What I love about early arcade games is the lack of a story. Unlike the modern era where everything has to have a point, retro games relied upon their; addictive gameplay, pixelated graphics and simplicity to keep you playing. Squad Killer does exactly that. There is no explanation as to why you exist, what you are doing, and how long it’ll take to complete it. Yet, you keep playing regardless, determined to defeat that final boss and put the game to bed.
Developed by WAZUNGDEV and Eastasiasoft Limited, and published by the latter, this is one simple title that will get under your skin. An old-school 2D platform shooter that uses Rogue-like qualities to infuriate. Starting each turn with limited health, you must plan your approach to maximise your chances of survival. Death is all but certain, and even the most skilled gamers will have a challenging time.
Squad Killer has brutally difficult gameplay.
This isn’t Dark Souls or Okunoka Madness, but boy is it tough. Everything in the world wants to kill you! Projectiles home in on your position, and no amount of jumping or dodging will help you escape the inevitable. Killing enemies will reward you with loot. Coins, grenades and health packs can be collected to help you progress. But don’t rely on these as the developer lacks generosity, and you’ll mainly be given coins. Don’t be too disheartened though, as the money buys you essential power-ups.
A retro platform game would be nothing if it didn’t have the obligatory power-up system. However, Squad Killer has used a slight twist on this loved mechanic. The power-ups do not get allocated during each stage. Instead, you must wait until the end of a designated level to purchase one from a random selection of 3. Never has this element been so key to your chances of success. Rapid-fire, increased health, more grenades, additional lives and more. Without them you will not get very far, so make sure you collect that loot, and spend, spend, spend.
17 levels and 6 bosses.
With only 17 levels and 6 bosses standing between you and victory, you may think that success will be easily achieved. Think again! There is nothing simple about this, and you are more likely to either cry or rage quit than you are to complete it. To add to the madness you are treated to 2 further modes; Boss Rush and Stacked Deck. Both require you to have unlocked prerequisites, and when you do, you’ll face the same tough mechanics. Though, Stacked Deck is a little more forgiving as you are blessed with 7 random power-ups to kick start your adventure.
I’m sure you are picking up on the “this is a tough game” vibe. So don’t let it shock you that the developers added another layer of difficulty to keep you on your toes. Each of the 17 levels will be chosen at random, making each playthrough unique. This affects your ability to plan, and you must wait to see which stage you have before you decide how you wish to tackle it. Add in the random roster of monster you’ll face and the aim of clearing the level to unlock the exit door gets increasingly harder.
It looks and sounds like an old-school arcade game.
With its fixed-screen, 2D perspective, pixelated and simple graphics, and crude level design, it ticks all the retro boxes. Eastasiasoft Limited updated it slightly with a modern look in the pixelated world. This ensures that it contains slightly more details than normal. I liked this approach as it made the landscape and sprites more interesting to look at and it also reduced the harsh lines, making it more pleasant on the eyes. I also appreciated the ability to change the colour palette. It didn’t alter the gameplay, but I chose Gameboy green as it felt the most suitable for the retro theme.
8 bit synthesised music is what I associate with arcade games of the 80s era. Luckily, this loud, high tempo audio is utilised throughout every level. This reiterates the old-school nature of this title and captures’ that 80s feel. Yet, it unfortunately lacks variety and this could make it annoying. What is used works perfectly with the gameplay as it creates a panicky and rushed atmosphere.
Easy to pick up and play, but difficult to put down.
I always find it a little disconcerting when you are chucked in at the deep end with no tutorial. The best you get is a breakdown of the controls, and that is it. Luckily, you need little else as it’s pretty straightforward to play. Leap, slide, climb and shooting are your main concerns, so you’ll have this mastered in no time. Sadly, the controls are clunky with your character shooting where he deems correct, and not where you aim. This makes a tough game much harder, and I hope this gets ironed out in any future updates.
You’ll need to take some seriously deep breaths to remain calm while trying this. The harsh realities of failure are ever-present, yet you’ll be desperate to keep playing. Its replay value stems from the desire to beat it, and not from a complex story, or ever-changing mechanics. The rogue-like qualities will infuriate some players, but I believe this is one of its better qualities, and it makes the game what it is. If you like your achievements, this is going to be for you. The 100% status is easy to achieve, leaving you to focus on beating all 6 bosses.
Is Squad Killer worth the investment?
There are so many retro indie games available that it’s tough to wade through the rubbish to find one worth investing in. Squad Killer is a hard but casual old-school experience that will keep you entertained for hours. Its concept is simple, it’s easy to pick up, but it’s likely to make you cry. For these reasons, I recommend you buy it here! Can you survive each of the 17 levels and the 6 bosses? Few will, but you may as well die trying!