Like role-playing systems before it, roguelike elements have started creeping into more and more genres over the years. Whereas RPG-ification brought in a more tangible sense of progression, injecting games with roguelike qualities gives them a layer of unpredictability that forces players to learn its systems over memorizing level layouts. MOTHERGUNSHIP takes those concepts and grafts them onto the first-person shooter genre while letting players craft their own weapons. While there are better first-person shooters and better roguelikes, Mothergunship excels when it fuses the two genres and brings out the best in each.
Mothergunship Review: Crafting the Mother of all Guns
Mothergunship is at its peak when the symbiotic relationship of both of its halves are working together to provide the most interesting experience. Weapon crafting is the game’s biggest, coolest feature and is easy to grasp. Parts are divided into barrels, caps, and connectors, which shoot, augment that shooting, and are the glue that piece together the shooty bits, respectively. Each mission lets the player choose any combination of parts up to a certain number, be it two barrels and a modifier; two barrels, a modifier, and a connector; or if you’re weird, four connectors.
Whatever you bring disappears when you die, making every mission a balance of risk and reward. Do you take your best shotgun and reflector mod on this difficult mission? Or do you hope luck is on your side when you bring just in a puny blaster? This dilemma draws from its roguelike roots and adds pressure what you bring and how you use it.
Its roguelike aspects also give the game its replayability. Side missions endlessly generate and always offer up experience, coins, or weapon parts. Weapon part missions don’t net you much experience but lend you weapons that you keep if you finish the level. Dying doesn’t matter as much since you can’t lose parts you don’t own. Since each offers a different reward, it gives you the freedom to grind your way out of a bind, even if that grind gets more grindy the more you progress.
Mothergunship Review: When a Bullet Hell Freezes Over… and Over
The game is also at its worst when its two halves are fighting each other. It doesn’t usually let you experiment as heavily with its weapon crafting system. Most levels let you take in around four parts, more or less. This means you can really only make simple firearms because you aren’t always afforded the opportunity to make something truly stupid and hilarious in most modes.
No matter how fun it is to make a gun that blocks your field of view, it’s understandable why the game doesn’t let you create a hulking, ridiculous gun in every level. Dying would be too costly as you’d lose half your arsenal if you croaked. But the game should loosen its leash up a bit, especially since the marketing and demo heavily emphasize how ludicrous and hilarious the weapon crafting is.
Bigger, dumber weapons would also help curve the game’s difficulty problem. Mothergunship, at its most hectic times, feels like a bullet hell filled with comically oversized bullets and bombs. And that difficulty can be exhilarating since it makes survival is rewarding. However, it is not rewarding when the commotion crushes the framerate.
The game is already hard with slightly-too-steep difficulty curve but then dips into unfair territory when it can’t always support its own chaos. Allowing the player to bring in a couple extra weapon parts and dialing down some of the rooms would go a long way into making some of the fights more fair. The gunplay thrives when it lets you experiment with big guns against a room full of tough enemies; not when you’re only given one weapon in a frenzied room that plays like a slideshow.
Mothergunship Review: Fast Arena Shooters Like Mother Used to Make
But the gunplay also succeeds because it’s responsive and fast. You glide around in a permanent sprint à la Doomguy and weapons don’t reload; they recharge automatically after a brief few seconds of ceasefire. Quick movement, an upgradeable jump, and the ability to almost always be shooting make Mothergunship feel like a solid arena shooter from the 90s. Upgrades can further augment your abilities and a good way to add some overarching progression. Although the absence of a deeper perk system, skill tree, and more customization is a missed opportunity as the game is begging for a Rogue Legacy-style economy.
Mothergunship isn’t a game that was begging for a story, but it somehow got one and it’s better than it has any right to be. Radio chatter from your eccentric compadres starts out with vague statements that gradually grow into a simple, but cohesive plot. It expects you to not pay it much mind but it begins to expand as its charming, hilarious characters begin to grow more endearing.
Your crew’s witty dialogue eventually pulls you into a tale that has some decent twists with a great ending that intelligently contextualizes the endless nature of its roguelike structure. While it sets up a sequel, the hologram from developer Terrible Posture Games states that more story content is on the way, meaning that it’s possible that this cast of characters will return in a future update.
That hologram also promises more levels, which the game sorely needs. As is a popular complaint among roguelikes, levels are visually repetitive. It runs the gamut from generic ship to generic ship but with some purple lights. While it makes sense that all the ships in the Mothergunship fleet would look similar, it’s not exciting. It’s also made slightly worse by the sizable loads between rooms. They do provide a nice breather but they also slow down the pacing; counterintuitive for a game about moving quickly.
Mothergunship is about as great and dumb as its portmanteau name that was somehow not taken by a B movie from the 1980s. Fast gunplay, likable characters, and its weapon crafting system work incredibly well when the difficulty doesn’t spike too hard and kill the pacing and framerate. It’s almost there in many respects which make the prospect of a sequel awfully alluring but it’s executed well enough to make it a good game in its own right.
Reviewed on PS4. Copy provided by publisher.