Wildcat Gun Machine Review: A Rowdy Mix of The Binding of Isaac and DOOM
Playing The Binding of Isaac opened a lot of doors for me. I had barely tried twin-stick shooters before that, and never played any rogue games. Afterward, I gobbled up as many of both genres as I could. So when I saw Wildcat Gun Machine, an insane adventure that echoed both Binding of Isaac and DOOM, I was fascinated. Despite being the first title developed by Chunkybox Games, it still managed to entertain me while I played. Keep reading this Wildcat Gun Machine review to see if this wild adventure made its mark on this fan of the twin-stick genre.
Into the Depths
They throw you into the game with absolutely no context whatsoever. You’re a woman wearing an eye patch and killing the hell out of the ridiculous forces arrayed against you. These include so-called flesh beasts, multiplying insectoid hordes, and literal demons. While I always prefer having some stake in my adventure, I can’t really hold the total lack of plot against the game. Because for titles like Wildcat Gun Machine, what matters most is the gameplay being solid. And I can attest that’s mostly true. That said, I started referring to the main character as Agent Wildcat and coming up with all manner of ridiculous nicknames for her foes.
Unlike The Binding of Isaac, Wildcat Gun Machine is not a rogue-like. The swarms of foes that teleport in to assault you in each meticulously crafted room are never random. That said, this is very much a twin-stick shooter. In each section of the game (referred to as an Act), you’ll acquire new weaponry while exploring and have the option to buy more at the oh-so-helpful checkpoint. It looks like a black monolith until you activate it, and then a creepy skeletal cat symbol appears. I’m not sure what the obsession with cats in this particular game is, but it’s everywhere. Hell, your extra lives are even represented as white cats that transform into the main character. Definitely weird, but as a fan of felines, I’m okay with it.
While you’ll eventually muster a vast arsenal of weapons, there’s a small catch. They’re divided between regular and special guns. The regular ones have unlimited ammo, while the special ones don’t, meaning you have to refill them with purple ammo crates. Special guns also tend to be the more powerful weaponry, as might be expected. Agent Wildcat also can buy different types of grenades. There are the basic ones, some that create a lasting point of damage on screen, and some that even draw all foes towards the explosion’s epicenter. Most integral is the dash move, which lets you weave between bullets without taking damage. Though I will note, you can’t dash through some foes, usually the bigger ones. I realized that in Act II, when I tried dodging past a purple worm and got stuck by its hideous bulk.
Both the dash and the grenade have a cooldown, but otherwise can be used as often as you wish. You also have a meter that, when full, lets you go into uber mode. You jump inside a tiny mech, making you totally invulnerable for a few seconds while you unleash pure hell on your adversaries. It’s a lot of fun, but you can’t count on having it whenever you need it. And the farther you get in Wildcat Gun Machine, the more you’ll need all the help you can get. Because there’s one more genre that applies to the game – bullet hell.
I Hope You Enjoy Bullets
At first, the bullet hell isn’t that bad. But then you get to the first mini-boss, and things get crazy. While he doesn’t attack you directly, the hideous sack of meat creates balls of energy that erupt into bullets. Meanwhile, you have to dodge his shambling bulk since touching him still hurts you. Things get much more complicated from there. Many enemies will shoot bullets at you, some will teleport and attack, and some foes will explode into smaller versions after you kill them. The worst example of the bullet hell was in Act III. One mini-boss just stands there in the center of the room, spawning lightning bolts that weave back and forth. The tricky part is that this is the one example of a bullet you cannot dodge through, meaning the lightning traps and damages you. Worse, the mini-boss also enjoys vomiting all over the screen, making it hard to move out of the way.
The main loop of the gameplay in Wildcat Gun Machine is to explore, kill mini-bosses, find keys, explore new areas, rinse and repeat. With every mini boss you kill, you’ll unlock another portion of a gate that leads to that Act’s big boss. As you wander around, you’ll find all sorts of unfortunate scientists and workers. All that remains of them are skeletons, but you’re in luck! Bones are your currency in the game, used at the checkpoint to buy new stuff.
