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Snow Fall (PC) artwork

Snow Fall (PC) review

"Make guns, not peace"

Snow Fall is a bit of an oddity. It's a side-scrolling run and gun (and jump) affair, with an aesthetic quality that lands somewhere between 8 and 16-bit, an interesting targeting system, and an even more interesting weapon crafting system, the latter of which works hard to set the game apart from other shooters in this vein. It's not a great looking or sounding game, but the presentation is serviceable and not wholly without charm.

You play our hero decked out in full winter gear complete with face obscuring, fur-lined hood, which hides everything except his (or her) eyes, which glow magenta for some reason. Unspeakable evil has come to the land, and it is your job to repel these presumptuous invaders, and send them back from whence they came. The story is mostly incomprehensible, which is probably at least in some part down to a language barrier, as I believe Russian developers were behind this effort. But then again, this is a small, retro shooter with a focus on pick-up-and-play action: we didn't really expect an epic tale to be told, now did we?

Snow Fall has five different areas on offer, each with several stages to work through. The locales are a nondescript collection of corridors and climbs and drops with typical hazards and a strange assortment of bad guys tucked away throughout. There's only one boss in the game -- the last one. The action boils down to you spelunking through unvaried galleries taking out spear chucking aliens(?), rushing ninja aliens(?) and their palette swapped brethren. And by "taking out," I mean to say you'll advance carefully, aim, shoot, retreat, reload, and advance carefully again -- at least until you get your hands on an automatic weapon or the alien-rending laser. Later on, more platforming will be involved, featuring the always popular ‘disappearing platform,’ and pits of both the spike-filled and bottomless varieties, and it's easy to get caught off guard and flub some jumps en route to instant death.

Fortunately, jumping feels tight and responsive. The movement and shooting related controls are just as responsive, but they aren’t laid out in the most intuitive way, and as there's no way to change the button bindings, we're stuck with an unnecessarily clunky setup. Aside from simply pressing the shoot button to fire your weapon, you’ll need to use the right stick to actually aim. Dotted lines emanating from the barrel of your weapon serve as a guide for its bullet trajectory. The fault for the careful approach I described above can be laid at the feet of your first gun, which is truly pathetic, both from a rate of fire and stopping power standpoint. Between the unhelpful control scheme and the wimpy sidearm, we're off to a rocky start. But then, we get used to the controls, and we get better guns.

But we don't do it by finding new guns -- we make them ourselves. By collecting parts strewn about the environment, and bringing then to the crafting screen between stages, we're able to mix and match bits of crystal, wood, metal and so on, and insert them into a three-slotted mixer, and voila, like some NRA-sponsored slot machine, we either end up with three prunes or a brand new assault rifle for use in the next stage. Craftable (yes, craftable) weapons range from shotguns to laser rifles. Though the system is admittedly limited, it's undeniably cool taking risks in the more difficult later levels to seek out new materials, just to plug them in to see what can be cobbled together. However, strangely enough, on the game's Steam page, the formulas for all the weapons are laid out, something I didn't know until I was close to completing the contest, and something I think takes away a little from the feeling of randomly discovering new formulas on your own.

That said, Snow Fall really comes into its own when it starts demanding jumps of you and when your weapons makes you feel competent -- in the back half of the adventure. Ironically, it is at the beginning of the game that it’s at its most dull as well as difficult, since there aren't many platforming bits of consequence to break up the creeping tedium of your ineffectual pot-shotting early on when your guns feel bland and neutered. The entire mission will take you just under two hours to beat, and you'll have fun with it, running and shooting and jumping and inventing your way to a pretty sweet victory that isn't necessarily hard won, but the game provides enough bumps in the road to make you appreciative when you inevitably topple the lead troublemaker at its climax. You won't see your way through to the credits on autopilot.

Snow Fall earns a marginal recommendation because it is a fun time waster which permits you to blast enemies, craft guns, and search for spare parts towards that end, and because it puts up just enough of a fight to keep you crafting and interested for the short time that it's in your life. Yes, the experience is small and the presentation is unremarkable, and while Snow Fall will never be confused with a classic, it’s an enjoyable, offbeat distraction for the price.


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Staff review by Marc Golding (February 16, 2018)

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