We’re checking out three games that may have slipped by you in recent weeks – here are Flippin Kaktus, HellGunner and Ashigaru: The Last Shogun.
Flippin Kaktus review (PS4)
Flippin Kaktus, developed by rage++ and published by No Gravity Games, is a hardcore pixel art action platformer that’s out now for all major systems. We played the PlayStation version of the game.
In typical 1980s action movie fashion, you’re a lone hero who goes up against a violent drug cartel. Only this time, the protagonist isn’t an elite commando or green beret, he’s…. a somewhat chubby cactus. And although you can try to go the stealth route and ambush enemies from afar or use parts of the environment as traps, much of the action will be adrenaline-filled and boosted by tequila.
From the protagonist to the environments and from the music to the enemies you face, Flippin Kaktus was clearly inspired by Latin America as much as it was by 80s action movies (and a bunch of 90s ones that went straight to video). It’s audiovisually somewhat unique in that sense, and while the pixel art genre can be a tad generic it’s nice to see so much character being poured into a game like that – something that also comes across in the game’s story-driven cutscenes.
Gameplay-wise, it’s much harder to enjoy Flippin Kaktus, as the game is punishingly difficult. Not just at times where it spikes, but all the time. While the game looks like a typical run and gunner, you’ll quickly find that a lot of enemies will kill you instantly. You have a health bar, but a single bullet or explosion will get you, as will the environment if you’re not careful – with floors and ceilings collapsing constantly. They don’t build ’em like they used to, I suppose. The decision to turn a platformer into a hardcore platformer is a popular one, but Flippin Kaktus currently learns too far towards being unfair and frustrating and isn’t on that (hard to achieve) edge between challenging and “I can do it”. In order to enjoy it, this is best played on the easiest setting only – a good sign that the ‘recommended’ (medium) setting needs a bit of tweaking if you’re to enjoy the game’s bundles of personality.
HellGunner review (PS4)
When it comes to console ports, Ratalaika Games is a bit of a household name, and HellGunner is their latest release – a typical run and gunner with a top-down perspective that’s out now for all major consoles. It was released a few years ago on PC as well, but appears to have been delisted from Steam, so in a way this one’s also a relaunch of sorts.
As you’d expect, there’s not much in the way of narrative development here – in a world where a mutating virus is turning people into zombies, you have to head out and pretty much shoot everything that moves. The campaign isn’t terribly long, with twenty levels to complete – though this time you do actually have to complete all of them to earn the platinum trophy. While that may seem like a bit of a stretch for a Ratalaika game, which are generally generous at doling out trophies, the campaign shouldn’t take more than an hour to complete.
Just completing it isn’t enough though – there are three secrets you need to uncover on your way there. In case you’re having trouble finding them without a guide, the trophy descriptions tell you which levels they’re in – so that should help. Other than that, it’s worth pointing out that you can play HellGunner in local co-op mode with a friend, which is definitely the best way to play considering the already short runtime of the game – which visually reminded us of other pixel style Ratalaika games like Rogue Cube, another twin stick shooter, but with roguelike influences. This one’s more about pure action, but don’t expect anything beyond what the low asking price suggests you’re getting. Twenty levels of twin stick shooting, a handful of bosses to overcome, and an easy enough trophy list – that about sums it up.
Ashigaru: The Last Shogun review (PS4)
We weren’t familiar with previous titles from game designer Gilson B. Pontes and LGS, so when we saw its announcement trailer, we were fairly impressed. Although it looked somewhat low budget/indie in terms of production values, its epic music and quick cuts between scenes evoked memories of the third person action in Ghost of Tsushima and the black and white aesthetics of Trek to Yomi.
Obviously, we set the bar far too high there, and the $10/€10 price tag, with a 50% discount at launch, was a good indicator of that, despite an grand story premise that takes place in the Sengoku period where powerful clans fight each other for power and revenge. If you check the actual story description in the PlayStation store is looks far more disjointed than that though, which is in ways a metaphor for the game itself – something that looks decent in the trailer but doesn’t quite come together when you take a closer look.
Once you start walking through the environment, you’ll notice it’s rather barren as you make your way towards a waypoint marker. When you run into combat, you’ll notice it’s extremely clunky as well – lacking a real sense of control while looking awkward as well. In hindsight, you can see that in the trailer as well, but since it’s just a second of footage we held out hope for the final game to be better. Hit detection is poor, there’s little in the way of AI and it’s not very clear how much health you or your opponent have left before falling in combat either.
You’ll also notice visual glitches here and there, and while traversal on horseback looked great in the trailer it’s somehow slower than just running yourself from A to B, which just feels weird. In so many ways, this game disappointed us, but if there’s one thing that it does well, it’s to make us appreciate games like Ghost of Tsushima and Trek and Yomi even more. You get what you pay for with this one, but if you’re interested in a low-priced take on ancient Japan, this is it.