Developed By: mebius.
Published By: mebius.
Category: Action, Arcade
Release Date: 06.20.19
I have a complex relationship with shoot ‘em ups; I love them, but they seem to hate me. I especially love the idea of the bullet hell shooter. The idea of using my lightning-fast reflexes to dodge incoming attacks while counterattacking strategically is always appealing – until, that is, I remember I don’t have lightning-fast reflexes. Today’s game, Rolling Gunner for the Nintendo Switch, is definitely a shmup, but I’m not sure if it fits the definition of a true bullet hell game; there are lots of bullets, and I feel like I’m in hell, but I don’t know what the cutoff is or if I’m qualified to say. Rolling Gunner is super-fun though, so let’s focus more on that than on labels.
Terminator, But With Jets Instead of Time Travel
In the nearish future, a radical startup company called Lerman Matsunaga discovers a new element known as busterium. They quickly develop buster engines powered by their new discoveries, and a centralized computer system to control them, called BAC. Busterium quickly replaces all other energy sources, and BAC basically takes over everyday life; people forget how to do most things for themselves, because BAC does it for them. When BAC eventually rebels, no one knows how to even use weapons to defend themselves and half the world’s population is wiped out.
Luckily, there was a faction within Lerman Matsunaga that had seen literally any movie about a rogue AI before, and they began working on busterium technology independent of BAC. They developed the Rolling Gunner system, a weapon system mounted on a fighter jet that could render busterium inert. I guess they only had time to produce one jet – but they also produced a helicarrier-type vehicle to house it – and trained one pilot. That’s you. Your mission is to save humanity by destroying BAC before it wipes out the human race.
So, yeah, it’s a pretty basic storyline, but it gets the job done as a frame. Like a lot of shmups the story is mostly there as an excuse for the action and frankly there really isn’t much story going on within the actual game. Most of the storytelling is done in the opening and closing cinematics, with the time in between devoted almost entirely to dodging bullets and blowing stuff up – and that’s not a bad thing, really. It gives the game’s big unique gameplay mechanic time to shine, so let’s move on to that.
It More Encircles Than Rolls
Rolling Gunner does a lot of things that other shmups do; you hold down a button to shoot and take down waves of enemies that fly at you, launching their own bullets of varying sizes and speeds. The thing it does differently, is the titular rolling gun mechanic. Your ship has guns built into it, but it also has an independent cannon that encircles it, rolling around your jet depending on what direction you move. The gun’s movement is inverted to the ship’s, meaning if you move forward then the gun shoots behind you. You can lock the rolling gun’s fire in one direction by holding down the regular fire button. You’ve also got a rapid fire button where the rolling gun will move around you while you fire. A big part of the game’s strategy is learning how and when to switch between a fixed line of fire and rolling the gun around.
The levels are designed to take advantage of your gun’s multidirectional attack as well as challenge your ability to control the direction of your fire. Enemies spawn from all angles, and oftentimes they come from multiple angles at once. There are four difficulty levels to choose from, and the number of enemies that spawn behind, above, or below you increases accordingly, forcing you to adapt your angle of fire with the rolling gun. It only takes one hit to kill you, but that gets ameliorated a bit by the game’s application of bombs. You can manually activate a bomb whenever you want, assuming you have one available, but the game will automatically use one when you’re about to be hit as well, essentially giving you an extra life as long as you have a bomb. I thought it was a cool way for the game to keep its bullet hell trappings while giving people that kind of suck at shmups a small safety net.
Even with that, however, I refuse to believe that there is someone out there that can beat this game without using a continue. Even novice mode, the easiest game mode, was tough enough that I had to use two continues to beat the game. Again, though, I do kind of suck. Probably the game’s biggest flaw is the lack of game modes. There are four different difficulty levels to explore, and you can choose from three different ships to play, but honestly the difference between the ships feel negligible. Trying different ships didn’t significantly change the way the game played, and even exploring all the different difficulty levels only gets you so far. There are leaderboards so you can challenge your own high score, but they aren’t online leaderboards, just local.
Classic Construction, Modern Execution
Rolling Gunner expertly blends traditional shoot ‘em up visual conventions with modern graphics. Cutscenes and end-of-level score recaps remind me some of the genre classics, but with sharp, tightly-designed graphics that mark this as an undeniably modern game. The in-game graphics are sharp as well, especially the backgrounds – not that you get to see much of them most of the time, what with the millions of bullets coming your way. But when you do get a peek, it’s worth taking a second to appreciate the detail packed into the screen. The soundtrack is a good mix of classic arcade-inspired tunes and modern electronic beats, creating a fast-paced, intense atmosphere that enhances the action in a satisfying way.
There are no touch or motion controls here, although using the Switch’s motion controls may have been in interesting mechanic for controlling the rolling gun. Or it may have just been frustrating and made me beg for the ability to turn them off; still, I think it’s something worth exploring at least a little bit. I didn’t notice any difference in quality between playing it docked or undocked, so I don’t really have a recommendation in that regard. It really boils down to whether or not you like shmups.
TL;DR: Well-made shmup that expertly implements its unique rolling gun mechanic.