TOWER OF GUNS Video Game Review
Developers: Terrible Posture Games (homepage)
Platform: Windows (Steam)
Tower of Guns, the debut outing from Terrible Posture Games, is a roguelike, procedural shooter reminiscent of mid-90’s twitch shooters wrapped in the cell-shading of Borderlands and the tough randomness of Spelunky, sprinkled with the scent of bullet hell shooters that I am terrible at. The mix is basically an indie gaming wet dream, the holy blending of a pantheon of genre and tight design to make a game that’s fun, fast, and brutal. And you can play a round all the way through on your lunch break. Not me, I was up to 1 a.m. two nights in a row trying to unlock more items, guns, and get further than the last round. The infectious, compulsive nature of “just one more round” is strong with this one.
Levels are randomly generated, but each world stays within a certain design flavor, like a giant warehouse, industrial factories, and a glorious-looking, lava filled “forge” level. Sadly, these are all-too familiar worlds to shooters, but this is a game that’s informed by its history and then places its own radioactive spin on it. Twitch shooters at their best are a combination of environment plus reaction, and when you remove the comfort of knowing how a level or enemies are laid out, an extra layer of tension returns like an old friend. I mean, it’s not as extensive as it could be; play the game long enough and you’ll start seeing room patterns repeat, especially in the initial “Foyer” level.
Enemy types come in a plethora of shapes and sizes themselves, such as short-range flying razor blades, mine cannons, explosives mines, spikeball launchers, and bosses the size of a skyscraper. Environments also change in size, from tight corridor shooting to expansive, cavernous rooms filled with literally hundreds of enemies at a time. Tower of Guns‘ Unreal Engine runs at a silky smooth 60 FPS regardless of how many thousands of bullets can be on screen at once.
The game banks on your addictive tendencies to crank through 4-5 runs in a single session, and the game subtly reinforces that this is meant to be played quickly, viciously even. Levels have a “par” time, indicating how fast you should be going. I’m not quite sure why there’s even a “par” time at all, except that it unlocks a new weapon. Maybe for bragging rights with your friends. But there’s no time limit, and Tower of Guns has lots of hidden secrets with extra health or “badges” (its version of powerups) which encourage careful exploration over a sprint. Tower of Guns also is not clear what it determines to be a “secret”, considering they’re not visually distinct. You just find them and your bloodhound progress is shown on your various loading screens inbetween levels. I never broke above 10% of all secrets, and what’s frustrating that in order to reach certain secrets, you require powerups that are often randomly given, like a pentuple jump or a teleporter.
Weapon balance tends to favor certain strategies over other, meaning slow-firing weapons with large area of effect and high power tend to trump fast firing but weak guns. You can only carry one into battle also, so pick wisely. Enemies tend to trudge along in straight lines toward you on the ground or in the air, or are fixed in position, making them easy pickings for a quick trigger finger. Their volume becomes the challenge, as well as the environment, peppers with spikes and bottomless pits. Your starter weapons, a wimpy pistol and a sawblade shooter, quickly get abandoned when you unlock the shotgun and the rocket launcher type weapons. Weapon sounds are also kind of a letdown, being simple bleeps and bloops or pops, lacking the heft a powerful weapon should have. It’s weird that the biggest weakness of a game called Tower of Guns is the, well, guns. The original Unreal Tournament should be a Bible for how to make recognizable guns feel fresh and new.
I would like to think all guns should be valid strategies when combined with the right perks and badges, but I never found a good reason to use those initial offerings again. I stuck with a trio of guns: a hefty hand cannon which one shots most regular enemies, an area of effect rifle somewhat between a pistol and rocket launcher, and a shotgun. Your weapons can level up when collecting little blue dots or shards, causing them to become more powerful, fire faster, leading to a positive reinforcement loop as the difficulty automatically escalates.
After about 5 hours of playtime, including 2 glorious victories, I had seen everything the game had to throw at me. Which was fine, actually. That wasn’t a problem. I like what I see. It’s tough and challenging but fair. The various iterations of the levels always threw something new at me in terms of configuration or enemy type. I got exactly what I expected, and a little bit more. I kept going back for the unknown nature of what I was facing, how many of them, and enjoying the sweaty-palm circle strafing, multi-jumping, and epic destruction you can rain down when you’re blessed with the right combo of random items.
This game has a lot of opportunity to build on. There’s nothing but a blank canvas to add more paint to, more levels, co-op, survival mode. 1 guy made this, with his brother composing the music. 1 guy. It’s a rock-solid concept, executed as well as possible, with an addictive, frantic atmosphere. Tower of Guns is a great mix of innovative randomness meets the panic-inducing claustrophobia of classic shooters. It’s a Tower of Fun.