Nuclear Throne, a recent roguelike-like game from developer and publisher Vlambeer, has finally hit full release after initially being released on Steam Early Access back in 2013. The two additional years of development produced a wonderfully challenging game that is sure to push some people to their limits. Tasked with taking over the wasteland, players pick from the crop of available mutants, set out with a pistol, and do everything in their power to take down the terrors of the nuclear wasteland.
This top-down shooter is a combination of a shoot 'em up and a roguelike-like, combining the two in spectacular fashion and scope to The Binding of Isaac. While not quite as dark as Binding, this apocalyptic world is full of mutants and other deranged creatures trying to take you down. The procedurally generated levels themselves take place within different areas of the game, each filled with their own unique enemies ranging from massive sewer rats to crystal spiders and bizarre lab experiments. While the seven playable main worlds remain the same through every playthrough, don’t expect each level to have the same feel or layout on consecutive playthroughs.
Starting the game off, players go through a character select screen. Initially devoid of many options, each available mutant has different skills and stats. Progressing through the game will unlock additional mutants to choose from, each with their own additional unique talents. Mutant talents are quickly activated with the right mouse button and include things like crystal shields or plant snares, depending on your choice of mutant. Your mutant will also level up throughout the game, offering you a chance to pick a mutation. These provide bonuses to pickups, a chance to fully regenerate upon death, and more; however these are also random so do not expect to get the same options each time.
After you have a mutant selected, the game drops you in the wasteland with a pistol and a hardy "good luck!" for the most part. Using a mouse and keyboard, movement uses the standard WASD with the mouse controlling aiming and shooting, but the game also supports controllers and plays like a twin-stick shooter. There are a variety of weapons available to find in scattered chests, progressively becoming stronger the further in the game you reach. It's awesome to see some of the crazier items further in as bullets bounce around, or explosions rip apart the landscape. Keep them stocked with ammo though or expect to quickly lose your health in some of the later stages.
Level progression is broken up between areas by boss fights. The game gleefully announces their appearance on screen like an old '70s movie when they finally appear. Many times, these guys are not easy pushovers, and they can royally destroy your plans of ascending the nuclear throne. After successfully finishing a level, a black hole will open, sucking your character into the next area.
My only real concern with the game is the sheer challenge it presents at times. If you don't have the auto regeneration mutation, dying presents the option of restarting from scratch or going back to the main menu. And trust me; you'll end up dying a lot in this game. It's a great challenge, but it can easily become frustrating as well. The tradeoff here though are levels, while increasing in difficulty the further in, are not terribly long at times and your only objective is to murder every other creature in sight. This means it can be easy to get back to where you died at, though do not expect to see the same level design on each attempt.
Nuclear Throne is an addicting game, especially given its simple, yet challenging design. Each mutant feels unique in their special abilities, and the levels feel like a throwback to classic 8-bit designs. I highly recommend it, especially as those capable of overcoming the main game can look into its co-op options or the daily and weekly challenges Vlambeer throws in for fun.Note: The Nuclear Throne review is based on a digital PC copy of the game.