If arcades were still a thing in this day and age, vertical scrolling shoot ’em up AngerForce: Reloaded would command a spot front and center; crowds brimming with anticipation at the chance to play it. Fitting the definition of a perfect arcade game, this title is addictive, short and has replay value in spades.
Bullet hell games were the perfect black hole for your wallet, providing a difficulty that would make them more a life goal to complete through countless visits to the arcade rather than an overnight playthrough at home. AngerForce is more of a modern love letter to the genre, offering accessibility through its options and modes that might make ‘bullet heaven’ a more appropriate moniker. With the loss of the arcades and the easing difficulty of games in general, shoot ’em up’s have faded in popularity, and ‘punishing but rewarding’ is now set aside to describe FromSoftware games, but ‘shmups’ have an opportunity to reclaim this title with the debut title of Beijing-based Indie developer Screambox Studio’s AngerForce leading the way.
Before we get into that though, we must first address the game’s wonderfully unnecessary and quite awful story. Sounding and looking like the voice-actors and subtitlers were found in line at the local supermarket, you find yourself oddly charmed and rooting for the game from the start, despite the story having no real purpose.
The campaign mode starts as it means to go on, easing you into the game with a tutorial followed by its easy mode. The tutorial doesn’t explain a great deal, but it doesn’t have to, as the game’s simple and intuitive controls are easy to pick up and act as your weapon for the game’s deceivingly strategic gameplay loop beyond simply dodging bullets. You are given triggers that slow and speed up your movement and weapon buttons, but most importantly – your special weapon charging button. The conservation of this energy is supremely important to stand a chance against the bosses, but underusing them prevents your strongest weapon – your bomb – from charging. Balancing their usage and knowing when is best to unleash all your weapons is key to your progress. Charging your weapons to full capacity while simultaneously dodging all the main boss’s attacks as the soundtrack’s guitars scream in your ears, is an exhilarating feeling.
This is often short-lived, however, as you will die – a lot, but rather than frustrate it rewards you for your forward-thinking. The game gives you points with each cleared stage and three ways to spend them – a short-term opportunity to improve your run for the following stage with health and supplies, a potentially obscene price for another continue, or to pay to unlock upgrades for future runs.
With little to no description provided on how this system works, you initially think it’s working against you, but you soon discover a tremendously addictive system that will keep you coming back for more. What makes it so brilliant is that you are often defaulting on your current run to improve later on, forcing yourself to fail despite craving an extra go at the boss character, but you also know that a quicker charging weapon or a more powerful bullet upgrade will take you further. With the ability to worsen your own conditions/ bet on yourself for long-term gain, it gives you wonderful a degree of control, the game no longer feeling as difficult and the responsibility of failure lying entirely with you. This system is so successful at straddling the line between accessible and punishing that it might just be your gateway game to the beautiful world of vertical scrolling shmups – it certainly has been for me.
Despite singing its praises for being accessible, AngerForce can still be punishing, with only one ‘easy’ character that has a wide spread of bullets, with the others’ far narrower, representing a much greater challenge. The special moves vary brilliantly across characters, with different ranges and strengths, necessitating a complete change in tactics, adding yet further reason to keep coming back for more. The ultimate challenge lies with the arcade mode that has default stats for all the characters, removing the control and progression of the campaign mode. It’s barely worth catching your glance until you’ve played through the said campaign mode, which, minus some poorly labeled features and the occasional typos, is perfect
The game’s soundtrack increases in intensity with each stage, building tension throughout. Starting off with Sonic the Hedgehog-esque screaming guitars, they move onto heavier guitars and thrashing violins and horns akin to an epic RPG. The audio’s success isn’t limited to the soundtrack, however, with weapon sound effects highly satisfying as they fire and reload. The visuals are clean and colorful while the animation is understated. Unfortunately, it’s also undersold by the main bosses who despite transforming into 3 different forms, start overly large and look too similar.
Screambox Studio has done a superb job creating an accessible arcade shooter that appeals to genre fans both new and old, with adrenaline-pumping ‘bullet heaven’ gameplay and a replay value that makes it hard to put down. While there are some minor issues with the presentation and the main bosses they don’t detract from the relentless fun that can be had and with the knowledge that it can also be played in a local co-op mode, you can only hope that the developer has the chance to make a sequel and include some online features.