’d love to see it grace the mobile scene, letting us scratch both itches of a quick and frantic gameplay experience and a relaxing, lo-fi soundtrack to listen to. Unfortunately and ultimately though, it doesn’t have the strength or stamina to exist on Xbox One beside far deeper and more rewarding video game adventures.