It has been awhile since I’ve played a good roguelike. The last time I remember really enjoying the procedurally generated gameplay the genre is known for was in 2015 when Brace Yourself Games launched its critically acclaimed game, Crypt of the Necrodancer; my absolute favorites include Rogue Legacy, The Binding of Isaac, and FTL: Faster Than Light. Since then, there hasn’t been a roguelike that has caught my attention like those games. The gameplay was infectious, giving me the itch to play each of them for hours. Grip Digital’s (the creators of Tower of Guns) newest release, Mothergunship, scratches that same itch making it on the list of one of my favorite roguelikes.
Roguelikes typically take gameplay elements from RPGs and Mothergunship does exemplify this to some extent. However, its gameplay is more akin to a first-person shooter or a bullet hell shooter than an RPG. The shooting mechanics are similar to games like Doom or Quake promoting a run-and-gun mentality rather than taking cover. In fact, staying in one spot for too long will lead to your doom as the overwhelming amount of alien robots fire in your direction. It’s fast, frenetic, and you’ll rarely look back unless an enemy is on your tail.
The gameplay in Mothergunship is not as great as the games that may have inspired it, but it does serve its purpose. Your character is very fast and mobile, always sprinting and with the ability to triple jump. There is a floatiness to jumping that feels like you’re always in control of the character’s body on the ground or in the air. The actual shooting does feel a bit off. The speed of the projectiles are slower than what most may be accustom to; there were times where if I would move forward while shooting, I would be running right behind the projectile. Hitting a moving target from afar felt borderline impossible unless you really knew how to use whatever weapon you were using.
The weapons you do use – which you’ll be dual-wielding for the majority of your time — will be created using the game’s gun crafting system. This system has a pretty simple set of rules. As long as the gun’s barrel is pointing forward and the components you use do not overlap each other, you can make whatever gun you want. If you want a gun that has a chaingun, rocket launcher, and grenade launcher, you can do that as long as it follows those rules.
You will have to put energy consumption into account. Each component, except for connectors, will use a certain amount of energy per shot which is shown by a vertical blue bar on the left and right side of the screen each representing that side’s arm. The more components your gun has, the more energy it will extinguish; when you drain your energy to zero, you have to wait a few seconds for it to recharge which may mean the difference between life and death. That means making that chaingun/rocket launcher/ grenade launcher gun will only allow for a few shots before you expel all of your energy.
The gun crafting system is also where the game’s RPG elements are featured the most. Similar to games like Destiny or World of Warcraft, the components you use will be color-coated indicating its quality; grey and blue colored components at a lower tier than purple and yellow colored components. The quality of the barrel or the cap (the term used to describe attachments that give you statistical benefits) is intrinsic to completing the harder levels. Going into the Mothergunship with grey colored items is totally possible but will probably end in a death or take way more time than it’s worth.
However, you’ll want to make sure the ship you do decide to invade can be done with the equipment you have. When you die, everything you gathered in the ship, as well as the components you picked for your loadout, will disappear. I made the mistake of bringing in my best gear on a few missions that I thought would be easy and ended up losing it due to my carelessness. After I learned that lesson a few times, I started to bring in blue colored components more frequently to get the gist of the level. If I somehow made it through the ship, then I had nothing to worry about. If I didn’t, then I knew what to expect to some extent, brought in my good components and trod very carefully picking the fights I knew I could win.
The gun crafting system is the number one reason to check this game out. It is a blast to see how different combinations synergize with each other. My go-to combination, if possible, was to have a gun with both a rocket launcher and grenade launcher on the left hand and a powerful automatic weapon on my main hand. Because that wasn’t always a possibility — whether because I couldn’t fit it in my loadout or the shops scattered throughout the ship didn’t have it available — I was forced to try different weapon combinations which is great. I liked experimenting with what was given to me attempting to make it work for whatever situation I was in. If the game didn’t force me to try new things out, I would have never found that go-to weapon combination.
The ships you’ll travel through are made up of several rooms. Each ship’s layout will be different from the last frequently changing things up throughout the campaign. There are several different room types that help further level variety by giving you timed challenges or give a room a random trait that may be beneficial or a detriment to your run.
While the rooms are procedurally generated, I couldn’t help but feel that certain rooms had a specific set of ground rules for its enemy layout and only received minor changes – which didn’t deviate too much since there are few enemy types — as the game got more difficult. I don’t think it makes the game less interesting by any means; if anything, it allows me to decide if it is worth defeating every robot in the room or just move on to the next room – yes, you can just skip rooms entirely if you can find an exit. However, it does get fairly repetitive. It may be different for others since it is procedurally generated but I ran into a few select rooms dozens of times with similar enemy layouts.
This risk/reward system is what makes this game really enjoyable. Get past a some of these levels are really difficult and you don’t really know what to expect until you walk into the room. There is so much happening on the screen at once when you do actually make it out alive in those situations the feeling of relief is both satisfying and rewarding.
There is a reason I haven’t really talked about the story. It is forgettable. The character dialogue is pretty cringy at times and the story it is attempting to tell is one-note. There is a pretty cool twist at the end but it isn’t anything you’ll jump out of your seat for. After you do complete the campaign, there is an explanation given in the story for why you can play beyond that point and it’s one of the better executions I’ve seen. At the end of the day, the actual story is irrelevant. The focus of the game is its gameplay and the gun crafting system; in those categories, it absolutely shines.
Mothergunship has its problems. The repetitive environments and enemy types, long load times, and forgettable dialogue are its most unlikeable attributes. Luckily, its diverse gameplay, fun and frenetic shooting, and deep gun crafting make Grip Digital’s latest enjoyable and replayable. Mothergunship is worth seeing through once but I’m sure you’ll want to tackle the campaign at least one more time.