Housemarque has made its named developing fast-paced arcade shooters like Super Stardust, Resogun, and Nex Machina. These games delight in colorful explosions, velocity, and thumping soundtracks. The developer’s latest, Matterfall, has all those qualities, but also stands apart from the pack with its interesting combination of twin-stick shooting and platforming.
Matterfall’s story barely exists. You play an exosuit wearing, jump-jet using freelancer tasked with clearing a planet of a hostile alien presence and rescuing civilians. The straightforward levels have you moving from one end to the next, blasting enemies while dashing through checkpoints and jumping across moving platforms. You have a variety of abilities at your disposal, including an arm cannon, a dash attack that lets you phase through bullets and stun enemies, and augmentation slots that let you equip secondary weapons and mutators. The game controls well, giving you a lot of mobility when it comes to dodging enemies and threading the needle during platforming sections, though occasionally I noticed that my freelancer would shoot upward when I meant for them to dash right. This was rare enough that it wasn’t ever a huge issue.
The augmentation slots are Matterfall’s greatest strength. Rescuing civilians lets you access more augmentations, and you can have three of them going at any time. Some of them are weapons with a small cooldown, such as a shotgun or railgun, while others give you buffs, like increasing the chance of a powerful bomb you can use against enemies appearing or making your dash capable of dealing light damage to foes. The ability to swap augmentations out on the fly is useful; while a grenade launcher might not save you as swarms of enemies encircle you, a blast from your shotgun could eliminate enough of them to give you an opening to dash through and escape. Every kill you get and civilian you rescue contributes to a score tracker. The longer you stay undamaged, the more your combo multiplier builds. You don’t earn any unlockables with a higher score, but a strong sense of satisfaction comes from seeing your score climb as you deftly move throughout the world like some ballerina of death – if you’ve got the skill.
Matterfall is one of the hardest action games I’ve played this year. Later stages border on being cruelly unfair, but the arsenal of tools you have at your disposal gives you enough tactical options to survive. At its best, Matterfall is great at making you feel a surprising amount of tension as you fend off countless enemies surging toward you with speed and elegant maneuvers. You never have much time to strategize so every encounter is about your intuition and the rapidness of your physical response to plans you’re making on the spot. I often felt like I had gotten away with some great, exhilarating crime by just surviving an encounter. However, the flip side of this is that the game devolves into cheap death after cheap death in rough sections toward the end due to the demand that you master both platforming and stick shooting at the same time. I was more thrilled than annoyed by the challenge, but the difficulty spikes can prove tiresome in the last hour.
The campaign is on the short side, but enough secrets are scattered throughout every level that it’s worth replaying, especially if you’re someone who loves pursuing the top spot on online scoreboard. Even if you’re not into competition, it’s unlikely you’ll unlock all your augmentations on your first run, so it’s fun to dive back in and hunt down the rest of them and mix and match them with your subweapons.
Matterfall’s brand of action is simple but refined, producing many doses of adrenaline as you survive overwhelming odds again and again. The shooting is satisfying, and zipping across stages while blasting foes is a great, dumb time. For those who like their action simple but visually pleasing and challenging, Matterfall is an easy recommendation.