The Comic Commish: Nuclear Throne

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Mento

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Welcome to the final Comic Commish of the year, wherein I try out some games that were gifted to me by some magnanimous folks and pay them back, with interest (can you have negative interest?), by writing up my early impressions and attaching a comic strip of the finest quality that MS Paint is capable of producing, if the owner of that MS Paint program was largely unable to draw. The generous donor for this month is my fellow moderator and GB-dwelling GBer @rmanthorp, who works for the company that produces GameMaker: Studio and yet somehow doesn't send more freebies my way more often. (Kids, take note: this is how to properly thank people for their gifts.)

Those unfamiliar with the Comic Commish can peruse the past ten months here: Harvester - Long Live the Queen - Luftrausers - Papers, Please - NiGHTS Into Dreams - Syberia - Freedom Planet - STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl - Back to the Future: The Game - Undertale. Undertale, incidentally, was created using GameMaker: Studio. Just an unrelated piece of trivia. Happy holidays.

Nuclear Throne

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Like seemingly everyone, I've been playing the hell out of a certain grim shooter set in a post-apocalyptic world filled with eccentric characters and plenty of cynical gallows humor. Yep, Fallout 4Tales from the BorderlandsMad MaxFallout 4 againNuclear Throne, the newest game from Vlambeer. They've been developing this game for what feels like forever, only reaching version one-point-anything as recently as earlier this month. I wasn't aware that the version I owned would upgrade itself into a finished product - I figured Ross had a bunch of beta demos lying around and let me have one - but apparently that's what we have here.

Nuclear Throne is a top-down twin-stick shooter with a hard "roguelite" bottom line of random drops and power-ups and insta-death that reminds me quite a bit of their previous game Luftrausers. Like that game, there's some amount of freedom when choosing your loadout - you have the choice of multiple characters each with their own strengths and special ability, in Nuclear Throne's case - and there's a lot of fast reactions and on-the-fly accuracy to be concerned with after being unceremoniously thrown into a chaotic maelstrom of bad guys and bullets. It's also very easy to die in either game if you aren't paying attention to the pyrotechnics happening all around you, and many of my early deaths can be credited to momentarily losing concentration and misplacing where my little guy happened to be. There's definite shades of The Binding of Isaac and any number of Indie twin-stick shooters we've seen of late too, of course, but Vlambeer keeps their business distinct with their keen sense of overdramatic presentation - the trademark "Vlambeer Screen Shake" is present and accounted for - and like many of their games Nuclear Throne is fundamentally simple but has plenty of room for "advanced class" complexity. Especially as certain characters, weapons and level-up bonuses (or "mutations", since we're going the freaky irradiated monsters route) start to become more viable options than others after playing a certain amount, having molded one's preferences via good ol' trial and error. It's a game that you can only really play in short bursts - a few of those "you died, you suck, back to the start" situations can go a long way - but a game that definitely has legs for the long-term. Multiple extra legs, even, depending on how your gross monster hero happened to mutate on your most recent run.

