I’ll be honest, I have a real soft-spot for games that score me based on my skill. Whether it be something like Devil May Cry or even Papers Please, having a physical counter that shows how good I am, rather than just progress through the levels, makes me feel amazing. So when I got Matterfall, a 2d side-scrolling twin-stick shooter with a score multiplier, I just had to try it out. While the game suffers from some issues, Matterfall manages to impress in various ways.
As I said before, Matterfall is a side-scrolling shooter developed by Housemarque. The player takes control of Avalon Darrow, a bounty hunter tasked with destroying alien material that has taken over the planet. Avalon has a vast number of tools at her disposal. These include, but are not limited to, her primary weapon which is controlled by the right stick, a dodge that momentarily stuns enemies and destroys bullets, a laser which can create terrain in the environment, and a number of upgrades to her suit which make her more combat effective. Players will need to utilise all of these skills in combat in order to defeat waves of enemies. There are 3 levels with 4 sub stages, and a final boss at the last sub stage. Through platforming skill and precise marksmanship, players come face to face with wave after wave of enemies as they explore the levels trying to increase their score.
Right at the start of the game there’s a really glaring problem. The story, particularly the writing, is atrocious. It’s borderline cringe-worthy. The lack of character, along with the quality of the writing and general premise are really off-putting. There’s no depth to it. Avalon Darrow explains in a cut scene at the beginning of the game that this alien material has destroyed the world, and she’s a bounty hunter who gets paid to destroy it. After that there’s nothing, and the tutorial starts. It’s a really awful way to start the game and it gives a very bad first impression, much to the game’s detriment. The story goes nowhere as well, as there are no cut scenes or dialogue until the end of the game, which goes along the line of “We did it but this is only the beginning.” I can understand that maybe the developers wanted to focus on the gameplay, but there honestly feels like there was zero effort put into the story. There’s a real laziness behind it, which thankfully isn’t prominent in the rest of the game.
The gameplay is where Matterfall really shines. I’ll list the vast majority of the powers available to the player, but it doesn’t really convey exactly how complex combat really is. Players navigate the level where enemies have been strategically placed, usually with ranged attacks or predictable lasers. The main combo is to dash near them, thereby stunning them and making them easier to shoot, granting the player more points. Melee enemies spawn in as an ambush, usually in very confined areas, and players are forced to think quickly and use their environment to their advantage. It’s made all the better by the score system, as it’s an incentive to not only survive, but to thrive using the appropriate skills available. Enemies will sometimes drop health orbs or these strange blue ones. Health orbs can be picked up, but the blue ones are the real fun. If you manage to shoot them with your laser for about three seconds, all of the enemies in the immediate vicinity get stunned and your multiplier is increased. It’s a lot of fun dashing around the well made levels, firing your weapons at the enemies while avoiding and deflecting their gunfire. Because of this, the gameplay can seem confusing and obtuse at the beginning of the game. The early levels are rather easy, but the vast majority of the time there isn’t much need for the various abilities. By the time you really start to enjoy all that the game has to offer, you’re up to the last few levels, which is a little disappointing. Luckily it manages to end with a fantastic climax and brutal boss battle, which makes up for that hurdle at the beginning of the game. Overall, Matterfall is an incredibly fast-paced and hectic experience, that is both rewarding, challenging, and a little bit messy.
Overall the game’s design is very vibrant. Levels are spaced out to gives players just a little bit of breathing room and exploration, so it doesn’t feel too railroaded. The length of levels as well as the limited amount of them ensure that the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. Everything looks just right, as the colour scheme of the entire game along with the models and backgrounds all match the vibrant nature of the game, yet aren’t distracting from the action. The music is also really fitting, using a number of synths inspired by 80s and the resurgence of synth wave. While the music is good, it’s unfortunately very forgettable which is something synth wave usually has no problem with. Thankfully, none of the design choices in the game take away from the game, but they don’t enhance it by too much either, it’s just suitable.
Matterfall is a rare occurrence of a game that has some glaring problems but still manages to be incredibly entertaining. Though its story is bland and there are minor gameplay hurdles at the beginning, the deep combat system and lovely design makes it a fantastic addition to the Playstation 4 library.