Tower 57 is a new top-down retro shooter developed by Pixwerk. It resembles a 90s era shoot em up and has a focus on beautiful 16-bit graphics, co-op gameplay, and an intense shooting experience that may remind some of Doom or Contra. At its core, it's a twin-stick shooter with a bit more plot and freedom between levels than most games in the genre. It has a lot of upgrade options, and there are multiple characters to choose from–all with their own unique weapons and abilities. The focus on co-op means that both local and online multiplayer is available, but the game still offers a rewarding single-player experience.
This game was a successful Kickstarter, and Tower 57 can currently be purchased on Steam for $11.99.
The world of Tower 57 is beautiful and bleak. Taking place in a dystopian world, human society only exists in mega-towers that resemble something out of 1984 or Judge Dredd. The player is tasked with infiltrating Tower 57 due to a dubious problem inside. The ragtag force sent in to investigate the tower consists of six characters including a scientist, beggar, diplomat, and spy etc.
Between levels, there is a hub with a bunch of shops, mini-games, and establishments to explore. The world is well-crafted and fun to probe. The story itself gets pretty bizarre–at one point dinosaur breeding is involved–, but the plot isn't all that enthralling as a whole. For one, the old-school style text is abundant and not all that fun to read through. Some of the story is told through PCs sitting around town and dungeons. There are choices to be made, though they don't drastically affect the in-game results, and your characters remain largely untouched by any of the NPCs or story events. They are focused solely on the main mission.
Maybe I am being a little harsh here, but I prefer a shooter to just give me good action and a unique world where I can envision my own story unfolding. The world presented is beautiful, but I found the plot forgettable and mostly unnecessary. On the bright side, you can easily breeze through most of the dialogue and focus solely on the gameplay.
There are six characters to pick from, and you can pick three of them to start. These three characters act as lives, and when one character dies, you go onto the next one. The characters include the beggar, the don, the diplomat, the spy, the officer, and the scientist. Each character has their own special weapon and special ability.
Your arsenal includes a weaker gun with unlimited ammo, a gun that pertains to your character, and random weapons that can be picked up from slain enemies. On top of the guns, there are special abilities that can be used to assist in combat. Some of these feature projectiles, time slowing down, and hacking devices. Finally, each character has a special attack that is charged by defeating enemies. Though different, each of these attacks does massive damage to any foe unlucky enough to be on screen.
The levels are lengthy and fun to explore. The levels are not randomly generated, so players can memorize them and improve their skills if killed. The levels are full of details, and feature multiple enemies, switches that open doors, and they often have secret walls that can be destroyed for extra ammo or health among other upgrades. It's amazing how jampacked each level is, and there is never a dull moment between killing and exploring. The stages have cool platforming elements like surviving toxic water, dashing out of the way of fire, and pipes that burst and spew steam.
There are also upgrades for both player bodies and weapons. Legs, arms, and torsos can be upgraded for extra fire-power, increased lunging, and extra health. It's a really neat ability that means that spending your money wisely is important (more on that below).
The gameplay is truly a blast, and the controls are tight; however, there are a few drawbacks to Tower 57. My biggest complaint was the revival system. Unlike most other games, a game over won't revive fallen characters. Instead, you need to find orange balls–not all that common–and give them to a soothsayer who can revive a dead character. I found this frustrating when I would get a game over only to be given one character (essentially one life) to survive the rest of the level with.
Another complaint is the money system. Money is found in crates, fallen enemies, and can be earned by playing mini-games in the hub area. The money can be used to upgrade body parts and weapons. There is a slot machine where the player can win enough money to upgrade everything after the very first level of the game. This makes the rest of the game a breeze and the easiness of this slot machine makes this very tempting. On the flip side, if a player chooses to play fairly, not having enough money can result in the levels increasing in difficulty fast and lacking enough firepower to survive. There is an imbalance here that left me trying to basically jack up one or two characters and ignoring my third almost entirely.
My final complaint is that the game is short. It can be beaten in two-three hours, and there isn't a whole lot to do after you beat it. The game is exciting and definitely worth replaying for the fun of it, but there isn't a ton of content here.
In the end, despite a few flaws, this game has a very well crafted combat system and addicting gameplay. The levels are expansive, and the hub was a nice addition to the game. I had a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the faithful return to the 16-bit era and the ingenuity of the level design, weapons, and upgrade system.
I played this game entirely single player. I tried to find a match online once, but I think I was too early since the game was in the pre-release stage. Playing single player didn't really have any hindrances. There are a couple points where NPCs can join you in the game, and it definitely made things run smoother; it was cool to have a character continuing the assault as my special attack ripped through a boss.
I imagine co-op would be a great addition, and it will hopefully pick up as more people play this game, but the single-player experience is rewarding in of itself.
visuals and sound
The visuals in Tower 57 are amazing in their own right: they are very polished looking 16-bit graphics that reminded me a lot of the SNES. For a dystopian world, it's incredible how colorful and detailed this game is. Sure, there are shadowy corners, toxic sewers, and a lot of dismal establishments in town, but this game is stirring with fine details and beautiful imagery.
There is constant shading and color contrast, and you always walk by ominous yet alluring objects such as flickering lights and skeletal remains of some poor townsfolk. The ground has broken tiles, and the walls have moving fans and bright switches; even in the dungeons, there is no detail too small to be overlooked. The attention given each environment is a testament to the developer's passion for the 16-bit era and retro-revival.
The soundtrack manages to impress as well, but it makes a lot smaller waves than the graphical achievements. The game usually has a darker electronic soundtrack, having an industrial feel. There are really neat passe BMG sound effects and cheesy voiceovers that definitely bring a time in gaming before symphonic soundtracks and professional voice-acting to mind. This is actually a positive since the soundtrack fits the game's atmosphere, and the voice overs offer a great laugh and tip of the hat to old cartridge-based voice acting.
Tower 57 is an awesome twin-stick shooter, that simply put, is really fun to play. There are some flaws, and some people will find this game to be either way too easy or way too hard depending on how they go about it, but this is a very well-crafted game that is highly entertaining and will appeal to anyone who likes retro-shooters.
The choice of fighters, customizable weapons, and level exploration all make this game well worth a play through. The strange revival system is definitely frustrating and makes losing a character more painful than it should be, but smart players will enjoy employing strategy and treading carefully and find this game to be a thrilling experience.
The length of the game is the one obstacle to this game being a must-purchase. The game is only a few hours long, and there isn't a whole lot to come back to outside of playing the same adventure again or trying online multiplayer. For $11.99 it's a question of whether or not you find a three-hour game–a very entertaining one at that–worth that price.
|+ Addicting gameplay||– A very short game|
|+ Incredible level design||– Revival system is frustrating|
|+ Character selection||– Money can be manipulated|
|+ Hub is fun to explore|