(Lots of) Time Well Spent with Nuclear Throne

That technique I was talking about, where rogulike-alikes dial the gameplay elements of Grandpappy Rogue up to sugar rush speeds, thereby foregrounding the absurdity of those elements, and also taking the edge off their randomness and cruelty? Yeah, Nuclear Throne (née Wasteland Kings) is the poster child for that. This game absolutely, fervently, fanatically refuses to waste even a single millisecond of your time.

Each section drops you in the middle of a gunfight, so right from the start you’ve got to get moving. And then you’ve got to keep moving, because the little green vials that represent experience points will disappear in a few seconds if you don’t scamper over and retrieve them. And then, even if you collect enough XP to level up, you won’t get to select one of the perks attendant thereto until you’ve completed the current section, partially because that delayed and mysterious upgrade provides an extra incentive to survive, but mostly because WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU WANT A MENU ARE YOU INSANE KEEP SHOOTING.

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There's clearly a lot more content to come. The Vlambeer folks have said as much, in their generous, just-about-weekly updates to the game’s Steam Early Access release: “At least four more worlds and an undefined number of secret worlds to explore,” some of those worlds belonging to “other planets and other dimensions.” So, some breadth and variety, then. Understood.

What’s already well in place is the feel, the tone. It plays a bit like The Binding of Isaac, and also a bit like Teleglitch, but with weapons more akin to those in Vlambeer’s previous effort Super Crate Box—and it’s got the jovial post-apocalyptic cowpunk nihilism of Borderlands.

It also asks that most Borderlands of questions, namely “Just what kind of crazy person would even want dominion over this violent hellscape?” Though Nuclear Throne answers that question implicitly, through playful character design and rollicking, ceaseless gunplay rather than, you know, Claptrap.

The game is a joy to play, and becoming moreso with each passing week. It’s a poseter child not only for fast motion roguelikes, but also for what Steam Early Access can and should offer: developers in open dialogue with players, the chance to watch a game grow while also kicking a few bucks into its development, all that loveliness—but without any of the pre-production leaps of faith or undesired forays into the t-shirt business that can accompany a Kickstarter campaign.

An all-around worthy endeavor from some rather talented gamesmiths who’ve had it kind of rough in the past, Nuclear Throne is (fiercely, aggressively, compulsively) worth your time.

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