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Nuclear Throne (PC) artwork

Nuclear Throne (PC) review

"I had fun the whole time.... It just doesn't have the longevity..."

Nuclear Throne is a rogue-like top down shooter. You play as a mutant in a post-apocalyptic, post-human wasteland. I played on a Steam controller using the analog stick to move, the right touch-pad to move the reticle, clicking the touch pad to fire, and the shoulder buttons for switching weapons and using abilities.

Nuclear Throne has a different feel to it than other twin-stick shooters because you can freely move the reticle anywhere on the screen using the mouse. Obviously, you won't be able to shoot through walls, especially since there are lots of walls and cover in the game. But you can place the reticle anywhere and your character will shoot in that direction. It's a weird mix of the usual twin-stick controls where the only thing that matters is the direction you are facing and the ability to aim anywhere on the screen. It feels very smooth and works great.

Each mutant has a few abilities to help them through the levels. One of the starting characters can quickly dodge, and the other can shield. There are a bunch of characters that are unlocked as you play, and some of them have very unique abilities and attributes. On has telekinesis, another can snare enemies, and another can detonate corpses (+ there are a bunch more that I won't spoil).

Aesthetically, the game is really cool, with a unique pixelated look, wild character designs that play up the monstrous mutation theme in a cartoonish way, and exciting and atmospheric music with nice vocal touches here and there. Plus there are a couple of straight up songs with lyrics, which are really, really great. “Triangula might mangle ya” might be some of the finest rap lyrics ever penned.

Each randomly generated level is quite short, taking just a few minutes to complete. There are typically lots of enemies packed in there though. Enemies vary from those that charge you to those that run and hide before jumping at you to those that play dead to those that take pot shots, snipers, machine gunners, and everything in between, + the weird stuff. I don't have any proof to back this up, but it seems to me that enemy aggression is dictated by the RNG, and that sometimes you will face super-aggressive enemies and sometimes they will be really dumb. Once you kill everything in the level, you get sucked through a portal to the next.

The levels are random but they do have a structure. You always do the same types of levels in the same order, and face bosses at the same times. There are only a handful of bosses, and they are all quite tough in different ways, whether they send a bullet-curtain style wave of projectiles at you or apply hit and run tactics. You will be taking them on with the random weapons that spawn in each level. There is a pretty huge variety, and you'll get a new one in each level. You can carry two with you. There are machine guns, crossbows, grenade launchers, shotguns, and many others including melee weapons, plus wild variations on each class **cough cough** gatling bazooka **cough cough**. Picking the right weapon for your situation is very important. As is picking the right mutations. Every time you level up, you'll get a choice of 4 random mutations and get to pick one. These do all kinds of things, including affecting how you heal, how you get ammo, modifying your characters base skills, and buffing specific weapons. Actually, knowing what is coming up next and picking the right tools of the trade is key to survival.

Nuclear Throne is really hard, and I found that the key to winning is to know the levels pretty well, and to pick up weapons and mutations and that help you kill what is coming up next. Obviously this means you have to get to levels and then come back to them after dying... which you will do a lot. The burnt hand teaches best... After 20 hours of play, I've beaten Nuclear Throne one time. It only takes a half-hour to beat the game, but if you die, you start totally over. The game is really deadly; you only have a few HP, and you can loose it all in the blink of an eye.

Unfortunately, after only 20 hours and one win, I began to be a little bored with the game. I got into a pattern of going through the first few levels only to die in the harder parts. This happened many, many times before I realized I didn't really want to do it anymore. I estimated that it was going to take me quite a few more hours of practice to beat the game with a new character, and I wasn't feeling it since the beginning of the game is so samey each time. I have to compare this game to Risk of Rain a little bit. I played ROR for way, way longer than 20 hours and beat it with every character, and I plan on playing more of it again soon. A couple things make it different than Nuclear Throne. First off, it has an insane number of items and power-ups, and you get absolute tons of them during a run. Nuclear Throne only has a few mutations and you'll mainly see the same few guns spawn as well, although you'll probably get a few exotic guns each run. ROR's characters are also all pretty radically different while Nuclear Throne's are more subtle variations of the same idea. Each character's unique powers certainly make them play differently, but they all have to run around and shoot like crazy and dodge, and feel quite samey. And ROR is also a little less frustrating as you typically die as things go horribly wrong over the space of a few minutes as you are on the run trying to get yourself together instead of in a few seconds. ROR also doesn't really have too many cheap deaths, if any, while Nuclear Throne has quite a few. Not enough to be really annoying, but more than a few times I entered a new level only to die within 6 seconds without even knowing what happened or getting any feedback of what just happened to me or how I can prepare for this level in the future.

I might sound a little down on it, but Nuclear Throne is totally a blast to play and is mechanically extremely solid and balanced. It just doesn't have the longevity of something like Risk of Rain, even though the long list of unlocks and characters you can play as might suggest otherwise. But 20 hours is a lot of gameplay, especially when I had fun the whole time. It's a 4 out of 5.

Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (February 25, 2016)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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