STAFF REVIEW of Cavity Busters (Xbox One)

Wednesday, May 10, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Cavity Busters Box art As the game title would allude to, Cavity Busters is a game that is central around everything teeth and dental related. Playing as a singular bipedal gum, you will fire teeth at all your enemies out to try and stop you. A roguelite mixed with a twin-stick shooter, Cavity Busters is certainly unique, not only with its setting and premise, but many of its mechanics as well. While it might initially remind you of The Binding of Isaac with its cartoonish hand drawn visuals and rectangular rooms, there’s a surprising amount of individuality in its design that makes it stand out in the genre.

While there are some minor story-like elements, don’t expect a large encompassing narrative that will have you hooked. There’s something about trying to defeat the dreaded Pearly Knights, which is your first introduction to Cavity Busters’ pun filled adventure. It’s time to defeat some cavities and shoot your teeth at anything that moves.

Being a roguelite, you’ll be dying a lot and going back for ‘one more run’. You explore room by room in effort to find the boss, defeat them and move onto the next dungeon, getting as far as you can before you die and need to start all over again. With hundreds of different rooms, no two playthroughs will be the same. Unlike many roguelites though, there’s no permanent upgrades that make each subsequent run a little easier each time, though there are unlocks you can gain that will help along the way.

Your first few games will probably be short as you’ll die quickly and have to restart over again. There’s a brief tutorial that teaches you the basics, and while it does a decent job at explaining the core mechanics, it’s a lot to figure out and get used to all at once. With a few runs under your belt it’ll start to become more natural and make sense, but it’s quick paced and frantic at the best of times. Being a very quick paced twin-stick shooter, you’ll need to have a fast reaction time if you want to survive. Thankfully you’re given a handful of tools that help your mobility.

As you go from room to room, the Zelda-like map grid will show where you’ve previously have and haven’t been. You won’t know which room the boss is waiting until you happen upon it, but what happens when you explore one direction only to hit a dead end? Well, rather than having to backtrack across a dozen rooms or so, you’re able to jump ‘out’ of the dungeon room and essentially teleport back to any room you’ve already cleared. This makes the exploration aspect much more manageable and I love the convenience factor without having to waste a lot of time constantly backtracking when needed.

You’re also not confined to the set ways rooms are linked together. When you enter a room, every door is locked until all enemies are destroyed, though you’re able to dig your way through any wall if you have a single use shovel, though if not you can sacrifice a single heart from your health pool to dig through. Sometimes this pays off with a hidden room full of upgrades, other times you wasted a heart for no reason, so there’s certainly some risk vs reward.

When you do eventually die, you’ll have a summary screen of how your run went. You’ll be shown how many enemies you killed, rooms explored, and more importantly, how many puns were made. Again, there’s plenty of puns included, all teeth, mouth and dentistry related, which is evident when you start finding the numerous types of upgrades and diseases.

With your initial character, your primary attack will be launching your singular tooth at enemies and then having it come back to you like a boomerang. You can charge your shot for a more powerful attack or tap the trigger for quicker shots. Your tooth shot can pass through enemies, so when you become more proficient with how to aim and when, you can get more damage on enemies as your tooth passes through them on the way back to you.

Simply shooting everything won’t be enough to survive, you’ll also need to dash, wall run and jump. It’s confusing at first trying to piece it all together with how chaotic it becomes, but with enough practice, a few hours in it started to become much more natural. Jumping allows you to kind of float up in the air before you choose where to leap down and stomp on an enemy for high damage. Wall running is another aspect that you’ll need to utilize, as you stick to the walls and run along the perimeter to escape damage or traverse across some gaps. This can also trigger some slow-motion that will help you catch your breath for a few moments.

Boss fights were the highlight, each having a large health pool and a fun challenge. These Pearly Knights aren’t terribly difficult on their own, but if you go into a boss fight with low health or some difficult diseases, the chances of surviving are nil. They have bullet patterns that can almost encompass the whole room, so you’ll need to be quick on your dodge that gives you a brief moment of invulnerability to pass through.

One of Cavity Busters’ unique features is the constant barrage of upgrades and diseases. As you progress and destroy enemies and clear rooms, you’ll come across upgrades that you can decide to take or not. If you’ve never picked up the upgrade before, it will appear as “unknown”, so you won’t know its effects. These can be both positive and negative, hence the upgrade and disease distinctions.

Upgrades are just that, giving you a number of positive effects, whereas diseases give negatives that hinder you in a number of ways. Do you take a really powerful upgrade that comes with a massive negative as well? Well, if you choose not to take these, the level ‘consumes’ it and your run becomes more challenging, so it’s a constant weighing of scaling difficulty. Sometimes taking a disease is a better tradeoff than a general overall increase of difficulty, other times the negative effect you get might be worse.

With dozens and dozens of upgrades and diseases, they are all unique, and even after hours of play I was still discovering "Unknowns". There’s a handful of different characters you can unlock as you progress as well, each playing vastly different from one another, so just as you think you’ve gotten everything mastered and figured out, playing as a new Gummy adds a completely new twist and challenge.

Normally I don’t dedicate a portion of my reviews to accessibility options, but developers SpaceMyFriend went above and beyond to make a challenging roguelite genre available to be fun and enjoyable for all skills. I do highly suggest playing with the default options and settings, but there’s plenty you can change to make things easier or harder depending on your preferences. Want to crank up your damage and instantly one-shot enemies, go for it. Want to start with a dozen hearts to get further, go right ahead. Want to instantly unlock basically everything and every character, that’s an option as well.

Sound effects are fitting for the gross setting, with plenty of goops and squishes, adding more to the tonality and humor of the game. If a tooth could somehow be shot and loop back to me, I have a feeling this is exactly how it would sound. The music fits the tone as well, even if it wasn’t a soundtrack that wasn’t terribly memorable. The hand drawn aesthetic is certainly gross, fitting given its setting, though at times it’s hard to enjoy and appreciate with how hectic, chaotic and quick paced it can be.

Full of puns, Cavity Busters certainly borrows heavily from The Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon, yet does enough to make it stand out amongst others in the crowded genre. It’s chaotic, frantic, gross, and I enjoyed every minute of it once I was able to get over the learning curve and adjusting to the frenzied gameplay.

**Cavity Busters was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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