Developed By: Digerati
Published By: Digerati
Category: Roguelike, First Person Shooter, Action, Arcade
Release Date: 6.28.18
Paranautical Activity for the Nintendo Switch is a game sidled with a lot of real-world baggage that can easily distract from the game’s core appeal. I won’t go into the whole thing, check out the Wikipedia page if you need a summary, but it got ugly. On its own, the game’s premise is an intriguing one; binding roguelike elements to an ultra-difficult shooter should attract a certain class of gamer that values challenge over everything else. And, to be fair, if that’s the only thing you value in a game, Paranautical Activity should be something you’ll enjoy. If you want anything else in a game, though, you’re not going to find a whole lot here.
Paranautical Activity has a pretty standard first-person shooter format, you move around, pulling the trigger to use your equipped weapon. You can choose one of four character builds at the beginning of each game, each balanced for a different style of play. One is balanced for health and defense, one for speed, one for damage, and one is balanced between the other three. Each build has a different weapon loadout with their own strengths and deficiencies. Each level is randomly generated, with some rooms having enemies to defeat, some containing traps, some are shops or treasure rooms where you can buy new equipment, and some are boss fight rooms. The idea is to defeat the level boss and take the elevator down to the next level. Solid ideas, but there are some problems.
As I said in the opening, this game prioritizes difficulty over everything else, and that will be somewhat to its detriment among more casual gamers. I’m not really a first-person shooter fanatic, so trying to get into this game was incredibly hard for me. It was very off-putting that there was no way to ease into the game’s controls; you get thrown into the deep end and have to swim all on your own. Again, that may appeal to a more hardcore gamer, and more power to them if that’s what they’re after. But even Dark Souls had a small tutorial level.
Items and weapons in the game are often frustrating as well; one character build has a hook melee weapon that can be used infinitely. One character has a katana, which has an ammo limit. The sword doesn’t break when its uses are used up, you just can’t swing it anymore. You’re still be holding the sword, even, but you can’t use it. Why? That’s one example, but there are several weapons with infinite ammo, while some have limited ammo. There’s no rhyme or reason to which weapons have limits and which don’t, you just need to know beforehand which is which. Item add weight which slow you down, and again there’s no way in-game to know what an item does before you pick it up. Speed and dodging are crucial, so slowing yourself down with an item that doesn’t help you is an unwelcome frustration.
As I said, dodging and movement are central to survival in Paranautical Activity. That is mostly due to even the hardiest character builds having a small pool of HP. Not making things better is the fact that there is no indication that you’ve been hit. No rumble, no character grunting, no screen blinking; nada. I can’t count how many times I lost all of my HP in a boss fight without even knowing I’d been hit once. The only way to tell is to look at the health counter in the lower corner. That, however, is a terrible idea if you’re in a fast-paced boss fight, or even if you’re just in a room with lots of mob enemies. Without an indication of having been damaged, it was almost impossible to gauge what incoming shots would count as hits and which wouldn’t. Which, in turn, made coming up with a dodge/attack pattern nearly impossible.
And that’s really where the problem in the game lies; there’s plenty of ambition and good ideas, but the execution is just sloppy. It’s all well and good to want to emulate ridiculously hard games like Binding of Isaac and Dark Souls, but those games are meticulously balanced. Certainly, they’re balanced against the player, but they are balanced. The rewards of playing those games are also deeper than just playing the game more; Dark Souls has a rich lore and Binding of Isaac has a macabre storyline to engross players. Paranautical Activity has no such reward system; just arbitrary ways to tell its players “Eff you.” It just feels like a game that the developers gave up developing halfway through.
Paranautical Activity makes use of voxel-based graphics (think Minecraft) for its visuals, and it’s generally a very attractive game. The basic enemies are generic and not very interesting-looking, and the room design is similarly pretty boring, but the game moves fast enough that the only thing you really have to focus on for extended lengths of time are boss fights. And the bosses are crazy good-looking; eyeballs with bat wings, sugar skulls spewing out spiders, and flying turtles with cannons on their backs are just the tip of the iceberg for the wild stuff you’re going to have to shoot or stab. It’s clear that the bosses got the most focus during development, and I really do think it paid off visually, I just wish there was a better game built for them.
The music is a loud, fast collection of dubstep tracks which helps to build the atmosphere that the developers were clearly pining to create. The gameplay moves fast enough on its own, but the soundtrack does add a frantic element to the game’s ambience. The graphics and music provide all of the game’s personality, but they can’t make up for all the things that the game lacks in other areas of its experience.
Paranautical Activity has no touch or motion controls, and as such it can be played equally well whether your Switch is docked or undocked. Personally, I preferred playing it undocked as it was easier to keep track of the health meter on a smaller screen. I didn’t have to take my eyes of the action as much; an indication that I’d been hit would still have been more welcome, but you take what you can get.
TL;DR: Solid ideas, but the gameplay is too unbalanced and the ideas are too underdeveloped to be fun.