Known for developing PlayStation exclusives such as Super Stardust HD, Dead Nation, Resogun, Alienation and Nex Machina (also PC), Finland developer Housemarque has established itself as one of the premier developers with its signature twin stick voxel-based arcade shooters. Housemarque’s latest instalment, Matterfall, shares the same addictive gameplay, stylish levels and trademark upbeat techno soundtrack. Unlike its predecessors though, Matterfall is a side-scrolling shooter that relies on both fast paced combo building mechanics and platforming elements. The story takes place in a futuristic sci-fi world where you play as armoured suit wearing Avalon Darrow. You are a freelancer hired to eradicate the world from dangerous alien materials known as “Smart Matter”. The opening cinematic does a great job of giving you some context to your motivations for those that care, but the real crux of the game is its gameplay.
Your character has 3 main mechanics; shooting in all directions by pushing the right stick, a Matter Gun beam (L2) used to fill in empty platforms and detonate screen clearing Matter bombs and a four directional dash Strike that you can use to stun enemies. Whilst enemies are stunned they become incapacitated and unable to damage you and also increase the amount of points you can gather from their destruction. The Strike and its resulting shockwave add to the dynamic flow and speedy arcade feel of Matterfall as you become invincible during it and combined with Avalon’s double jump, it helps to reach hard to find places and hidden collectables.
The two forms of collectables are Matter caches, which serve only as point increasers, and civilians. Civilians are hidden in each level and unlock 12 augmentations which Avalon can equip 3 augmentations at one time. Four of these augmentations are secondary weapons whilst the rest add various abilities such as, higher primary weapon damage, faster cool down for secondary weapons, Strike damages enemies and so on. The augmentations add great customisation and variety to how you tackle certain situations in each level and boss battles. I found myself changing them mid-level to attack certain areas that benefited from a different secondary weapon such as the grenade launcher or extra health for boss battles.
There are 3 worlds each with 3 levels and 1 boss battle. Each world has its own distinct style and each boss varies, with the second boss taking place whilst floating in anti-gravity. Completing the game on its medium difficulty varies from 2-3 hours based on your skill level and longer on veteran mode. Once the game is beaten it unlocks master mode which is an incredibly tough one it one kill and a revenge bullet omits from enemies once they are destroyed. Although the game can be tough, dying never felt unfair like it did in Nex Machina and felt more like a mistake on my behalf. The control scheme of jumping with R1 and predominantly using the shoulder buttons may be off putting at first, but it does becomes second nature and its reason for implementation is clearly to keep up the flow and ease of shooting with R1 and being able to instantly dash or jump instead of having to manoeuvre back and forth from the face buttons.
My only frustrations with the game were the length of certain levels, particularity level 3-2 and also the amount of vertical platforming required in the final world. Not only did both of these elements kill the speed and flow of the game but they also make high score chasing a chore which is usually a trademark of Housemarque games that offered plenty of replayability. The other mechanic I would have loved to have been implemented was a cool down timer on the dash mechanic like they did with the secondary weapon. Too many times I was caught in situations were I had accounted for it to be available in time but all to no avail. Being able to dash in all eight directions would have also been nice instead of just up, down, left and right but maybe that would have negated the challenge of finding certain hidden areas.
For the trophy hunters out there Matterfall has good challenging trophy list that seems quite straight forward. Complete the game on certain difficulties, find all the civilians and caches etc. The only 2 trophies that may provide quite a challenge between you and the platinum trophy are beating the 3 bosses on master difficulty and completing each level on master within the gold ranked speed time. My initial thought was this is what Mighty Number 9 should have been.
Overall, Matterfall is exactly what we have come to expect from Housemarque. Awesome fast paced addictive gameplay, enemy filled screens that are showered with bullets and an upbeat techno soundtrack that fuels the chaos. A must for Housemarque fans and fans of arcade shooters.
Review by Buddy Watson (@buddywatson12)