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Nuclear Throne


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Nuclear Throne is the latest game from Vlambeer, the geniuses/indie darlings behind Ridiculous Fishing, Super Crate Box, and Luftrausers, and it's just come out as an eary access alpha, available from Steam for £10 or from the developers directly for $12.99 (Steam key included). It's due for release on PS4 and Vita once it's done, and the developers will see if they can port to mac (notoriously difficult for games built in game-maker) at a later date.

It's a twin-stick shooter roguelikelikelike (think Binding of Isaac with different sized rooms and no keys), but with bullet hell elements, and some Hotline Miami style twitchiness. The idea is simple, kill enemies, pick up bullets, weapons and health to stay alive, and collect the little rods of plutonium they drop in order to level up your character and buy perks between levels. There are a couple of small twists to keep things fresh too, the most notable being you're only allowed to carry two weapons at once, making switching weapons often enough to ensure you don't run out of ammo paramount to success. There are also several different characters to pick from, each with their own unique ability, ranging from an incredibly useful shield, to lowered max HP for increased XP gains and the ability to use "explosive retaliation" (that is, BLOW UP ALL ENEMY CORPSES ON SCREEN). Anyway, the ultimate aim is simple; finish enough levels, and sit the Nuclear Throne*. Easier said than done though, as like any good roguelike, it's harder than trying to explain how to play Crusader Kings II to an infant. A deaf, blind and dumb infant.

The pixel art/animation and music are as good as you'd expect from Vlambeer, and likewise the core gameplay doesn't disappoint either. The audio and visual feedback makes all the weapons in the game, (and there are many, many weapons in the game) incredibly satisfying to use, there's a great variety of enemies and bosses to test your mettle against, and well, despite being in alpha and a liiitle bit rough, it already feels like a fairly complete package. Saying that, there's fucktonne of content still in development and being added on a weekly basis: more levels, types of enemies, three characters, and all sorts of secrets and assorted craziness are planned before the game is "out" proper.

And if you're not quite convinced yet, check out this giant bomb quick look and marvel at its mutated glory.

You can follow along with development on these streams as well!

Main development livestream + gameplay - http://www.twitch.tv/vlambeer (Tuesdays & Thursdays)

In-game art (animation, character design, etc) - http://www.twitch.tv/pietpiet

Music - http://www.twitch.tv/kozilekmusic

Sound design - http://www.twitch.tv/kissa3m0

Promotional artwork - http://www.twitch.tv/justinchans

*Not yet implemented in the game.

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From the FAQ on their website:

Will the game be available on Mac, Linux, Xbox One, Wii U, Wii, 3DS?

All we know for sure is that the game will be available on PC and later for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. We should have no real trouble porting to Mac, but as always we're going to be cautious and not announce that fully in case it turns out there are problems with that. Since GameMaker 8.1 doesn't compile builds for most platforms, we won't know for sure until we try. We'll try when we're done with the PC builds.

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I've put about 7 hours into it, it's really good but I'm going to hold off playing it for a while; I'm not much for the difficulty curve and things like this need a lot of secrets and unlockables which aren't there at the moment.

It's still in development and it's got a lot of potential - but the way they've opened it up to the public worries me that they might not put the extra time in to finish it. Really needs 3 times the levels and to start with a gentler difficulty curve.

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The Steam page says "partial controller support."

How partial is it? Can you play with a controller without doing some funky weird set-ups ?

I just tried to play it with a controller, and err, nope, doesn't seem like there's any native controller support going on at the moment other than being able to press A on the title screen. Shame really, as I'm sure it'll work really well once the game is complete. As it is though, Mouse and keys work really well, so I'd still recommend giving it a go if you're not too averse.

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I've put about 7 hours into it, it's really good but I'm going to hold off playing it for a while; I'm not much for the difficulty curve and things like this need a lot of secrets and unlockables which aren't there at the moment.

