Housemarque have become indie darlings in the PlayStation space, thanks to a streak of well received exclusives and re-releases. What they’ve done is apply their excellent twin stick shooting chops to different genres, from the isometric action games Dead Nation and Alienation, to 2.5D sci-fi Super Stardust and Resogun. They take what they’re good at, and find new ways to deploy it.
Such is the case with Matterfall, a 2.5D, sci-fi, side scrolling, action game – with their signature twin stick shooting mechanics and chaos. Matterfall takes place in a world where an alien material is traded as currency, despite humans failing to fully understand it. This has resulted in a disaster requiring a mass evacuation of the planet – but not everyone escaped. This is where your story begins. You take the reins of Avalon, who is tasked with shooting enemies, and saving humans trapped in crystals.
That’s the extent of the story. In a short cutscene, it builds the setting and tone, then wastes no more time trying to shoehorn in a potentially average plot. This means Matterfall can stay true to its core, which is gameplay.
The game doesn’t waste any time, with the tutorial being hammered out in minutes. This has its pros and cons. A major con is that you aren’t eased into the game, making the early hours less enjoyable. A major pro is replaying early levels isn’t as painful. With a game as short as Matterfall, the faster you’re playing at full pace the better. Not to mention how satisfying it is to find your rhythm after fumbling with the controls.
The awkwardness of the controls doesn’t come from the shooting or movement, but in the jumping. Shoulder buttons are used to jump and double jump, while another does a dash which stuns enemies, and phases through certain types of floors or walls. Getting the hang of mixing these two to get triple jumps or propel yourself forwards takes some mastery. That is, if you don’t accidentally fire off your secondary weapon or use your matter gun at the wrong times.
Speaking of which, the matter gun allows you to materialise platforms in set locations which last a set time, activate objects in the level such as lifts, or free hostages from crystals. It’s inclusion feels unnecessary, as these could have been achieved through automated lifts and platforms that appear then disappear on their own, removing the busy work.
The soundtrack and sound effects are solid and worthy of note, though not outstanding. They do a good job of slipping into the background, complementing the nature and style of the game.
The real winners though, are the levels, both in the way they look and how they play. Matterfall consists of 12 levels – taking anywhere from 15-30 minutes each depending on difficulty and skill – separated into three stylistically different zones. The game looks gorgeous, and it does a great balance of sci-fi mixed with other elements. This is especially notable in the hydroponics levels, with a wonderful mix of technology and nature.
Each of the three zones contain three platforming levels and one boss level. The levels flow well and are fun to power through, though your pace is often slowed by waves of enemies. The only exception to the great level design is at multiple times you enter a portal to be transported to the start of another section, which doesn’t act as a checkpoint, or add anything. Separating the levels into shorter ones probably would have been better in this instance.
The other issue Matterfall struggles with is repetition. Finding hidden objects and tackling levels on higher difficulties give the game a lot of replay value, but the enemies don’t vary much, as you’ll face hordes of the same few en masse. Occasionally you’ll be thrown a new one, but don’t expect to be finding the weaknesses to a new batch of enemies every level.
Matterfall, as with many other Housemarque games, is a flawed but fun experience. Its relatively small number of levels helps keep it light on fluff, appealing to people who want to find every collectible and maximise their score on the leaderboards. Its short length also means it isn’t an imposing task for someone looking for a change of pace.
Blair received a digital copy of Matterfall from PlayStation NZ for review.