What’s your favourite tower? Is it Tower Bridge? Maybe it’s Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song”? Those are incorrect answers; one’s a bridge and the other is a song. It could be Tower of Guns, although please note that this is not an actual tower made out of guns.
It is a tower though, and there are definitely guns involved. Most of them are automated, mechanised and pointing at whichever body part you consider to be your tenderest. If only there were some method of fighting back at your disposal. Oh wait, there is! Using other, different guns.
Tower of Guns comes from Terrible Posture Games, a collective term for creator Joe Mirabello and brother Mike Mirabello (who contributed some splendid music.) It’s a game that does something I’ve not really seen before, but when I tell you what that is you’ll probably say “wow, seriously, why isn’t EA putting out annual versions of that?”
First-Person Shooter plus Roguelike.
At this point somebody out there is probably forming the sentence “well actually, Paranautical Activity …” I know. I know there are a couple of others. But how many of them have a story where you’re a cowgirl surviving a zombie apocalypse AND a semi-sentient pile of goo conversing with your puppy-loving creator AND a pissed-up scholar looking for his friend’s apartment building? Not nearly enough of them, says I.
It may seem counter intuitive to praise the story in a game where 99.7% of your activities involve making things explode and avoiding that fate yourself, especially when there’s even an option to turn it off entirely, but it’s a point of focus for Tower of Guns’ friendly charm. Too many games end up with cloying whimsy when they try this stuff. Here, the tone seems genuine and effortless (a sure sign that it actually took a fair bit of effort.)
You get a different tale every time you restart, though repeats will begin to creep in around your tenth attempt. It’s a loose framework around which to hang the reason for your escapades, but like a good short story each one sketches just enough detail to serve its purpose.
The charm doesn’t end at these text-based narratives, either. Tower of Guns is a charismatic game full of bold colours and gigantic, absurd cannon devices that fire slow-moving shells as big as your entire body. At times it seems as if it’s one step away from putting grinning faces on them and going full Looney Tunes. The game creates a likeable space, one you’ll want to spend time in despite the obvious and inherent dangers.
That’s important, because you’ll be revisiting the same levels a fair bit. Tower of Guns has a pool of rooms that it draws from for each stage, but you’ll start to recognise (in either delight or horror) certain sections after you’ve put a couple of hours into it. However, your progression towards the tower’s summit won’t always take you through the same levels; sometimes you’ll pass through the warehouse, other times you might see the battlements.
Wherever you go, bullets will follow. If the images dotted around this review didn’t already inform you: Tower of Guns likes to flood the screen with projectiles and enemies. Pray that you played at least one shooter in the mid 90s because, while it doesn’t quite handle the same, this title will be a refresher course for those skills. It’s Circle Strafe: The Roguelike Experience. Keep moving. Keep circle-strafing. Stay alive (mostly.)
Like those games of yesteryear, there are secrets to be found in obscure locations. I’m talking “this part of the wall looks identical to the others, oh wait it’s transparent and there’s stuff behind” obscure. Most of the time you only carry one weapon (chosen at the start,) but it’s possible to find outlandish secondaries in hidden levels or locations.
The Roguelike aspect isn’t just restricted to repeating, randomised levels and regular death. It’s also present in the perk system and the kind of pick-ups you can grab on each attempt to scale the tower. At the start of the game you can only opt for a triple-jump ability or the negation of fall damage, but as you progress and achieve various feats of heroism (or fragility) more perks become available. Things like increased speed for an armour trade-off, or the “Too Young To Die” easy mode (unlocked after a damage threshold has been reached) which gives you a huge advantage against basically everything.
New guns unlock in much the same way. You start off with a pair of slightly rubbish ones, and end up with access to rat-a-tat laser rifles and a hand cannon that can compete with your foes in the comedy oversized shell stakes. Blowing up enemies makes them scatter delicious collectable items all over the floor, including blue shards that can power your weapon up to more impressive levels. Taking damage will reduce that power level, so there’s an incentive to stop and destroy things rather than just attempting to duck and weave masterfully through every location. Especially since each level ends with an imposing boss encounter.
Problem is, the guns feel a bit wimpy. I’m not someone who has any interest in weapon authenticity, and intense talk about the FEEL and IMPACT of guns in games honestly gets a bit disturbing. But even I can tell that the plop-plop of bullets against enemies who flash for a bit and then vanish with a canned explosion is a bit dissatisfying. While dancing around enemy bullets is intense, besting them with your own firepower doesn’t feel as triumphant as it should.
Player mobility also feels a little off to me. Tower of Guns evokes so much from mid 90s shooters, that you’d image it would move in a similar way too. That’s not really the case, because while the player can’t really jump all that high (at first) doing so will leave you hanging, drifting in the air. This is useful for mid-air changes of direction if you’re needing to float your way down to a point of safety, but sometimes feels restrictive for bullet-ducking purposes. Unless, that is, you come across a few speed and jumping badge power-ups on your run. Then it’ll get that Quake-nostalgia flowing.
It doesn’t have the wealth of items, levels and special powers of something like The Binding of Isaac, but thanks to its rapid pace Tower of Guns does tug at that same urge to dive straight back into a new game. The FPS-plus-Roguelike-like-(like?) concept is strong and, while the projectile play doesn’t feel as weighty as it should, the title will remain enticing as long as the player can maintain the desire to circle-strafe. It’s a likeable game, and disposable in the best possible connotations of that term.