STAFF REVIEW of Guns N’ Runs (Xbox One)

Friday, April 21, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Guns N’ Runs Box art Guns N’ Runs released back in 2021 on PC, but I somehow missed it. Now that it’s on console though, of course I took notice. Now I know what you’re thinking, by the title of the game you’re probably guessing that this is a typical sidescrolling shooter where you’re blasting everything in your path, maybe like an old school Contra or Mega Man. You’d be partially correct, but it’s more like a jaunt rather than a full out run given how difficult the platforming is.

While I expected something Contra-like from its name alone, the actual gameplay was a bit different. You of course have to platform from room to room, generally left to right, eventually reaching a boss and moving on, but there’s an integral dash component which allows you to cross gaps, avoid obstacles and even phase through enemies, but actually doing so accurately is quite challenging. The pixel art and soundtrack are done quite well, helping to qualm my frustrations, though not completely.

You play as one of the numerous chooseable members of the Conspiracy Squad. You’re taking part of some rescue mission in the middle of the Atacama Desert, well below the surface in a mechanized bunker. While there is an overarching story here, especially once you defeat the bosses and they ramble on and on, games like these you generally enjoy for the gameplay more than anything else. Basically everything in your way is going to try and kill you, so you must survive to progress and figure out what’s really going on, though those that want more will be happy to know each character has its own narrative.

There’s really not a lot you need to learn for its controls, as you can jump, shoot, special and dash, and once you begin after choosing your character, you’re thrown into a “tutorial”. I’m quoting “tutorial” and being facetious because it’s anything but a tutorial, and probably one of the worst ones I’ve experienced in recent memory. A tutorial is supposed to do just that, teach you the basics, making you comfortable with the controls and mechanics so that once you’re set free, you feel confident, enticing you to want to continue playing.

I restarted the game three times with different characters because I thought I did something wrong or the game was bugged. As you begin you’ll come across these signs which give you a clue of what the controls are. A say clue because it doesn’t outright tell you. For example, one sign will show that you can jump with a picture of your character, well, jumping. What button is it to actually do so? No idea, so you better start hitting random buttons to figure it out. The next sign indicates you can fire your weapon. Great, but again, no button prompt, simply a sign saying it’s possible. I’ve been gaming long enough that I of course figured it out, but it’s counterintuitive to what a tutorial is supposed to accomplish.

I was willing to overlook this until a few moments later I got to the dash portion. Dashing is an integral part of Guns N’ Runs’ gameplay, so naturally you would expect the game to teach you how to do so properly. Nope. Same sign showing that you can dash, but no button prompt or how to actually do so. I needed to reach a much higher platform by dashing and double jumping, but had no idea how to. I eventually figured it out on my own, but there’s even these small orbs that allow you to link your dashes together, but as you can guess, this wasn’t taught at all in the "tutorial".

Manage to figure out how to progress past the opening section and you’ll be brought to a map where you can choose from a number of different paths and levels, though I opted to finish level 1 before moving to 2, etc. With plenty of different roomed challenges to get through, there’s no shortage of challenge within, but sometimes it’s the level design or controls that have you failing and retrying from the last checkpoint. While the controls are simple on paper, actually traversing and dashing at the right time and correct direction can be frustrating at the best of times.

Now and then you’ll find a few power-ups, either changing your shot type for a brief amount of time or giving you a shield that protects you from a hit. Where my main issue comes from when the its combat is that you can only ever shoot horizontally, no aiming at an angle or upwards, so you always have to be in line of your enemies and bosses to actually hit them. Your dash will get you out of sticky situations quickly, and will be absolutely necessary to master if you want to progress, as it’s the only way you can cut across large gaps or phase through electric beams and attacks.

Each level is broken into a handful of rooms, kind of of like Mega Man, where you generally need to progress left to right to reach the next room. This starts out simple enough, but after a few bosses and you try the new levels, things get chaotic and challenging quite quickly. Even though it’s titled Guns N’ Runs, I’d say the majority of your time is slowly trying to platform accurately more than anything else. This usually means dying and trying the room again a few times before eventually progressing, but it’s much more slow and methodical than expected, as I thought it would be a quicker paced game.

Your dash is your primary move, and there are times where you need to be incredibly accurate or else you’ll fall or land in some spikes. With only five health bubbles, this certainly isn’t a lot given how precise your movements need to be at times. While you have a quick moment of invulnerability when you dash, if it’s not done at just the right moment, you could get damaged just as you enter or exit the dash, causing many deaths on boss fights when I thought I was going to be fine initially. This wouldn’t be so bad if the level design was interesting, but it’s generally a lot of the same with a few enemies to kill, as rooms won’t always unlock without them defeated. Things get much more challenging later with moving platforms and poison that drains your health almost instantly.

While you can gather special power-ups to fill your special meter, again, this isn’t really explained in the opening tutorial, so I didn’t really use it all that much, forgetting it was an option. Each character has a different and unique special, but it would have been a welcome addition to show what these do before committing to a certain character only to find you don’t like their move. I do wish there were other weapons to collect or gain along the way aside from the limited use ones that don’t appear often enough.

Bosses are easily the highlight of Guns N’ Runs, taking a few attempts to learn their patterns and best times to dash through to avoid their attacks. Some took me much longer than expected to defeat simply because of the forced horizontal shooting and having to line up my character to their weak spot. Most have you moving away to get some space, unloading a few rounds, dashing to safety and repeating on the other side of the room while avoiding their attacks. Sure it gets old fighting the same boss person each time, but at least he has a new machine and contraption each outing.

The retro pixel art is done quite well, looking like an older game but smooth framerates we’ve come to expect. Sure I had the odd framerate dip here and there, but nothing that detracted from the experience too badly. Each level has its own sort of tone and palette, almost like a biome and I enjoy the retro blocky aesthetic. The soundtrack was done quite well, full of guitar riffs and some good drum beats. The tempo matches the gameplay for the most part and never felt tiring hearing over and over when I was on my twentieth boss attempt.

Even though Guns N’ Runs is quite challenging, even on the Casual setting, the checkpoint system is quite generous, basically setting you back at the room you just died in to try once again. Die on bosses repeatedly and some shield and weapon power-ups will appear to try and give you just a slight edge so you can progress. Even with these aids, I still think it’s quite over-tuned for those looking for a casual difficulty, as it’s nowhere near that, especially the later stages and bosses (I’m looking at you robot spawning, missile firing boss). The fact that there’s a death counter should tell you a lot.

I do wish there was an auto fire option, as your thumbs will get quite sore in long play sessions from all the dashing and having to fire ever bullet manually. There is plenty of replay value with an achievement list that forces you to complete the game with each character and unlockable Survival and Danger modes as well, though I predict this will only be done by a select few trying to get the most value out of their purchase.

Don’t be fooled by the Casual difficulty setting, Guns N’ Runs is quite challenging and demands near perfection and quick reflexes to be successful and progress. While I struggled with the controls throughout, especially having to dash at specific angles or timing, there’s nothing inherently bad about Guns N’ Runs, it simply didn’t hook or excite me all that much.

**Guns N’ Runs was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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