There’s a little game that is still in Early Access on Steam that was given to me by Ian and that I didn’t touch when I first got it because it scared me. It’s called Nuclear Throne, and it took every ounce of my gaming mettle to fire up this game. I had watched Northernlion play it, and I didn’t quite see the appeal. Still, since I got it for free, and it’s a tiny game to install, why not try it out, I reasoned. There’d be no harm in playing a game or two, right?
Let me tell you about the game. it’s the brainchild of an indie developer called Vlambeer, who also did Super Crate Box and other quirky indie games. It’s post nuclear-apocalyse, and there are nine mutant characters that you can play. Vlambeer has said they will be adding even more! You start out with a certain number of them unlocked (Vlambeer updates the game every Sunday, and I think this changed in the time I have played the game) and unlock the rest with certain achievements. The dungeons are randomly-generated, so you never get the same game twice. Be prepared to die again and again and again because though the game is simple enough to understand, it’s devilishly-hard to play. Each character has a different active ability that you use by pressing the right-click button on your mouse (you can also use a gamepad to play the game), and it would behoove you to remember which character you’re playing because the right-click abilities are very different for each. Several characters have B-skins, too, which is fun to see when they show up, which is infrequently.
I started with Fish because he’s supposedly the easiest character for newbies to play with his dodge roll ability. I didn’t like him that much and quickly moved on to other characters. I latched on to Y.V. (Yung Venuz, the star of Vlambeer’s browser-based game, Gun GODZ. Which is damn hard, by the way.) His right-click ability is called pop pop which means he shoots twice with one click. He already shoots faster than the other characters, so it’s a pretty neat ability. I tried all the other characters, and it’s been interesting to see how I switch favorites from time to time.
From the start, the game grabbed me. You race through these different settings, killing as many enemies as you can with whatever weapons you’re given/can find. You might run out of ammo. You might be outgunned or out-(wo)manned. You might get cornered by, say, five purple scorpions and watch in horror as your health quickly depletes. If you’re Melting, you only have two health, so your situation is even more precarious. I sucked at it (and still do) of course, but I found myself pressing start over and over and over again. “Just one more level/game” is a gaming trope, but it’s applicable here. I’d tell myself, “Just one more game” and before I knew it, it was an hour later. Again, each game lasts roughly five to ten minutes, so that’s definitely more than just one more game.
What is the allure? Well, lots of shooting for one thing. Unless you’re Chicken because she’s a melee character. She has an awesome sword with which she hacks her way through hordes of enemies, and if she dies, she runs around with her head cut off for a period of time before truly dying. If she regains health in that time, then the run is on! In addition, you get to choose a mutation every time you level up. My favorite is boiling veins which makes you immune from fire and explosions when you’re at half-health or lower. This is VERY important in the scrapyard and the frozen city. I don’t know past that point because I’ve only made it to the labs once. There is also a crown vault where you can choose a crown, and each has a big asset and a big negative. In addition, there are secret levels, but I won’t spoil that for you by talking about them.
The big bosses are terrifying when you first meet them. In the wastelands, it’s the Big Bandit (whom, for some reason, I call Mad Mike), who is a bigger, badder bandit (one of the common enemies). First time I came up against him, I freaked out and almost instantly died. Now, i can kill him fairly easily most of the time, and it’s only really a problem if there are too many scorpions (especially golden ones) alive when he shows up. The second big boss is the Big Dawg in the scrapyard. Again, the first time I saw him, I shit my pants and died almost immediately. He was WAY worse than Mad Mike! But, as I got used to him, I realized that you just had to learn his pattern. Then, you shoot, shoot, shoot him, hide, and repeat until he’s dead. You have to be careful when he explodes, though, as you can die if you’re too close to him.
I recently reached the third big boss, Lil’ Hunter, in the frozen city, the first time he showed up, yes, he killed me instantly. He drops down on you, literally, disappears, and re-drops on you until either he kills you or you kill him. I got him on the third time on a run as Chicken, and it’s really the weaponry that makes the difference. I had the lightning pistol (or rifle, not sure which one) and the minigun, and I just sprayed him until he died. I may have had boiling vein as I usually take it, which is helpful when he explodes. Of course, the minute I stepped foot in the labs (the next environment), I died in less than fifteen seconds and that’s where I’m at. I haven’t made it to the palace, let alone looped the game, which is shameful given how much time I’ve played it. (Ed. note: After I finished writing his post, I made it to the palace for the first time ever, playing as Crystal. Better yet, I didn’t die immediately! I did eventually die on the first level, but I’m improving.)
I don’t care, though. The game is fun, cute to look at, varied on every run, and fucking addictive. Robot with his gun-eating ability is my current favorite character with Melting and his exploding-corpses ability a close second. Then, Chicken and her slo-mo ability (though I still haven’t gotten the hang of her active) and Crystal who’s a tank and has a shielding ability, Steroids and his dual-wielding ability, Plant and his snare ability, Rebel and her allies ability, YV, and Fish. I also like to random sometimes just to switch things up. I have to get into a different mindset to play each character, and I find myself eating guns when I don’t want to if I play Robot after playing another character for too long.
It’s funny to remember that the game didn’t appeal to me at all when I first watched Northernlion play it, and now, it’s my favorite game. I even watch SleepCycles, the Scottish Guy, play it every day! He’s waaaaay better at it than I am, though.
The Vlambeer guys stream the game every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays and interact with their fans as they continue to update and improve the game. I love that they are so interactive with their players (they helped me fix a problem I had with a corrupt save file), and I can’t wait to see what else they add to Nuclear Throne (love the fire salamanders!). It’s $12.99 on Steam and well worth every penny. I’m not a proponent of Early Access games, but I’m a HUGE fan of Nuclear Throne and Vlambeer. Go buy it now!