Housemarque releases their second PS4 game in a short while – after the excellent Nex Machina we now get to play with Matterfall, a 2D action platformer/shooter that’s quite different from what we’re used to from the Finnish developer.
When we look at Housemarque’s portfolio, we usually think about their top-down shooters like Stardust or their side-scroller shooter Resogun – both of which are clearly inspired by the classic arcade titles that came before them in seventies and eighties. Nex Machine was no different in that regard, which was of course no surprise considering the involvement of the original talent behind the likes of Smash TV. Matterfall is a more original approach to game design for Housemarque, though it’s not their first stab at 2D platforming – the excellent Outland was theirs as well.
I like to think of Matterfall as a mix between the aesthetics of Nex Machina, the (sometimes) fluid gameplay we know from games like Velocity 2X and the shooting dynamics of a lesser-known game called Abuse, which came out about twenty years ago. Back then dual thumbsticks weren’t exactly common and I remember using a keyboard and mouse combination, but as we’ve seen in other Housemarque titles you can use your right thumbstick for aiming while your left stick is for movement.
Matterfall is a game about matter, and the story revolves around a “save the world” kind of plot in which red matter-infected enemies try to take you down while blue matter helps you shape the world around you by creating new platforms to walk on. I’m over-simplifying and there’s a little more to it, but that’s the gist. Red matter turns robots into killing machines, and it’s your job to go in there and save any humans left alive.
One of your key moves is a dash which allows you to shift right through enemies and barriers affected by red matter, allowing for some excellent combos. This is where Matter shines in small doses, but also drops the ball a little compared to the flowing gameplay of games like Velocity 2X. Your dash ability needs to recharge after each use, so stringing together a couple of flashy moves doesn’t always unfold like you want it to because your dash ability might need another second to recharge.
The story campaign in Matterfall is surprisingly short, considering the fact that it’s the main attraction. The game tries to emphasize high score chasing and speed running, but those are things better suited to a game like Velocity 2X for reasons mentioned before. The campaign’s fun and the gameplay solid, but it’s over a little too soon – clocking in at just under two hours.
This makes Matterfall a game that’s fun to play, but relatively unremarkable and without the staying power of some of Housemarque’s other titles. It plays great while it lasts, it looks wonderful, but it doesn’t feel as refined as Nex Machina did.