Welcome to Nuclear Throne! Since it's unlikely to come up anywhere else, this game has rad music and unnecessarily gross sound effects.
Welcome to Nuclear Throne! Since it's unlikely to come up anywhere else, this game has rad music and unnecessarily gross sound effects.
Each new game, and each level transition, involves one of these swirly purple portals. A side-effect of the nuclear fallout? Or is Beetlejuice somehow behind this?
Each new game, and each level transition, involves one of these swirly purple portals. A side-effect of the nuclear fallout? Or is Beetlejuice somehow behind this?
I went with fishman because he seems like the beginner's default. Here is with the first weapon I found: a slow but oddly-more-accurate-than-any-gun crossbow. The risk/reward here is going after the green currency goop, which increases your level and lets you unlock perks, but it also means running towards enemies and into more danger to collect them.(Also check out Steam being a mensch and capturing the previous screenshot pop-up alert within this screenshot. That's good screenshotting.)
I went with fishman because he seems like the beginner's default. Here is with the first weapon I found: a slow but oddly-more-accurate-than-any-gun crossbow. The risk/reward here is going after the green currency goop, which increases your level and lets you unlock perks, but it also means running towards enemies and into more danger to collect them.(Also check out Steam being a mensch and capturing the previous screenshot pop-up alert within this screenshot. That's good screenshotting.)
Fishman made it to this dark sewer level and then died because of the rats. I did pretty good for a first run, I thought. I killed a boss even.
Fishman made it to this dark sewer level and then died because of the rats. I did pretty good for a first run, I thought. I killed a boss even.
Reaching the sewers automatically unlocked melty skeleton and eyebeast. Along with fishman and crystalline entity, that makes four choices for who to bring into my next adventure. Geez, I'm spoiled for choice, however wil- I'm going fishman again.
Reaching the sewers automatically unlocked melty skeleton and eyebeast. Along with fishman and crystalline entity, that makes four choices for who to bring into my next adventure. Geez, I'm spoiled for choice, however wil- I'm going fishman again.
Gotta say, I'm really digging the explosives in this game. You have five ammo types, it looks like, and each has a few weapons attached to it. Grenade launchers and rocket launchers both use
Gotta say, I'm really digging the explosives in this game. You have five ammo types, it looks like, and each has a few weapons attached to it. Grenade launchers and rocket launchers both use "explosive" ammo. They seem really useful for crowds, though I suppose I need to avoid close encounters.
I like that each power-up appears to be associated to a specific character. Either it's just the art team having fun, or it's a hint that certain power-ups work better with certain characters and their starting abilities. The fishman starts with a boost to the maximum amount of ammo they can hold, and this is another ammo-saving power.
I like that each power-up appears to be associated to a specific character. Either it's just the art team having fun, or it's a hint that certain power-ups work better with certain characters and their starting abilities. The fishman starts with a boost to the maximum amount of ammo they can hold, and this is another ammo-saving power.
The boss of the first
The boss of the first "world" will randomly burst out of the walls like Kool Aid Man and has a few attacks that can kill you instantly. It's a general strategy, I've found, to quickly clean out a safe area and just shoot him from a distance. Grenade launchers help.
Saved for posterity is me finding a wrench, one of the game's weak but effectively infinite-use melee weapons, and then also finding a second wrench nearby. Awesome. Dual-wrenches. I can turn the screws on my coffin even faster.
Saved for posterity is me finding a wrench, one of the game's weak but effectively infinite-use melee weapons, and then also finding a second wrench nearby. Awesome. Dual-wrenches. I can turn the screws on my coffin even faster.
Went with Eyes this time. He'll do until I decide it's no more Mr. Eyes Guy. (Oh, an Eyes Guy, huh? Whoop whoop whoop.)
Went with Eyes this time. He'll do until I decide it's no more Mr. Eyes Guy. (Oh, an Eyes Guy, huh? Whoop whoop whoop.)
I'm fortunate enough to find a grenade launcher right off the bat. Eyes's power is telekinesis, which pulls in enemies and items from a certain distance away. It's not super powerful, but it does help me cajole enemies out of cover.
I'm fortunate enough to find a grenade launcher right off the bat. Eyes's power is telekinesis, which pulls in enemies and items from a certain distance away. It's not super powerful, but it does help me cajole enemies out of cover.
This pile of soot right here was the boss that killed me last time. Something he ate repeatedly to the face apparently disagreed with him. As well as green currency, enemies will drop smaller chests: the yellow ones are ammo, and the rarer heart ones are health refills. Neither gives you as much as a regular chest, but frequent smaller boosts like these from fallen enemies are your lifeblood.
This pile of soot right here was the boss that killed me last time. Something he ate repeatedly to the face apparently disagreed with him. As well as green currency, enemies will drop smaller chests: the yellow ones are ammo, and the rarer heart ones are health refills. Neither gives you as much as a regular chest, but frequent smaller boosts like these from fallen enemies are your lifeblood.
Of all the power-ups I've seen so far, and I imagine there's more to come, I've not seen anything as useful as a big health boost. 4HP doesn't sound like much, but it's 50% of your starting health bar (unless you're the guy with bonus starting health).
Of all the power-ups I've seen so far, and I imagine there's more to come, I've not seen anything as useful as a big health boost. 4HP doesn't sound like much, but it's 50% of your starting health bar (unless you're the guy with bonus starting health).
Eyes's other power, one that I'd written off, is being able to see in dark areas like the sewer. It helped a little, allowing me to get ambushed less frequently.
Eyes's other power, one that I'd written off, is being able to see in dark areas like the sewer. It helped a little, allowing me to get ambushed less frequently.
The sewer level is like a stopgap before world 3, which is another multi-part world with a boss at the end. This one's filled with busted cars that explode if you shoot them. I'm really testing the limits of how far explosions can reach. Hey, it's important research.
The sewer level is like a stopgap before world 3, which is another multi-part world with a boss at the end. This one's filled with busted cars that explode if you shoot them. I'm really testing the limits of how far explosions can reach. Hey, it's important research.
Well, how could I refuse? Weapon types are fairly basic early on, like shotgun, assault rifle and crossbow, but as you get further they start to compound properties. I just swapped out a rapid-fire slugger for this, since that thing ate through my shotgun ammo like no-one's business.
Well, how could I refuse? Weapon types are fairly basic early on, like shotgun, assault rifle and crossbow, but as you get further they start to compound properties. I just swapped out a rapid-fire slugger for this, since that thing ate through my shotgun ammo like no-one's business.
Bosses get these big vignettes each time, Borderlands-style, and while it feels kind of unnecessary the thirtieth time you've seen one, they do help in two ways: first, by giving you a quick breather to psyche yourself up and second, to announce that they've just appeared somewhere in the level so you aren't immediately blindsided.
Bosses get these big vignettes each time, Borderlands-style, and while it feels kind of unnecessary the thirtieth time you've seen one, they do help in two ways: first, by giving you a quick breather to psyche yourself up and second, to announce that they've just appeared somewhere in the level so you aren't immediately blindsided.
The Big Dog was essentially a tank that fired
The Big Dog was essentially a tank that fired "bullet hell" formations and was enormous. I shot it full of grenades though. Sure packed a lot of flammable material inside that thing. Keep your distance when fighting it, would be my advice.
Picking through the wreckage, I find a double flame shotgun. I'll be darned, they actually found a way to improve Doom 2's best weapon.
Picking through the wreckage, I find a double flame shotgun. I'll be darned, they actually found a way to improve Doom 2's best weapon.
Now, this just seems like overkill with the shotgun I just picked up. I like overkill.
Now, this just seems like overkill with the shotgun I just picked up. I like overkill.
The next mini-area is filled with crystal monsters. They're resistant to bullets, but fortunately I'm firing about ten at once. Ten bullets that also do flame damage over time too.
The next mini-area is filled with crystal monsters. They're resistant to bullets, but fortunately I'm firing about ten at once. Ten bullets that also do flame damage over time too.
This area's actually kinda perilous. Stuff keeps exploding and those <> things will start sniping you from off-screen.
This area's actually kinda perilous. Stuff keeps exploding and those <> things will start sniping you from off-screen.
Well, I didn't make it, but I did unlock a new guy. He's a plantman. There's not much call for names in the post-apocalyptic future.
Well, I didn't make it, but I did unlock a new guy. He's a plantman. There's not much call for names in the post-apocalyptic future.
4-1's presently my record. Eyes did pretty well for me, though I also acknowledge the ever-present luck o' the draw. Only fitting I died from an explosion, given how many I was producing.
4-1's presently my record. Eyes did pretty well for me, though I also acknowledge the ever-present luck o' the draw. Only fitting I died from an explosion, given how many I was producing.

