Revisiting Crimsonland for a somewhat-HD remake defies the laws of modern remasters. Did Crimsonland premiere less than three years ago? Try more than a decade. Developer 10tons’ debut never won a game of the year award, either, nor does the brand produce liquid nostalgia that millions of gamers inject into their veins. Crimsonland gained a cult following in the months since 2003, but the name laid dormant until just last year. With the 10tons’ team porting its top-down, twin-stick shooter to the current roster of consoles, can Crimsonland surpass today’s dual-analog juggernauts?
To be blunt, no. Crimsonland’s lucky break came and went when 10tons refused to update the game’s archaic mechanics. Crimsonland’s marine runs slower than a snail writhing in salt, and practically crawls when attacked by the spiders, lizards, and zombies that intend to feast on his corpse; I rarely escaped their snares. Even worse, enemies spawn on top of players in poofs of smoke, which you cannot predict when tackling one of the campaign’s seventy levels for the first time. Crimsonland is the video game equivalent of an action star too old, too tired, and too feeble to do his own stunts.
So why could I not put the controller down? I chalked it up to the simplicity, since “Crimsonland” describes the game’s one-trick act aptly. Players find themselves trapped on an alien planet of seemingly Doom-inspired origins, where mutant arachnids, undead, and reptile men want your head. To survive, you must spill their entrails first. The drab arenas drowned in the blood of my freakish foes, and I owe it to each creature’s sharp, vibrant color scheme. I had zero troubles identifying beasts, even invisible ones, amid the gore and brownish-gray battlefields.
A wealth of familiar and foreign weapons assist the marine’s struggle as well. The typical pistol, shotgun, etc. increase the spawn chances of more extreme firearms that fallen monsters leave behind. Ion rifles chain electricity between nearby hostiles, gauss guns penetrate enemies and those behind them, plasma cannons inflict extensive damage, and rockets produce minuscule area-of-effect explosions. Each weapon type presents pros and cons, like long reload times or larger magazines, though they all turn mutants into body fluids just fine.
The best part is not knowing what enemy carcasses will leave behind. You might receive a rifle that fires missiles, or an ordinary submachine gun. Crimsonland asks you to work with the hand you’re dealt, be it beneficial or detrimental. I won the jackpot at times, in the case of the rocket launcher whose explosives swarmed my attackers. In several instances, a glut of flamethrowers dropped instead. I welcomed firearms that fit my play style, and despised others. A few bosses remained insurmountable, too, until the ideal firepower appeared.
To access the full arsenal, you must conquer Crimsonland’s sterile quests – or campaign, as normal people call it. Seventy levels tested my endurance. Without individual objectives, every mission consists of slaughtering nightmares until no more demons surfaced. I squashed insects, staved off zombies, or combatted combinations of the two simultaneously for hours. I commend 10tons for the suffocating amount of monsters squeezed on screen without sacrificing the frame rate, yet the monster diversity seldom evolves. Red and black lizards always spit fire, red and white arachnids multiply when shot, and larger undead birth extra cannon fodder.
While I would have been disappointed expecting a mentally engaging experience, Crimsonland enabled me to shut my brain down for an afternoon and wallow in the sickening squishes of creepy crawlies. Even so, engagements still required laser focus. If you play twin-stick shooters like I do, you always backpedal, facing forwards to clear gaps in the enemy waves so you can continue said backpedaling. Crimsonland mobilizes monsters from every direction, invalidating those old habits. 10tons dared me to alter my game plan, and I loved it … for the most part.
As mentioned before, assailants spawn from thin air, ambushing and encircling players. Even explosives cannot counter those odds. Power-ups tip the scales in your favor, freezing the rabid carnivores solid, summoning a plasma death spiral, turning bullets into fireballs, or nuking the two-dozen feet around you. The power-ups possess drawbacks, however. They vanish within a few seconds when players fail to retrieve them, and beelining through hostile hordes to obtain a shield or medkit sometimes wasted more health than I saved.
The weapons and power-ups give the simple-minded campaign some flare, though the ten new levels provide one novel enemy type (enormous pink crawfish) and one weak-ass boss. I might have hung up my assault rifle then and there were it not for the endless modes. The perks and firearms you unlock after conquering quests transfer over to the six Survival game types, the actually worthwhile content.
I say “worthwhile,” but Crimsonland still contains lemons. Rush pits you and your bottomless assault rifle against the world. Pass. I traded in the AK-47 (given its awful accuracy) whenever possible. Weapon Picker limits guns to one magazine. Players must grab newly materialized firearms if they want to rack up high scores, though enemy waves swell too fast for one clip of plasma or electric ammo to make a dent. In Nukefism, attackers only perish from power-ups, as Crimsonland strips your marine of his arsenal. I attempted Rush, Weapon Picker, and Nukefism fewer than five times.
Crimsonland’s campaign only works as well as it does because of the conjoined elements. Removing infinite ammo or the weapons voids the fun, so I set my sights on the fleshed-out modes. The classic Survival pours on the enemies nonstop. Blitz doubles the game’s speed but remains identical to Survival. I spent the most time mastering Blitz, since Survival’s gradual start mirrors the Geometry Wars games. In Waves, the newest mode, your marine battles waves of creatures. Waves is not the de facto game type, nor is the name original, yet it’s the closest approximation to a campaign with perks.
In the aforementioned modes, the more beasts you slay, the more experience your little soldier earns. Once he levels up, players choose a passive perk from a random array of four. Because perks stack, they alter the game dramatically. Should I accept a surplus of experience points, or bandage myself? Do I choose faster reloads or firing rates? Do I surrender two-thirds of my health to kill every enemy on the field? Will I become a toxic avenger, poisoning the bastards that dare sink their fangs into me?
A couple perks exist to screw players, of course. Ammunition Within enables you to fire when reloading. As payback, those bullets consume priceless health. Highlander removes the health penalty of monster attacks. Your vitality remains intact among the deadliest crowds, but their strikes have a five-percent chance to murder you immediately. At the same time, 10tons should have mingled several perks into Crimsonland’s default mechanics. Hungry claws and pincers shouldn’t slow players down, and even then, we need the ability to dodge blows.
Crimsonland wants to be more than a page in the history books. Despite the minor weapon and graphics tweaks to placate older fans, however, the game’s rudimentary point-and-shoot format remains unaffected by the past decade. Only ten additional missions and one survival mode separate Crimsonland’s Xbox One port from last year’s renditions as well. My worries melted away when committing mutant genocide by the thousands, but I can’t deny that Crimsonland shoots itself in the foot as often as it hits the mark.
This reviews is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided.
Contrary to its looks, Crimsonland still delivers frenetic fights that are impossible to reproduce in web browsers. But bigger and more beautiful twin-stick shooters rose to fame during the game's decade-long slumber, leaving 10tons playing catch-up.