Between amazing key art and the coolest name in video games, Wildcat Gun Machine sets a bar that the gameplay doesn’t quite live up to.
Title: Wildcat Gun Machine
Release Date: May 4, 2022
Suggested Audience Age: Rated Everyone 10+ by the ESRB
Time to Play: 12 Hours, according to How Long To Beat
Availability: Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam, GOG, Epic
Recommended for fans of: Twin-Stick Shooting, Flash-style art, Bullet Hell (like Metal Tales: Overkill), Shoot ‘Em Ups (like Cotton Fantasy)
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Wildcat Gun Machine might be the most perfect videogame title in existence. Just try saying it out loud: “Wildcat Gun Machine.” It's beautiful, maybe even more beautiful than “Cellar Door.” Reading the phrase is sure to leave most folks transfixed, lost in a haze of possibility.
Then, when you get past the title and look at the game's key art, you'll be overwhelmed again. A badass, Tank Girl-esque hero stands in front of a cyberpunk demon with a wall of fire between them. What on earth could this game be? Surely it is divine.
Or, you know, it's a pretty okay linear twin-stick shooter with a weirdly Newgrounds-ish art style.
The Story… What Story?
I usually like to give an overview of the story of a game as a way to introduce it to readers. I can’t really do that with Wildcat Gun Machine, though. If there is a story, the game is even less interested in telling you about it Han a From Soft game.
You play as the iconic, kick-ass woman in the key art, except she looks totally different in-game. Instead of rocking comic-book stylings, the characters, weapons, and bullets in Wildcat Gun Machine look more like chibi/manga characters rendered in old-school flash animation.
It doesn’t look bad by any means, and that style works really well to make sure the game is very visually readable. Unlock Metal Tales Overkill, you’ll never struggle to see where you or your enemies are. Still, compared to the promotional art, the in-game aesthetics feel weirdly discordant.
Not a Rogue-like
At its core, Wildcat Gun Machine is a twin-stick bullet-hell dungeon-crawler. You explore a labyrinthian dungeon, battle against waves of enemies in distinct combat arenas, and then gather up new weapons and cash to unlock upgrades.
Oh, and it's not a rogue-like.
This genre has become a breeding ground for procedurally generated adventures, but Wildcat Gun Machine is a totally linear adventure. Each level has you progress by battling mini-bosses and collecting keys. Once you’ve finished everything in the area, you unlock a major boss battle. Finishing that fight unlocks a new super ability and takes you to the next dungeon.
The Struggle of Linearity
When I first realized that Wildcat Gun Machine wasn’t a rogue-like, I was actually pretty excited about it. Dying meant restarting the room I was on, and running out of extra lives takes you back to the starting point for that floor and respawns enemies. Mostly that meant you always feel like you are making real progress.
Unfortunately, in most cases, there aren't options for branching paths in Wildcat Gun Machine. In a rogue-like game, getting into a particularly different room isn’t too frustrating, because you know the next time around you’ll have a totally different setup. In this game running into a tough room can get frustrating fast, because you just have to run into it over and over again until you beat it.
As I mentioned before, there are a variety of weapons and upgrades available in this game, but they don’t really change the gameplay as much as I’d like. You can only carry one main gun and one side arm at a time, so you can’t be constantly trying new things in a fight. On upgrades, there are a few abilities like dodge rolling and grenades that feel absolutely essential. Once you’ve got all of those unlocked, your money gets used for new pistols and more extra lives. It’s nice to have things to spend money on, but since extra lives still restart the room you are on, they don’t really do much to help if you run into a tight spot.
Wildcat Gun Machine is a fun game, and it's refreshing to see a fully handcrafted entry into the twin-stick, rogue-like, bullet-hell genre. This is very much a game that you can learn and get very, very good at. Unfortunately, unlike most rogue-like games it is not going to meet you halfway by offering you long-term unlocks that make your character stronger. There’s no way to conquer this game outside of getting good.