Vlambeer has proven itself as a studio with the flexibility to tackle different genres and projects, so I've been eager to give a try to the team's take on the roguelike. I hopped in for several playthroughs of the current version available on Steam Early Access, and found an action game with a lot of potential, and a number of fun mechanics that help set it apart.
Nuclear Throne is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland governed by irradiated monsters. Play begins as the player chooses one of the 11 playable mutant characters. Each one starts with its own passive bonus, as well as a special ability that can help to turn the tide in a hard fight. Crystal starts out with more hit points, and can create a shield to block incoming attacks. Robot can eat weapons to regain ammo and hit points, and he naturally finds better weapons. Each character is weird and varied, and I found myself experimenting with a different hero each time I restarted.
With my character selected, I'm immediately flung into the action. Gameplay is viewed from a top-down perspective, with 8-bit pixel-style art depicting an array of fast moving enemies and their gunfire. On PC, while moving with the keyboard, the mouse offers 360 degrees of aiming rotation to fire off one of your available weapons. New weapons drop all the time after slaying an enemy, like machine guns, crossbows, laser pistols, and sledgehammers, and I'm surprised how much variation I find both in the weapon types and how differently they feel in combat. When I finish off all the enemies in a particular stage, I'm whisked off to the next level.
Every few stages, the environment design changes, and Vlambeer has promised a total of seven distinct backdrops, from deserts to an abandoned frozen city, each with its own distinct mix of baddies to bring down. With each run at the game, I push to get a little further through these stages. As I go, I'm gathering XP to pass levels; a new level brings with it the option to add a new mutation, like eagle eyes for better weapon accuracy, or a second stomach for increased med kit healing. Along with starting abilities, these added mutation options allow for tremendous flexibility in how you build up your character.
My time playing Nuclear Throne follows Vlambeer's recent announcement that the game will include up to four-player local and online multiplayer. I'm excited to see how it turns out. Even playing the game alone, the onscreen chaos is substantial, so it's hard to imagine what the screen will look like with four players. Regardless, I immediately felt the draw of the arcade-style action and fun setting that Nuclear Throne presents. I'm eager to see the game move out of early access and be available in full later this year.