This is a game that gets right to the point, so I’ll get right to the review.
You’re Avalon Darrow. She’s a badass freelancer. Alien matter has messed up the largest city off Earth, and she’s gonna fix that. It’s not deep, but it’s not trying to be.
That’s Matterfall. And you’ll definitely know it, because intro cutscene (serving as the entire plot) plays every single time you boot it up and took me three sessions to figure out it could be skipped.
Housemarque’s latest isn’t hung up on its story, and so neither should we be. What it is is a fast paced, challenging action game combining elements of frenetic combat with relatively standard platforming. Or we could just call it Metroidvania bullethell, which sounds much cooler but remains completely accurate.
To be completely honest the comparison isn’t all that favourable. The platforming is pretty basic, although using your alternate fire ‘matter gun’ adds some novelty; firing a stream of alien matter can raise elevators, solidify platforms, or detonate bombs. There are a few half-hearted attempts at innovation, but really the matter of the matter is the only one that matters.
Well, that was a sentence.
Matterfall has some charming throwbacks to days gone by. The music is electronic but never tinny, like what a B-movie in the mid 90s would have used as the epitome of futuristic. The visuals are the same; they’re crisp graphics, but they maintain that almost kitschy aesthetic reminiscent of classics like Logan’s Run and Metropolis, and they never tax the system, no matter how many pesky enemies spawn in at once.
And rest assured, that would be a concern. Bullethell isn’t just a badass neologism, it’s fully accurate for Matterfall. You’ll be beset on all sides by an impressive variety of opponents, from the standard rockets that go straight for you, to Darrow-seeking mines and jumping spiders. There are easy ways to face each type, once you know what you’re doing, but the challenge lies in picking them out from the hordes filling the screen. It’s stressful, but intensely satisfying.
It’s not without it’s massive, glaring failures though. Well, one, and it’s a criticism I feel kinda bad for making. Forget cheesing enemies, surprise spawns, and punishing bosses; the only part of the game that made me actively want to stop playing was the control scheme. Twin stick shooters are always tricky, and I personally find it hard to overcome my decades of instinct with regard to what the sticks should be doing when you use them. Matterfall does it’s best, I’m sure, but I’ll be deep in the cold, cold ground before I accept that R1 is an acceptable button for jump. It’s completely necessary, since X would require growing an extra thumb. Unfortunately the science just isn’t there yet, so this workaround is nothing short of maddening, and most of my deaths were because I couldn’t get my head around it.
Eventually, however, I managed to rewire my brain, and while every other game I play may suffer now, my Matterfall is on point. For a brief, shining moment, I was ranked 14 in the world. And that’s where the replay value is here. It’s not a long game; realistically you could bang it out in a few hours if you wanted to; it took me about 5 with all my replaying and messing around. But the varying difficulties, plug-in upgrades, and online leaderboards are enough to keep more dedicated players going for at least three times that.
There’s no much more to say, really. Matterfall is mildly infuriating and in no way relaxing, but overall it’s a stylish, well crafted, enjoyable romp through a devastated futuristic cityscape. And while it’s short and sweet, it’s only about $35. If climbing the leaderboard and testing your skill sounds like your jam, I can do nothing but recommend it.
What more do you want?
Matterfall was reviewed on PS4 from code provided by PlayStation New Zealand.