I’m showing my age when I say this, but I prefer shooters where you spend more time moving sideways, and backward than you do moving forward. My formative years were spent with Doom, Quake, and Unreal. All this running towards the enemy that modern shooters like is just a bit pedestrian for me. Fortunately, Mothergunship is big on lateral movement and also building your own massive guns. Developed by Grip Digital and Terrible Posture Games, Mothergunship wants you to lean into finding your style of play. It must be said that, for the most part, it does this very well. It is primarily built on the bones of Joe Mirabello’s previous game, Tower of Guns, and anyone who has played it will feel instantly at home with Mothergunship.
The core of Mothergunship is that you pilot a robotic suit by defeating enemy ships, destroying enemies, and collecting drops. Rather than just have you doing this for no reason, the story takes you through the idea that you are engaged in a war with some evil robots. It is not the most essential story in the world, but it does what it needs to do by leaning into some enjoyably goofy humor. This is something that I always appreciate from a game, where seriousness might bog down the experience, it is still better to go with some laughs to keep things moving. The story itself is serviceable, and the voice acting is a notch or two above what you might typically find in smaller games.
The heart of the game is the combat, and the gun you use to take part in it. Mothergunship’s hook is that you collect gun parts while you are on a mission, and use them to build your own weapons. Pieces can be put together in any combination you can think of, within the established limits of the system. There must be a connector and a barrel. Some connectors can have two or three barrels. You can also find augments that change how a gun behaves, perhaps giving it more damage, or causing the rounds it fires to bounce. The limiting factor is energy. Your gun has an energy limit before it needs to recharge, which I guess is why you should try and have a weapon in both hands at all times. You can also upgrade your suit through the experience points you earn from each level.
The gun building system itself is fun, although losing parts when you die on a mission can sometimes feel like a kick in the teeth. The main reason for this is that, upon occasion, you will come across something that I have decided to call a Hell Room. Levels are made up of randomized rooms that can spawn sets, or waves, of enemies. As you make your way through them, the enemies spawn, and you try to destroy them all without dying. While the difficulty is mostly balanced, sometimes you end up in a room that is far more difficult than your current loadout can handle. It doesn’t happen often, but it is a mild knock on the overall balance of the game. Another small issue I had is that the screen can be so busy, and the gameplay so frantic, that slightly more explicit feedback for when you take damage would have been appreciated.
While the gun creation system is, arguably, the Mothergunship‘s biggest strength, it is not without its flaws. Many missions will start you out with a set loadout. As you play, you pick up or buy parts in various shop rooms strewn around the levels. Where it gets a little iffy is that you never really know when a shop room will show up, and payouts from dead enemies can be unpredictable. I honestly don’t think that Mothergunship would be hurt by just leaning into the gun building power fantasy, allowing you access to the deadliest creations you can think of. People could then, in a way, self-impose their own difficulty levels, by embracing challenges to finish levels with specific builds, or types of weapons.
The need to balance energy levels, uncertainty around income, and even the uncertainty around what parts you will have access to rob the game slightly of its potential fun for me. As it stands, there is almost certainly a notable inbuilt metagame for those who want to play through the game. Precise weapons that mainly guarantee damage, combined with quick recharge times, will provide the most reward, even though they may not always be the most fun way to play. That said, you do have the freedom to do whatever you want within the system available, so if building a massive gun with multiple barrels that all shoot rockets is your dream, then it is a dream you can eventually achieve with some grinding.
Mothergunship does a lot of things well, and the combination of smooth movement and fun shooting that forms the heart of the game should keep anyone looking for a fun arcade-style shooter happy. Anyone who was a fan of Tower of Guns should find a lot here to satisfy them.
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