Review: Crimsonland (Vita)
As a rule, I am not a fan of top-down shooters. This may seem odd to some people, as I do happen to like SHMUPS and some twin-stick shooters, but I tend to find most top-down shooters just get too repetitive for my taste. This was part of why I passed on Crimsonland by 10tons Ltd. when we were offered a chance to review it for PC. When we received a Vita code for it, however, I decided to give the game a chance; after all, I really enjoyed King Oddball, and I was hoping 10tons had paid the same attention to detail with Crimsonland it did with that great physics puzzler.
So you may be thinking I am mentioning all of this up front to help soften the blow for what is going to be a low scoring game. As it turns out, the exact opposite is true; I am mentioning it so you will know just how much Crimsonland has impressed me.
30 Second Review
+ Not your standard top-down shooter
+ A ton of weapons, power-ups and perks to augment the experience
+ Addicting survival mode
– Surviving can be more about luck than skill
– Some of the Survival mode variations just are not compelling
Don’t call it a comeback!
Crimsonland is a remastering/remake of the original 2003 game, which is the first game 10tons made. When making the new version of the game, 10tons decided not just to give the graphics an overhaul; the team added new weapons, power ups and game modes to help make the new version of Crimsonland the definitive version.
You play as a lone soldier fighting against a sea of monsters. These monsters can range from various forms of over-sized bugs to lizard men and even zombies. Each monster type also has many variants, from zombies that spawn easier to kill versions of themselves to ants that keep splitting into multiple smaller versions of themselves, each new pair faster than the larger version you just shot. The object of the game is clear: kill the enemies before they kill you.
What chance does one soldier have against an onslaught of monsters? Better than you may think. Crimsonland gives you many different items that drop randomly from fallen enemies to help you turn the tide of battle:
- Weapons Galore: There is no shortage of weapons in this game. 10tons has created more than 30 weapons, ranging from assault rifles and sawed-off shotguns to ion cannons and seeker missiles. Each weapon has its own feel and unique strengths/weaknesses, even if it is just a variation of one you have already used. A great example of this is the shotgun class. The standard shotgun does what you would expect, firing a slight spread of pellets. The sawed-off shotgun is less accurate, firing a wider spread that damages more enemies at once but does not do as much overall damage. Then there is Jackhammer, a powerful shotgun that can take out many enemies in one blast but takes much more time to load than the other two. That just covers the standard versions of the shotgun; there are also plasma, ion and gauss shotguns, each with their own distinct advantages and drawbacks.
- Myriad of Power-ups: Wish your soldier could move faster? Thinking a shield might come in handy? How about freezing all your enemies or setting off a nuke to weed out the weak? All these power-ups and more are available throughout the game, and learning to use them well can mean the difference between death and glory.
The combination of weapons and power-ups will help you beat back the hoards that are attacking you. Without them, you really wouldn’t stand a chance.
A questing we will go
There are two primary game modes in Crimsonland: Quest and Survival. While Survival is the primary mode, you really do want to complete the quest mode before tackling Survival, as this will unlock the weapons and perks for the other mode. We’ll come back to perks in a minute.
The Quest mode is pretty straightforward. You progress through six different chapters, each containing ten levels of ever-increasing difficulty culminating in a boss battle on the final level. You advance to the next level by killing the prerequisite number of enemies. As you progress, you unlock the primary weapons of the game, and you get a chance to see just how useful each of them is in levels designed to showcase their strengths. For example, when you are first introduced to the gauss riffle, you are fighting in a level with several enemy spawn bases lined up in a row. As the gauss riffle fires in a very narrow line and has the ability to pass through multiple enemies, it is perfectly suited for taking out said bases in rapid succession.
Overall, Quest mode does a great job of introducing you to the mechanics of the game and the strengths and weaknesses of the various weapons. There are times, however, where the mode can get rather frustrating. A lot of the frustration has to do with the randomness of the weapon and power-up drops. Outside of the levels that are designed to teach you different weapons, the weapon drops are completely random, meaning you may not get a good weapon or at least one you are familiar enough with to succeed in the level in which you are currently fighting. In other words, whether or not you are able to get through some of the more difficult levels may come down more to luck than skill.
There is one other drawback to quest mode; the last level of chapter six is extremely difficult. The game throws every enemy you have faced up until that point in the game at you along with a giant spider boss that alternates between shooting at you and shielding itself from danger. I replayed that level more times than I can count before I finally got the right combination of weapons and power-ups to beat it.
Once you beat Quest mode on normal, you unlock Hardcore, and once that is completed, Grim. Considering how hard the last mode of Normal was, I don’t think I will be playing those. At least not without turning on the perks….
Perks: The Key to Survival
As much fun as the Quest mode can be, the lifeblood of Crimsonland is the Survival mode. As the name implies, you do the best you can to survive increasingly difficult waves of enemies in the attempt to get as high a score as possible.
The primary Survival mode is pretty straightforward; you start out with your trusty pistol. As you kill enemies, weapons you have unlocked via the Quest mode will drop randomly, allowing you to change up your arsenal. Power-ups will also drop, allowing you to turn the tide per normal. The major change is the Perk system; you earn XP for kills, and every time you level up, you get to choose from 4 random perks. These can range from allowing you to shoot faster to sacrificing some of your health to reduce the amount of damage you take from enemies.
You have to choose your perks carefully, as they can have a dramatic effect on how well you can survive. They can also work well in combination. One example was a game where I chose the “There Can Be Only One” perk, which made it so I did not take damage from enemies but had a 10% chance to die when hit by them. The next couple of perks I selected helped increase my dodging ability, making it harder for enemies to actually hit me and therefore increasing my chances of surviving. After those, I was given the chance to choose “Infernal Contract,” which would reduce me to 1% of my health but allow me to pick two extra perks. As health really did not matter to me, I chose this, and I was able to get two great perks for one increase in level.
By the way, there is a hidden way to turn perks on in the quest mode. I would recommend it if you plan on tackling the higher difficulties.
As you can probably guess, Survival mode is where you will be spending the majority of your time after you unlock the weapons and perks in Quest. You also unlock variations of the mode:
- Rush: Just you and your assault rifle against the enemy hordes.
- Weapon Picker: You only get one clip for each weapon, so you are constantly having to grab new ones.
- Nukefism: All you get are power ups. They will spawn periodically, and you have to use them to kill as many enemies as possible.
- Blitz: Standard Survival mode on steroids. All gameplay is faster, including the leveling.
While I applaud 10tons for adding more variation to the gameplay of Crimsonland, I have to admit the only modes I play are Survival and Blitz. Though I may go back and try out Weapon Picker and Nukefism again, Rush just really does not interest me, as it removes all the things that set the game apart from other top-down shooters.
One other thing to mention about Survival: each mode has its own leaderboards. While I do not think I will ever get anywhere close to a top ranking, it would be great to see where I stack up against any PSN friends who end up getting the game.
A Worthy Competitor
10tons has done it again. The developer has taken a genre that is overly crowded and added enough twists to make a compelling game. Granted, Crimsonland is a remastering of the company’s first game, but there is still enough here to help it stand out from the crowd.
At $13.99, the price of the game may be a little too steep for some, even though it is Cross Buy with the PS4 (meaning you get a copy for the PS4 as well). Still, this is a game worth considering, even if you decide to wait for a sale. Crimsonland gets an 8 out of 10.
Now if you will excuse me, I think I hear another round of Blitz calling my name.