By – Steven Smith

Crashnauts Demo He

At the recent Salt Lake City Gaming Con I met the team for indie developer Fueled by Rockets who had their upcoming title Crashnauts on display. Others who had played the game described it as either “Smash Brothers with Guns” or a “2D sidescrolling Unreal Tournament.” Either way it sounded like something I needed to check out for myself, and the game did not disappoint. I have since been given a demo version of the game, currently a work in progress, that has allowed me a much more thorough look at this new couch brawler. There is a long held ritual in gaming where a group of friends gather around the TV, pick 2D avatars and then, armed with nothing but a controller and quick reflexes, proceed to beat the living daylights out of each other. Crashnauts takes this same concept but swaps out the traditional melee combat with faster paced gunplay.

The game controls are easy to learn as there no special button combinations or secret moves, just jump, shoot, change weapon and a dash ability that gives you a brief burst of speed, which might be enough to get you out of a jam. This helps keep everyone at the same level so that new players can enter fray with confidence. Even the level design seems to accommodate people not immediately familiar with the game. Each arena is fairly small and special surfaces, such as a jet that shoots you across the screen or anti-gravity field that lifts you off the ground, are marked by sensible visual queues. Levels are not overly complex, just enough to make for fast, fun cat and mouse action.

There is no need to memorize a map or efficient weapon drop routes as you might in an FPS arena shooter. That said, arena shooter fans will already be familiar with much of the game modes and rules. At this stage there are three modes Free for All, Team Deathmatch and Hold the Flag. Free for All, as the name suggests, is where everyone runs around blasting each other until someone hits the kill count goal. A Team Deathmatch game splits the players into a 2v2 match up. In Hold the Flag the object is to attack the player with the flag. The longer you are able to hang on to the flag yourself, the more points you earn.

Crashnauts Demo 1

One level feature you do need to watch for is the sliding view. Some levels are too large to entirely fit on the screen, so the view slides back and forth during gameplay. Falling out of view means instant death. After dying you respawn by dropping from the sky in a crash pod. When the pod hits ground it breaks open to reveal the character. In the seconds before your pod drops you are able to aim it somewhat within the level. If you manage to land on another player the pod will squash them dead. It’s not an easy maneuver to pull off, so it’s still best to land with your finger on the trigger and ready to fight.

Crashnauts has a nice variety of weapons that pretty much covers the full spectrum of video game gun archetypes. There is the Shotgun, Machine Gun, Rocket Launcher, Grenade Launcher and Railgun. Each one has its uses and none feel out of place or extraneous. Ammo is limited which forces you to switch between weapons throughout the game. If you completely run out of bullets there is one more weapon available, the Power Glove. This quickly became my favorite weapon to use, even if I still had a full ammo count. Holding down the fire button causes the glove to charge, when released the charge blasts the area immediately in front of the player.

A fully charged Power Glove attack will decimate the competition. There is not a counter telling you how many shots a weapon has, but there is an icon that appears above your character’s head when you only are have a few shots left. In fact, the entire HUD is kept to a minimum. Your character’s health shows as a small bar above their head and all scores are framed at the bottom of the screen. At first I was afraid that this minimalistic approach might take away some strategic aspects of the game. After playing for a while I realized that gameplay is too frantic for long term planning and the subtle visual cues are just enough to relay important information without getting in the way.

The character selection is also very basic. There are four different races which are distinguishable in both their general look and color. Humans have a lot of green in their design, while the monstrous alien race is mostly purple. There is also a red insect species and what looks like a humanoid bear whose color comes from their brown-orange fur. Beyond the distinct race, players can also choose between different armor pieces to further customize their character. Most of the armor choices are unique enough that players can tell who’s who even when some are from the same race.  I really like the hand drawn art style, especially when it comes to the characters and their animation. One thing missing from my demo was an ingame musical score, however there is announcer style commentary such as “5 Points Remaining”, “Headshot” or when killing someone via crash pod “Meatloaf!” This really helps add some auditory excitement along with the visuals of blood and bullets flying.

Crashnauts Demo 1

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Support?

Normally, this would be where I tell you whether or not this game is worth buying, however Crashnauts is still in development. In fact, developer Fueled by Rockets has just launched a Kickstarter campaign so that they can add new features and get the game completed. If you enjoy having friends over for some exciting gunplay, then Crashnauts is definitely a game you want to check out.  Even their stretch goals seem perfectly reasonable. Well, except for making their art designer eat his hat. You can also support the dev team by voting on Steam Greenlight.

Crashnauts Demo Technical Summary:

Crashnauts Demo Sum

  • Time Played – 2 Hours
  • Resolution Played – 1680 x 1050
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • DRM – TBD
  • Control Scheme – Gamepad
  • System Specs – 2.93GHz Intel i7 870, 4GB RAM, GeForce 9800GT
  • Game Acquisition Method – Alpha Build
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
  • Availability – Kickstarter, Official Site

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