It's still in development and it's got a lot of potential - but the way they've opened it up to the public worries me that they might not put the extra time in to finish it. Really needs 3 times the levels and to start with a gentler difficulty curve.

It seems like difficulty in roguelikes is quite a tricky undertaking. I also started playing Eldritch yesterday, which is a pretty cool FPS roguelike set in a Lovecraftian universe with a blocky Minecraft-like aesthetic, made by two guys who worked on Bioshock 2. The problem with Eldritch is that the first world is too easy, and then the second world is incredibly difficult. I guess the idea is that since your general progress (unlocked levels) are permanent, once experienced enough, you'll be able to quickly run through the first world in order to prepare for the second (you don't want to tackle it without any weapons or equipment, I'm sure). However, the fact that you're almost obligated to go through the easy level each time makes the game slightly more of a chore, even if you can speed through it. On the other hand, if the first world was so difficult that you were faced with an uncertain fate before you could even attempt the second world, well that would possibly put people off from persevering at all.

In comparison I think Nuclear Throne does a great job of balancing its difficulty with speed of play. It's certainly cut-throat, but I actually really like that, the game is so fast paced that being sent back to the start doesn't seem like that much of a chore. At the moment I'm still in the phase where I enjoy the forced variety that restarting affords me, since I haven't settled into any habits yet. Plus, hearing that starting horn every level never ceases to send fiercely strong signals to the pleasure centre of my brain.

BWHAAAAM!

Agreed though, more secrets and random stuff would be rad. I'm sure they'll be implemented before long.

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The Steam page says "partial controller support."

How partial is it? Can you play with a controller without doing some funky weird set-ups ?

Good news, controller support should be added after this weekend's build goes live.

There's a stream of the developer playing on pad, and it seems there's some nice autoaim to help compensate for the comparative lack of twitchy-accuracy.

They're live streaming development of the game on tuesdays and thursdays, and as you might expect, it's equal parts fascinating and tedious. At least when watching the dev play his own game, he's fucking good at it. There are some amazing moments tucked away in the streams!

http://www.twitch.tv/vlambeer

EDIT: In fact, there are a whole bunch of streams going on!

Main development livestream + gameplay - http://www.twitch.tv/vlambeer

In-game art (animation, character design, etc) - http://www.twitch.tv/pietpiet

Music - http://www.twitch.tv/kozilekmusic

Sound design - http://www.twitch.tv/kissa3m0

Promotional artwork - http://www.twitch.tv/justinchans

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For anyone interested, they're streaming development right now on http://www.twitch.tv/vlambeer

Another update to the game went live last night, adding in a rudimentary menu and controller support (and a few bugs that should be squashed pretty soon). Be careful with controller support though, once turned on, it's hard to turn back off (to do so, exit the game, unplug your controller and restart.).

Not the most exciting update, but still nice. More in-game content to come in the next patch.

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  • 2 years later...

Yeah, it's really good. The Vita port isn't amazing - letterboxed, and I've encountered one or two pretty severe frame-rate drops - which is a shame, as it fits the format really well. Might try it on PS4 tomorrow. I reviewed the Early Access version for PC Gamer at the beginning of the year and got hooked for a short while, but I think it's best played in bursts. I binged and got a bit bored of it in the end, but it's a great game to go back to.

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Yeah this game is fucking quality. Was such a pleasant and unexpected surprise to see it finally got released on console last night.

Tried getting into on PC but I fucking hate mouse controls and sitting at my desk.

So it's awesome to play using tight Vita controls in bed or on the train. Yeah it's letterboxed but it's so mental and satisfying to play.

BUY THIS GAME

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Just found out that not all enemies damage you if you touch them :D That knowledge made this glorious carnage possible:

During previous runs I'd get absolutely slaughtered in situations like that, as I'd try to avoid touching all enemies. Suddenly, the Gamma Guts mutation became one of the best.

Yeah, I really need to pace myself, LOL. Just bought Bastion on the Vita as an incentive not to burn myself out on this.

