I think my biggest pet peeve in video games are games that ape the aesthetics of platformers without understanding why people like the genre in the first place. I’d be willing to play through a hundred more Madcap Castles if it meant the end of these. Sure, that game had just about every imaginable flaw associated with platformers, but at least it is a platformer! This, on the other hand…
This is a beat ‘em up (well, hybrid beat ‘em up/twin-stick shooter, but I’ll get to that). The X button does your standard 2-hit combo, the A button jumps, and holding RT while standing still will block melee attacks entirely. There are ranged weapons (hold LT to enter firing mode, right stick to aim, RT to shoot), but given the fact that you don’t start with one and ammo is limited, you’re gonna have to deal with the melee combat. Thing is, enemies don’t telegraph their attacks, so you won’t be able to react to them. On top of this, enemies can also block, which nullifies any damage from your own attacks. This means that each fight is just you sitting there, holding the block button, waiting for them to drop their guard and attack, then countering. If you’re fighting an enemy with a chain, they have an attack where they spin it around for 3+ seconds, dragging the fight out even longer (oh, but you never get to equip a melee weapon yourself). If you come up against an enemy with a gun, they can’t block, but their bullets can’t be blocked, either, and since they always aim directly at you…well, there is one way to avoid them: you can do a dodge-roll, but it’s mapped to the right stick. Not the button; you have to move your thumb from the face buttons and push the stick left or right, and given that bullets instantly hit you when fired and attacks aren’t choreographed, you won’t be able to react to all of them.
Oh, and if you knock an enemy down, you won’t be able to attack it until it gets back up, making fights take even longer.
And that’s just when you only have one enemy to face. Sure, it’s possible to lead some enemies away from a group or approach an unaware one from behind to assassinate it instantly, but the ONE thing the game uses level design to accomplish is to prevent certain enemies from making it past certain points, forcing you to take on multiple ones at a time, resulting in yet another game that has unavoidable damage, if only by proxy.
Throughout the game, you can hack computers and other electronics, and this is where the twin-stick shooter elements come into play. Left stick moves you in any direction, right stick aims, RT fires your normal shots (unlimited), LT does your special attack (regenerates after a few seconds). Half the time, you’ll be doing this to disable cameras or turrets (if a camera spots you, the turrets will shoot at you with those same instant, unblockable bullets, and they can’t be taken out any other way), but there’s zero level design here: you move the cursor over the icon and push the A button to start the hacking, at which point enemies spawn around you and start closing in. You have to stay in the hacking circle to keep the meter from going down, but between the sheer number of red enemies that constantly spawn and beeline for you and that one bullet-sponge enemy that always shows up when you do this (with another always spawning shortly after the previous is killed), you’re not gonna be able to stay in that circle without taking damage (unless you buy upgrades, but even then, it’s debatable). Also, this is exactly the same for every single object you hack; they’ll come at you from different angles, but the number and type of enemies are always the same, so it’s a little repetitive.
The only exception is when you hack computers, but you don’t do that by entering twin-stick mode and moving to an icon; you do it by going up to the computer and pushing the examine button (Y on an Xbox controller). This takes you into–dare I say–an actual level as opposed to the usual brawler set-pieces. The two enemies mentioned previously still make appearances and still act the same, but there are new enemies: there’s turrets that will shoot bullets that can actually be avoided if you’re far enough away and move constantly; there’s purple enemies that move faster than you can but don’t chase you, instead just reflecting off the walls; and there’s electricity and black holes that just stay still and act as static hazards that you simply need to move around. Unfortunately, the game ruins what little goodwill it had with these levels with its over-reliance on enemy spawners: they generate those red enemies from the icon hacking segments at such a rate that you literally will not be able to kill them all before the spawner generates more of them (unless you buy and equip the right special attack; without it, you just gotta focus fire on the spawner and take the hits from the generated enemies).
By the way, this game has Teleglitch-style vision, where you can’t see past a wall even though the game is 2D. It isn’t that bad most of the time, but the hacking levels seem to place turrets right around corners where you won’t have much time to react to them.
Also, both of the game’s bosses are in the hacking levels, but they’re both just larger versions of normal enemies; you don’t even need any upgrades to take them out unscathed. It’s kinda laughable considering the rest of the game.