Additionally, the checkpoint can be warped to when you die, and it also reloads your special gun ammo and recovers your health. While each Act will throw new curveballs your way, they’re all pretty similar. The final boss of each is always completely over the top crazy, with bullets flying everywhere. Once you beat them, they transform into a “purified” version of the vehicle you faced. Then you get to ride them to the exit, destroying everything in sight with much satisfaction.
Though most of the game follows a predictable pattern, the last Act and final boss really changes things up. I simply call that Act the Hellevator. Agent Wildcat is riding it down to someplace hot, and waves of foes are trying to stop her from getting there in one piece. It’s actually a lot of fun, especially when parts of the floor start heating up randomly. They even throw mini-bosses you’ve previously faced at you here. My main problem was it overstayed its welcome, and the last two waves nearly made me rage quit. Especially the one where you’re facing the annoying mini-boss I mentioned from Act III, and he and every other enemy on the stage is protected by another incredibly annoying fungal foe.
As for the final boss, while I try and avoid spoilers, I can’t here. It totally changes the game and takes away your special weapon and dash moves. In place of them, you get a gun that fires dark and light bullets. And wouldn’t you know, you can switch between dark and light at will. Luckily I’d played Ikaruga before, so I guessed correctly what was happening, despite the game not spelling it out. Even then, I had a hell of a time beating the final boss, changing alignment to avoid damage, and running from lasers and homing bullets. I don’t mind this nod to a classic game, but I really feel the developers needed to explain this segment to those who may not be familiar with an iconic Shump.
Visually, the game has some really grotesque but catchy monsters, even if your main character is a bit plain by comparison. This is very much a game that revels in the gross and horrible, and the disgusting flesh beasts arrayed against you fit the bill. Especially the various bosses, from the floating Rot Belchers to the gigantic angry worm beasts. They’re all larger than life and do their very best to murder you. The music isn’t bad, but there’s not a lot of variety to it. One of the standouts are some of the sound effects for the various guns, as well as your character’s death cry when defeated. You don’t just die, you scream as flames drag you down to hell. Definitely dramatic, but it fits the style of the game.
Areas For Improvement
While I enjoyed my 12 hours or so with Wildcat Gun Machine, a few missteps kept it from being more memorable. Though it’s not a rogue-like, the game lets you upgrade your character by boosting the number of times you can restart and even dash. I would have loved to be able to increase my health meter or the number of grenades I could toss. Because the cooldown between tossing grenades was quite extensive, and I never felt I had enough health to last for more than a few moments in a bad situation.
On the topic of guns, I was irritated you can only manually equip new weapons from the checkpoint, and there’s only one per main area. I also would have liked the ability to see the range of each gun while equipping them. You can see their strength and specialty, but not range. And though there are some great weapons, I think they probably could have included half as many, but just added the option to upgrade each weapon manually instead. Lastly, while there are some interesting temporary power-up items, I still have no idea what they do. One example is a sunburst icon, another is a lightning bolt. Since the developers do so little explaining, I still have no idea what these items do, despite having fully beaten the game.
Both Too Short and Too Long of an Adventure
While Wildcat Gun Machine is a worthy first attempt by Chunkybox Games, it nevertheless doesn’t do much to elevate itself beyond the games that obviously inspired it. I wouldn’t say it needs to be a rogue-like, but there are so many elements of the game I feel would have been improved if it were. And while I don’t mind the challenge, it can get pretty unforgiving, which is sure to turn off many gamers. But if you’re a fan of twin-stick shooters and bullet hell and love hideous monsters, this might be for you.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PC; Publisher: DAEDALIC Entertainment GmbH; Developer: Chunkybox Games; Players: 1; Released: May 4, 2022; ESRB: Everyone 10+ – Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.