Release Date: 8/15/17
ESRB/PEGI: E 10+/PEGI 12
MSRP: $19.99 USD/$24.99 CA
Written by Rick Warren / Gfn2112
Matterfall takes a bit of time to get used to. Its side scrolling gameplay is something that Housemarque hasn't really dabbled in since 2011's Outland, and it’s a bit slower than you'd expect from a Housemarque game. Once you get through a few levels and get the hang of the mechanics, though, it begins to feel as refined as any game from the Finnish studio. I had a great time running through the three-hour campaign and was excited to sink more time into other parts of the game... but I soon found that there were none. All Matterfall offers is one strong but very short mode. This brought about a huge problem that I've never had with this studio's games: a lack of content and low replayability.
The Twin-stick Tradition.
The lack of content certainly hurts (and I'll break that down in more detail soon), but it doesn't erase the enjoyable experience that does exist within Matterfall. Aside from short cutscenes at the start and the end of the campaign, you won't be having any story thrown at you. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, as not every game needs a deep storyline. Pure gameplay experiences are what you'd expect from this team, and that's exactly what you'll be getting here as Housemarque continues to prove that they're the kings of the twin-stick shooter. It feels as great to shoot down the colorful enemies as you'd hope, and many of the trademark mechanics return from the studio's previous games. You'll recognize the announcers voice as she mentions your combo or tells you when your Overdrive is ready. You'll notice a few classic weapons. A fun soundtrack plays in the background that will keep you engaged and remind you of the soundtracks from other Housemarque games. The dashing mechanic shows up here and its used perfectly, stunning the enemies you dash into and destroying the bullets in your path. Rescuing humans (called civilians in this game) is another feature that comes back, and it’s essential to Matterfall's augmentation system.
These augmentations are unlocked by saving civilians. They come in the form of secondary weapons and ability upgrades, and you can equip three at one time. This leads to some interesting choices. You can equip 3 guns, or buff up your abilities with 3 upgrades. A combination of weapons and ability upgrades is an equally viable option, and it’s the route I personally went during my playthrough. For most of the game I used one secondary weapon and switched my other two abilities based on what I needed for a fight. Whether I needed more health or a stronger dash, being able to change augmentations on the fly made for a really engaging system that kept me in control of the game. This was especially useful for the final boss battle, as it provided a more even playing field for an extremely tough fight.
Accessible for all players.
For those worried about the game's difficulty due to the ridiculously challenging Nex Machina, you'll be happy to hear that difficulty is not an issue with Matterfall. Aside from the last boss, I didn't struggle getting through the campaign on normal difficulty. The game offers a forgiving checkpoint system that eliminates a huge amount of stress and rage that came from the constant deaths in Nex Machina. Clusters of enemies came in at a manageable rate, and the recharge time on secondary weaponry and Overdrive was appropriate. Regular enemies are much more generous with their health drops as well. It was extremely well-balanced throughout, and the final boss being a legitimate challenge felt right. Further, there are two higher difficulties for those looking for something harder (and an easy difficulty for struggling players). This wide range of difficulty options was welcome, and I suggest trying the three offered to you at the start to determine which is best for you.
An unexpected flaw.
At the start of this review, I mentioned that Matterfall was lacking in game modes and replayability. I spent about 4 hours total with the game (3 hours for the campaign run and 1 hour of high score chasing on the leaderboard), and I felt like I had seen everything it had to offer. For $20, 4 hours of content certainly isn't a terrible amount. I also don't want to come off as being negative towards short games, because What Remains of Edith Finch and Little Nightmares are some of my favorite games this year. No, the lack of content issue comes more from the amount of game modes Housemarque games usually contain and the type of game that Matterfall is setting out to be.
It’s out of the ordinary to stop being engaged in one of this developer's titles after such a short amount of time. Nex Machina, Alienation and nearly all their other games offer multiple modes to keep you coming back long after you play through their short arcade/campaign offerings. The fact that Matterfall doesn't have any at all makes it feel like an unfinished game. Arena mode from Nex Machina or a simple survival mode from Resogun would have been great to play, and I'm disappointed neither were included.
Worse than the lack of game modes is that the campaign itself doesn't encourage you to come back, even though it clearly wants you to. Like Resogun and Super Stardust, it’s clear that I was supposed to try to take that top spot on the leaderboards...but the levels in Matterfall just aren't designed for the same replayability that those games' levels were. They're a joy to play through once, but not repeatedly. After trying to force myself to stick with it for an hour, I decided it was time to move on. I wasn't truly having fun playing anymore. This was the biggest flaw of Matterfall; when a game is designed around replayability, but only contains one short mode that doesn't feel nearly as replayable as it should, the game is failing at exactly what its setting out to do. Despite doing a lot right... at the end of the day Matterfall is that game.
FINAL SCORE: 7