I like twin-stick shooters, but I’m terrible at them. There’s something ‘pat your head and rub your tummy’ about how you move and fire, often in separate directions, and I trip over myself. I might muddle through a Halo: Spartan Assault, but stick me in front of something more testing, like the latter stages of a Geometry Wars and I crash and burn.
So, when I say ‘I thoroughly enjoyed Restless Night, and carved through it with relative ease’, it should tell you something. Restless Night may look hardcore, but it’s got a difficulty curve that trends down rather than up. A twin-stick noob like myself found it challenging but not impossible.
I mention this because there’s a twin-sticking community that’s probably grumbling about those statements. If you revel in the extreme difficulty of a twin-stick shooter, or you’re particularly adept at them, Restless Night might be pitched a little low for you. And there’s no difficulty settings to address the issue. But I can’t help thinking that you’d be missing out.
Restless Night is a pointedly retro shooter set in Hell. Like so many civilised societies, Hell likes a spot of gladiatorial battle, and the devil has offered a free pass to the world of the living for whomever can overcome his challenge. So, you’re a few pixels in the rough approximation of a person, moving with the left-stick, firing with the right, and clearing wave after wave of horror-themed enemies. Yep, this is your basic wave-based-shooter.
‘Basic’ and ‘simple’ are going to be overused adjectives in this review. Restless Night really is, um, stripped back. You’d be hard pressed to make a case for Restless Night being a pretty game, for example. It looks thirty years old at least, and no chromatic aberration or curved CRT effects can hide how rudimentary it looks. You will either buy into the Spectrum-like aesthetics, or you will be turned off by them.
Everything takes place in a single square arena. There are obstacles, but they’re procedurally generated, so you might get a building over here or a wall over there. No level has a landmark that makes it stand out. Enemies pour out of gravestones, and those gravestones are randomly placed, but there are only so many different places you can stick a gravestone and be varied. Then you’re fighting several waves of enemies before the level ends. It really is that simple.
The arenas aren’t Restless Night’s strongest point. Of course we would have wanted more variety. The most exciting Restless Night gets is when a building is randomly placed next to the outer wall, giving you no exit routes. Or three gravestones spawn in the same corner, so you can create a nice killing floor. But this is a £4.19 game, and I suppose we have to make some compromises.
More generous are the enemies. These change up every few levels or so. They’re often just remixes of the opening zombie, but with more hits required or a greater speed, but other times they’re genuinely different. Crows can fly over buildings, while clowns drop from the top of the screen on balloons. Witches spaff fireballs absolutely everywhere. Restless Night has a large old library of enemies to draw from, and they keep things humming along nicely.
So, why did we enjoy Restless Night? Though it might be staggeringly basic, it gets the basics largely right.
There’s a cracking rhythm at play here, for one. You start each level extremely fragile, without a leveling system to give you a headstart. So you’re up against it in the opening waves, and you might lose a significant amount of health. But power-ups appear after each wave, and they are so OP that you begin to get a foothold. We found that a shield was a game-changer: get that early and it buys you enough time to start accumulating some of the more potent weapons, like the shotgun and laser. Health pickups start returning you to max life, and you slowly-but-surely become a death-dealing machine. That’s what we mean about the difficulty curve: things are tough until they aren’t, and you can often reach a transformative state where virtually nothing can stop you.
That slow-build is often why Restless Night feels easy. You can feel comfortable, safe even, and that’s something that might be off-putting to enthusiasts. We enjoyed finding the tipping point where the level becomes a cinch, but others may not.
Similar to the level layouts, we would have paid good money to have more variety in the power-ups. By level ten or so, you’ll have seen them all, and there’s only seven on offer. They feel good – triggering a grenade never gets old – but it’s another compromise.
And then there are the bosses, arriving every five levels, and they’re surprisingly varied, requiring different approaches, and – again – offering that delicious tipping point where they suddenly become lemon squeezie. If anything, we found these to be easier than the levels themselves, and never got stuck.
Achievements come thick and fast (sometimes too fast – there are lots of them, and the UI has the unwelcome habit of overlaying on top of enemies), and you may well see the end of Restless Night in two, maybe three hours. Part of that speed comes from its generosity. When you die, you’re returned to the beginning of the level. Most other twin-stick shooters would send you to the start again, or would return you to the start of a block of levels. Here, you can die and replay to your heart’s content, and even reset until you get a favourable layout. Again, horses for courses, but the generosity was welcome.
Restless Night, as the cliche goes, is not for everyone. If you’re not put off by its ugly mug, then you might be turned off by the simplicity of its wave-based gunplay, and its relative easiness. When the thirty-first level looks much like the first, you’d be within your rights to decide that enough’s enough. And we could completely understand why.
But the twin-stick shooting feels good. It’s stripped back, sure, but it can be elegant. And when you’ve got to the point in each level where the skies clear, you have all the power-ups you need, and you chew through enemies – well, that can feel good too.
For all its flaws, it’s lack of challenge, looks, content and variety, Restless Night is still a cheap shot of adrenaline. It won’t work for everyone, but – in our case – we regret nothing.
You can buy Restless Night for £4.19 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S