Aniquilation Review: Sluggish Twin-Stick Action
I’m always keen to try out a new twin-stick shooter. There’s something extremely cathartic about the genre when done right, and I’ve lost countless hours to the immediacy and intensity of genre heavyweights such as Super Stardust Ultra, or my personal favorite, Nex Machina. Unfortunately, Aniquilation, the latest effort from Colombian development team R-Next, comes nowhere close to providing the exhilarating moment-to-moment thrills that the best of the genre has to offer, and in fact, falls quite short.
A Simple Premise
The premise behind Aniquilation is a simple one. Picking from a selection of ships, each with various benefits such as increased armor or speed, players are set down in one of the campaign’s 30 levels with the objective usually falling into one of a few buckets; defending against waves of enemies, taking out a major boss enemy, or, destroying a set number of structures on the planet’s surface. There is a loose narrative tying the various levels together, with the protagonists stumbling into a conflict with an alien race and going on the hunt for different energy sources to aid in battle. The story quickly became irrelevant in all honesty, as it’s poorly written and suffers from localization that is far from perfect.
Fortunately, the twin-stick genre is one where I typically only need solid and polished gameplay loops to keep me hooked, with the story often being an afterthought for me when judging a title’s quality. Unfortunately, however, Aniquilation’s gameplay simply isn’t strong enough to do the heavy lifting required.
On paper, Aniquilation sounds like a recipe for success. It’s a twin-stick shooter with a heavy focus on terrain deformation and using your environment as a weapon. What could go wrong? Well, a lot as it happens.
As you traverse each planet, you’ll find yourself using a fairly standard twin-stick set-up to engage with enemies, with movement assigned to the left stick and your primary weapon on the right. On top of this, you also have a sword which can be used to damage enemies, as well as structures and the landscape, whilst also acting as a means by which you can deflect enemy projectiles. Immediately the primary weapons on the right stick felt sluggish and imprecise, with my projectiles always feeling like they were lagging way too far behind the direction I was pointing. Furthermore, most of the standard weapons, even the upgraded variants you can find dotted around the environments, all feel woefully underpowered against anything other than the most basic of enemy types. Adding further to the frustration is that certain weapon types are mandatory when it comes to taking out certain parts of the environment, meaning Aniquilation often shoehorns you into a certain style of play.
Even environmental destruction, a headline feature for Aniquilation, struggles to impress. Put simply, it feels as though the size of these levels was not designed with this gameplay element in mind. Too often you’ll find yourself boxed in on these tiny planets, with destructible scenery blocking you in at every turn, with nowhere near enough room to maneuver around the enemy and engage with them. This resulted in many of the levels devolving into mindless button-mashing sessions, where I had little option but to spam the sword attack as it seemed to be the only part of my arsenal that could consistently damage both the terrain and the enemies.
There is some fun to be had during the later stages of a level once you have cleared out enough terrain space to be able to confidently engage with the enemies. It’s in these sections that the developer’s vision becomes a bit clearer, as you create new openings in the terrain to provide cover and use your trusty blade to deflect environmental objects at enemies to deal huge damage. There’s genuine fun to be had in these sections, where the various systems all come together well and the lackluster level design no longer impedes. I’d go so far as to say that there are moments of greatness here that I would genuinely love to see expanded upon further in a sequel.
A Technical Lottery
Aniquilation is also a bit uneven in the technical sense. It actually looks pretty decent, with the various planets all containing an impressive level of detail. As you’re being swarmed by enemies, taking chunks out of the terrain, and flinging projectiles across the screen with your sword, it can look downright impressive. That’s in handheld at least, whereas docked naturally exposes the basic textures, ship models, and geometry a bit more.
It’s in the performance where things get slightly less consistent. Some levels feel absolutely fine, with no noticeable frame drops or stuttering whilst others contain these in abundance. It doesn’t seem to be strictly tied to what’s happening on-screen, either. Plenty of times the framerate would drop to what felt like single digits despite there being very little happening at that moment, whereas there were also instances where the screen was filled with enemies and terrain flying all over the place, and the framerate held without issue. It’s not ideal for a twin-stick shooter to suffer from these types of issues given precision and accuracy are of huge importance, so here’s hoping the developers push out a couple of optimization patches pronto.
Unfortunately Aniquilation squanders an interesting concept with poor level design that does its best to ensure that the various mechanics at play are nothing short of frustrating the majority of the time. There is some fun to be had if you can endure the frustrations and fight your way through to the later stages of Aniqulation’s levels, where the environments open up and it becomes more apparent what the developers were going for. Sprinkle in the technical issues, and Aniquilation is difficult to recommend to anyone other than the most dedicated of twin-stick shooter fans.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC; Publisher: Gamera Games; Developer: R-Next; Players: 1-2; Released: July 28, 2022; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.