Nuclear Throne has some definite appeal, but I can't see myself getting feverishly addicted to it in the same way I was with The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky or Rogue Legacy. Some games of this genre have that very difficult-to-achieve spark or X-factor, some perfect mixture of arbitrary luck governing runs and frequent enough permanent unlocks to provide that feeling, no matter how spurious, that some progression has been made after your latest crash and burn. It might also just be that after so many of these, the allure of wanting to keep plugging away at it has worn off.

I won't say that I'll never return to Nuclear Throne - it actually seems perfect for occasional play - but being sent back to the start every time where the enemies are easy and the weapons are still generic and dull strikes me as an unappetizing chore. That's been a recurring issue I've had with most roguelikes/roguelites I've played lately. Maybe if I get a little further, I can unlock some kind of shortcut to the later levels where the guns start getting two or more adjectives and there's more strategy involved. Probably not though.

With that said, here's the comic strip to see us out:

Don't forget to vote for you-know-what ten times in the Giant Bomb Community GOTY poll!
Don't forget to vote for you-know-what ten times in the Giant Bomb Community GOTY poll!

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rmanthorp

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#1 rmanthorp  Moderator

YAY! I'd vote for Nuclear Throne on GameFAQs... If I went on GameFAQs... I will pull up my boots and try to get more freebies in the future :'( !!! BUT I'm glad you had fun with Nuclear Throne. It really took the games 'release' for it to fully click with me and I'm getting consistent Throne/Loop runs that I'm feeling REAL good about. Hope you do return - the loop of putting together the things you learn along the way into action like second nature is real good.

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audioBusting

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#2 audioBusting  Online

Love the comic, it made me laugh at work =D

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