As for the frame-drops: aren't they intentional, as a throwback to, say, Treasure games? It seems to only happen when you kill a boss or cause a giant explosion.

Oh, I'm not talking about those moments - I've had a couple of instances when nothing (or very little) has been happening and it's been very noticeable, not just a slight thing. We're only talking an hour or two of play, mind, and it's hopefully just a blip.

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It's amazing how much you improve man, I thought I'd never see past each area when they were added to the game, but sure enough, after a little time I was looping the game every month. Still, the PC version has been broken for me for about 4-6 months now since they updated the front end UI, so I haven't seen half of the cool loop bosses. :(

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I was playing as Robot and had some ridiculous weapons, like a nuke launcher. All the right mutations too. I was beyond pissed off.

:(

What do you mean when you say 'right' mutations? Should I be only picking the mutation for the character I start with, or something? Is there some benefit I'm not aware of? Not read anything about the game, just dove straight in.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I love how satisfying everything feels in this game. Each gun, including the starting pistol feels meaty. The sound design and music is superb. Man, it's tough, though. I can't get past 5-3. I can't even begin to work out how to tackle that boss! The game has such a strong appeal to try again it doesn't really matter that you get flattened over and over. I like trying out mutations that I wouldn't necessarily go for usually and discovering that Gamma Guts is superb or that attracting rads from further is incredibly useful in later levels.

P.s. Robot is the best.

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  • 4 weeks later...

God, I love this game so much that I thought I'd check into Discussion (properly) for the first time in years. This is the first game, for as long as I can remember that 'one more game' at 10pm means going to bed at 2am. The snack-sized playtime is nigh on perfect.

At first I thought NT was pretty overrated. I always found that Vlambeer's other games sounded interesting in concept but were really not that great (Ridiculous Fishing was was surprisingly shallow for a game about deep sea fishing). Rami Ismail is clearly a smart guy and great at garnering publicity for them. So, after my first few plays, I wondered if this was another case of Indie games being judged by a different standard because of a very likeable CEO. I figured I'd wasted $17 on a PS4 game that looks like a 8-bit game.

I was so, so wrong. I think it's easier if I just bullet point my love for Nuclear Throne:

  • The procedural level map generator is excellent. I love that an area can sometimes be twice as long the next time you play it. Sometimes it's spacious, other times it's narrow and it's always destructible.
  • The hidden levels have a really cool old-school feel about them, especially when you work out how to activate them. i.e. the sewer

    (blow up the manhole to access the hidden area)


  • The weapons are f*ckin dope. Every time I see a new one, I just have to try it and see what it does and apparently there are 120 of them (I'm not sure if they're procedural as well). Often it results in blowing up in my face or halving my energy (Blood Hammer, you bastard!). They feel great and you can totally tailor your approach to your character's strengths or your preferred play style.
  • The mutations and their randomness really keep you on your toes and encourage experimentation by forcing the player to pick one, even if they don't want to. The decision to reduce player choice is actually brilliant because often players will normally pick the same old powers, especially in a game that is so difficult with instant death. However, I've discovered so many different approaches to the game by having my choices limited, rather than unlimited. This might be the games finest decision decision, IMO.
  • It's very hard, but very rarely do you feel that the game's controls have failed you. Although in Australia in 37 deg heat yesterday, my hands were getting a bit slippery on the ol' PS4 Dual Shock.
  • The game has been playtested/early accessed very, very well. So many times I feel like something should be different (i.e. a temporary invincibility when shot would be nice) but after another few hours play, you can see why the designers made the choices they did.
  • Interesting and varied enemies. It's almost Halo like in how you approach your foes in the later levels. If you love to shoot from afar, then snipers and laser-based enemies can pick you off. If you love to get up close and use melee attacks, you have to watch out for explosive enemies. They're all animated really nicely and when you've strewn bullets and bodies everywhere and destroyed an entire level with explosives, you're reminded that the old 8-bit/16-bit games could never have so many elements on-screen.
  • The procedural generation really deserves another mention. I can die at the first or seventh area - you really do have to pay attention.
  • The bosses feel really different from each other but once you work them out, you can smash them quickly. I love running up to Big Bandit with the Pop Gun and just holding R2 in his face, then when he fires at me, I use Crystal's block ability which protects me and bounces them right back at him. Then I unload on him again until he's mush. Yeeeah, boyeee...

