Developed by Ink Stains Games, 12 Is Better Than 6 takes the conventional idea of a top down shooter and incorporates a few fresh ideas of its own. As the game itself is very long, running through four acts and twenty four levels apiece, it does take some time for a real player understanding to settle in.
Once the player has a full arsenal available to them however, 12 Is Better Than 6 will reveal itself as a passably well designed game that will offer an experience only a niche target audience of gamers is likely to enjoy.
12 Is Better Than 6 is available right now, exclusively for the PC on Steam.
The story of 12 Is Better Than 6 revolves around a hard boiled Mexican bandit type character who remains named only as “The Mexican”. From the outset, his struggle begins after escaping slavery as he pushes ever forward toward the United States. The Mexican is supposed to be an enigma. A mysterious person who is particularly capable at staying alive and taking life without hesitation.
Curiously, despite playing as The Mexican, it’s hard to escape the idea that he is in fact not a good person. After playing for a while, the player will come to a stark realisation that The Mexican is really just a cold, bitter and uncaring individual. Perhaps so much so to the extent that he ultimately feels like a badly written anti-hero from a 70’s movie. There’s never any room in 12 Is Better Than 6’s simply told story to explore who The Mexican really is. As such, we never feel able to relate to him or feel any sympathy to his plight as he murders his way to freedom, cursing gringos at every turn.
He is sadly a rather one dimensional character who’s sole purpose is to provide the player a conduit into this hand drawn Wild West. This was driven home the most when he sneaks up on a chef and asks him to distract soldiers outside. It’s not enough that the chef has already agreed to help, no. The Mexican then goes on to explain how, if the chef doesn’t help him, he’ll return to murder him and his whole family. It’s like the scene is set up in an attempt to show the desperation of The Mexican and just how much of a badass he is. In the end, he just comes across as a very unlikeable chap. If that works for you, fine. Yet, it’s so much harder to invest in a character’s story if he is drawn to be so distasteful.
What also makes the game a little harder to authentically enjoy is how badly written it is. When we see game reviews discussing how something is badly written, we expect a discussion of bad delivery of story. Perhaps some poorly displayed scenes or unintentional confusion. None of these things are a problem in 12 Is Better Than 6, given its incredibly cut and dry approach to narrative. In this case, it is literally badly written. With no voiceover for the game, the player must read character dialogue. Which, in itself is not a criticism.
Although, the reading of that dialogue may become problematic when it makes no grammatical sense whatsoever. Every scene is a variation of “Don’t mess with me I have a gun. Now help me, gringo” followed by “Oh God, Oh God, please don’t hurt me”. Then we must also endure text that appears as if it were written by a foreign exchange student attempting his first go at creative arts. It may not be fair to suggest, but when an English first language player spots several of these grammatical blunders in less than ten minutes, it cripples the entirety of the game with an inescapable air of ineptitude and amateurish corner cutting in game design.
Had the delivery of 12 Is Better Than 6’s story not been riddled with such terrible writing, it may have been forgiven for delivering an enjoyable and simple story. As it stands, the game’s story ends up feeling like it shouldn’t be there. It’s almost as if 12 Is Better Than 6 would have been better served with no forced narrative and just offered gameplay that left it to the player’s imagination to construct what is going on.
Storytelling issues aside, 12 Is Better Than 6’s gameplay works hard to redeem the title of aforementioned misgivings. It could have been just another twin stick shooter (it may have even been better off that way), but Ink Stains Games has opted to surprise us with a few original ideas of their own. Credit definitely goes to them for designing a top down shooter that is equal parts frustrating and demanding of skill. Again, this no criticism as the same can certainly be said for the brilliant Cuphead.
When starting out with 12 Is Better Than 6, the player will quickly learn that the Mexican goes down in one shot. As a result, every move and every decision must be calmly calculated to get from one side of a level to another. The Mexican may stalk his victim, knife equipped, to attempt silent level traversal. He may also choose to go loud and take out every threat in the level, leveraging choke points and doorways to his advantage. To have that choice of tactical play is indeed refreshing in this genre of indie. Tension builds in larger areas as we try to get to the end without putting a single foot wrong.
Yet frustration is guaranteed when the black and white stylings of the game conceal possible threats. Many a time, I witnessed The Mexican walk right into what I thought was a rock yet it was just a new hat type on an enemy. After wrangling what I thought was a hard earned victory, the character moved and put me down in an instant… Back to square one then.
The Mexican may be presented as a killing machine but he is never overpowered. Which is great as it keeps a challenging consistency throughout. Weapons often run out of ammo, demanding that we scavenge more from the level or rely solely on smart thinking and use of the knife. Certain weapons must be cocked before firing and reloading them presents the player with a handy image of bullets and cartridges loading into a magazine. This reload visual feature was immensely useful. While it offers little in the way of gameplay mechanics, the visual cue was a lifesaver in heated moments.
Moving onto The Apostles DLC, the story is a little more intriguing as we are shown a classic Mexican standoff between three roguish characters. Each of them explain themselves and as they do so, we are brought into playable flashbacks. Here, the characters feel a little more powerful as if to be an indulgent reward to those who spend on the DLC. A shame then that this DLC may have been better served as the main event with the struggles of The Mexican trailing in as something that should have been a lot shorter.
Ultimately, 12 Is Better Than 6’s gameplay is fairly original for the genre and establishes it as a good bit of fun for those already invested in top down shooters. For those who aren’t however, it may prove to feel a little jarring. After all, those who bought the game on Steam so far have reviewed with “Mostly Positive” results.
Graphics & Audio
12 Is Better Than 6 presents itself as a minimalist, black and white, hand drawn experience. Credit is due to Ink Stains Stains games as there is clearly artistic talent on the team. That is clear to see during the intermission cutscenes between acts and on the main menu. However, where animation is concerned, the game could have used a little more love. Some players may feel their experience of the game is at risk of feeling a little stagnant due to this lack of animation. For example, enemies and The Mexican himself don’t really move very convincingly. Of course, they don’t have to for this style of game. What I mean is that all characters are relegated to becoming variations of different hats, sliding around the level like lazy hockey pucks on ice. Aside from this, we get grazing horses and 2D smoke rising effects.
This style of presentation is of course, entirely down to taste. After all, 12 Is Better Than 6 is available on Steam for a very meagre price, so evidence of big budget development should not be expected. Where 12 Is Better Than 6 stands to redeem itself is its music. The game’s soundtrack is undeniably catchy, with authentic sounding Wild West jingles to see us through every level.
12 Is Better Than 6 demands flawless execution of player decisions. It has that extra tactical angle that not many top-down shooters offer. It is this high bar of challenge, combined with just how much content there is to burn through that will likely be appreciated by those who buy the title. However, do not throw caution to the wind when considering picking this one up. To really enjoy 12 Is Better Than 6, you’re better off being sure that you are an avid fan of the genre. Perhaps even the kind of gamer that skips cutscenes. The kind of gamer that cares little for the minor details and just wants to crack on through the levels. That kind of attitude is not a bad thing. Each to their own. Yet, in this case, it will help you to overlook 12 Is Better Than 6’s many issues, and see straight through to the tight gameplay on the other side.
|+ Original twist on the top down shooter||– Lacklustre story and laughable dialogue|
|+ Tense "dead in one" gameplay||– The Mexican is straight up unlikeable|
|+ Great soundtrack||– Art style can trick players into death|