You got your narrative arc in my roguelite! You got your roguelite in my narrative arc! Thus, Mothergunship is born. Imagine, a near-perfect melding of a smooth and well-progressed campaign that teaches the mechanics of a game, followed up by a traditional roguelite formula. I never knew how badly I needed this, but it’s like following up a four-course dinner with a buffet of all the different parts. With production values out the ejector ports and writing that would make even the Portal team proud, Mothergunship is a tight experience with a learning curve as smooth as its gameplay.
The game opens with a campaign that’s short but sweet. Sacrificing length (it’s about three hours long) for quality, a cast of hilariously-written characters walk the player through the basics of their mission. The writing is deadpan, over the top, and does what it needs to do without getting in the way of the action. It’s exactly what it needs to be, and the characters compliment each other wonderfully over the player’s comms as you’re blasting baddies and centuple-jumping around rooms.
The core loop of Mothergunship goes like this: there are three categories of “gun parts” to choose from – connectors (the base of your gun), caps (buffs to your gun), and barrels (these shoot things). You can combine an infinite number of these to form whatever Lovecraftian monstrosity you can dream up, as long as you have the parts. At the beginning of each mission you can only take a finite number of parts from your cache, usually around two or three. The rest must be bought from randomized shops using credits dropped by enemies. Make guns to blow up dudes, reach the end of the stage, and you win the mission.
After the brief but charming campaign I mentioned earlier, the game opens up into what would be considered the standard baseline for a roguelite: side-missions, and missions which must be completed to access the finale. The side missions range from near-impossible suicide runs, where only one gun can be brought along, to “sponsored” missions which see you taking a predesignated loadout that you can customize to your liking. What the game lacks in mission structure it makes up for in high variance in room design and aesthetics. Foundry ships are as distinct from Neon ships as fire and ice levels in any other game, and room layouts never became overly-familiar.
Each stage is a series of rooms: some small and obstacle-heavy, some massive and multi-layered. You often have a choice between what kind of room you want to enter next, choosing between a number of exits. Think of it like Cube: you don’t know exactly what kind of challenge you’re going to face on the other side of an airlock. Some rooms are marked as “challenge” stages, which reward credits for performing a specific task. Others include “dice” rooms which heighten a random variable like power-up drops or certain hazards. This is a wonderful way to spice up a run, and provides a great give-and-take for when you’re feeling adventurous (or meek).
When you’ve hoarded enough credits, you can start buying new guns. Every kind of gun you can imagine is here, and then some: spike-ball launchers, machine guns, chain guns, shotguns, lava-ball shooters, railguns, etc. You can combine these in any number of nonsensical ways, but balance is key. As the game tells you near the start, you can make a gun with 40 barrels, “Just be prepared to fire it only once.” Energy is your ammunition, and when it runs out it has to recharge before you can fire again. Coordinating damage, energy usage, and space makes creating new guns on the fly a fun and engaging part of the gameplay loop. My only complaint is the need to do it at the beginning of every mission – a “save favorite” option would have been nice. Then again, this goes against the core principle of experimentation that Mothergunship excels in.
If you’ve ever played a roguelite and found yourself wanting for more power, or more variance, or more fun, I completely understand. What if I told you that in this game, you were the master of your own destiny? If you’re feeling bored of how the game plays, just build a new gun! I was getting sick of sniping things with railguns and lightning rods, so I made a three-barreled chain gun that glued enemies in place with jelly traps. Don’t have enough jump powerups? Build a gun with tons of recoil, and use it to jettison yourself across rooms backwards. Not all the game’s guns are created equal, but there are more than enough to choose a few favorites to cycle between effectively.
There are plenty of tools here to make Mothergunship as fun as you want it to be, but sometimes the game hinders your ability to experiment with miserly credit drops and a scarcity of shops. It isn’t often this happens, but when it does it can leave you feeling underpowered at the best of times, and straight up stuck at the worst. Luckily, rooms rarely need to be “cleared” in order to progress. Oftentimes, simply surviving long enough to reach the next chamber is all you need to continue your run. This comes at the obvious cost of losing out on potential credits and health drops, but it beats trying to kill a particularly spongy enemy.
I’ve been waiting for a real quality first-person shooter roguelite to come around for a long time. There are noteworthy titles in the genre, like Immortal Redneck and Ziggurat, but I often find their gunplay and overall structure wanting. Mothergunship is a marvelous blend of roguelite randomness and self-serve zaniness, with a short but sweet campaign to kick it all off. All this presented with some of the best production values I’ve seen from a small-studio game. If you like what you see, you can rest assured that Mothergunship delivers.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A copy was provided by Grip Digital.
Mothergunship is a marvelous blend of roguelite randomness and self-serve zaniness, with a short but sweet campaign to kick it all off. All this presented with some of the best production values I've seen from a small-studio game.