For me, my best character is Crystal, I use her about 95% of the time. With Long Arms, Power Wrists and the ability to block, you can approach the game a little more carefully and her extra health is very useful. I've tried using Chicken but every time I see a bullet I can't avoid, I hit L2 which instead of blocking, makes me throw my weapon. D'oh! Her block ability suits my play style very much as I can be more direct. I've not got to grips with her Throne Butt mutation as the block ability halves but you can teleport to where your cursor is. Great for getting out of tight areas but I've not quite managed that yet.


Negatives

  • The game is a bit unstable. I made it to level 7-2, which I think is the second last one and it crashed. That really sucked. I've still yet to reach the Nuclear Throne on my own.
  • The art is pretty cool, but I can't help feel it would be improved if it were higher res. Does it really need that indie pixel style? My main issue is that sometimes the gun weapon icons can be too similar to each other when you forget what you've picked up, only to fire it and blow yourself up. This is a case where low resolution actually affects usability.
  • The descriptions of the powers are brief to the point of confusion. If I hadn't looked up a wiki, I wouldn't know what some of them do. Took me ages to work out how Strong Spirit worked. I kept thinking it would refill health if I made it to the next area.
  • The game scales in difficulty as you progress which keeps it super-interesting, but in a way, punishes the player for doing well because it gets so much harder the more you level up. I've been level 5 on area three and those birds just fire at me like crazy, and ninjas just goose-step out of reach before slicing me up.

But these are pretty minor gripes really. This game has so much personality and flavour and really feels like an evolved version of a run and gun (which is why the graphics feel like a missed opportunity). Tactically it has so much depth that I can't see myself getting bored with it which is pretty impressive in an age of play-then-delete games.

9.5/10.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Gamma Guts doesn't protect you from all damage from enemies touching you. It depends on the enemy I think. It's really useful though - and it's very satisfying to take out Big Bandit in an instant with it


I've never reached the throne. I've been playing it since early access launched on PC and now on PS4. Still love it. Did get to the throne once and got trolled massively. I won't spoil it here - it did make me laugh though.

The PS4 version is gagging for a patch though. Really crashy. Leaderboards hardly ever work either, usually giving an error or crashing to the dashboard.

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I always make sure to grab a melee weapon rather than take an ammo mutation - Wrench is my favourite (coupled with Impact Fists it's practically a projectile weapon in its own right) but of course the screwdriver is worth persevering with for it's....versatility.

Still not good enough to move on to any other character than Crystal. I *need* her shield ability.

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I would argue the more powerful melee weapons get better towards the end, Energy Sword in particular is probably the best weapon in the game; it murders last level enemies and annoying IDPD shielders, and, as a melee weapon, bounces back enemy bullets. The last aspect in particular is invaluable in the final boss fight.

And the true final boss fight.

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  • 2 months later...

Hello.

 

I am addicted to this game. I have not yet reached the Nuclear Throne. This game makes me cry. But I love it.

 

I am lost without Crystal's blocking ability. Today the game threw all kinds of crazy weapons at me I'd never seen before. Then suddenly an energy hammer appeared, made me feel OP, so I went a bit melee crazy and died straight away :lol:

 

Plus the soundtrack is all kinds of amazing.

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I've never been able to get past the Ice World boss, I killed him once and then died before he unlocked. Everyone has a golden weapon unlocked from Y.V's Mansion though.

 

I find Robot is good, you get extra ammo from weapons you don't want but more importantly you get better weapons dropping earlier.

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