A grizzled cowboy makes his way through the desert, handling scoundrels while searching for a kidnapped partner. No, I’m not describing a Clint Eastwood movie – although Colt Canyon is pretty close. A frantic mix of roguelike and twin-stick shooter, the game plonks you down in the Old West and says: go find your friend. What it doesn’t tell you is that you’ll soon be sucked into its addictive gameplay loop. From the moment I started my first run in this game, I was hooked. Even with some pretty brutal difficulty, this game keeps enticing you to give it one more shot. And we all now how that story goes…
Story – A tale of few words
When you begin your first run in this game, there’s not a whole lot of explanation or narrative development. Although you’re supposed to be playing as Cade “Gunslinger” Colt, this isn’t any Arthur Morgan-type conflicted cowboy. There’s very little dialogue in the game at all; most of these are simply to instruct the player on what to do. In terms of a plot, enemies capture your partner and leave you wounded, at which point you start tackling the dangerous desert the game presents you with. Although this complete lack of a storyline might put some players off – we (as gamers) have, after all, gotten used to long and emotional tales – any extra character development or story points would feel extraneous. The lack of dialogue-driven cutscenes, or getting to grips with lore, keeps the player grounded in the game’s strongest element: gameplay.
Gameplay – Fistful of bullets
You might be wondering at this point: How did this game manage to keep you entertained for 10 hours of runs? Well, the answer is that Colt Canyon hooked me with its gameplay from the first time a fired a revolver. Combining twin-sticks shooting with a roguelike loop system, each run became its own tricky test of skill and resource management. With each run randomly generated, sometimes you’ll have the ammo to take down hordes of enemies on the way to a key upgrade. But, just as often, you’ll be faced with scarce resources, and little opportunity to grab ammo. The game has the perfect level of variety in each run: you’ll often be faced with new combinations of weapons or upgrade choices, but the tricks and skills you pick up across runs will help you progress (often inch by inch).
As mentioned above, this game is difficult; it revels in finding fun new ways to kill you off across its numerous levels. It shocked me when, on my roughly 30th run, I was killed in one kick by a roped-up horse. Toxic plants, dynamite, poisons and fire can all knock you off in an instant – yet, there’s always a way to avoid dangerous obstacles. Each generated level is vast and open, giving you a huge number of options on how to get through. And, if you think you missed out on something the first time through, you can always go back a level. This freedom to explore each map compliments that freshness I talked about earlier; there’s this wonderful synergy between the game’s randomised design and its combat gameplay, as you’ll find yourself eager to explore, but cautious of what deadly enemies might await you.
The magnificent– wait, how many?!
Enemies have a distinct advantage over you throughout the game, through superior numbers. The way enemy hordes are set up, however, makes them a lot like some sort of bandit camp in an open world game: your best bet is to find a way to isolate each threat, without being swarmed. Even though you’ll be able to take down most enemies in a couple of shots, being surrounded is a death sentence. And, there’s brilliant variety in enemy design; from different guns, to different speeds, to even some special abilities – like lassoing you – each enemy feels like a different foe to go up against. It doesn’t matter that the basic enemy depictions are almost identical (being a handful of white pixels). Having enough types of foes makes Colt Canyon seem full of the all manner of villains. And it’s this feeling of richness in the adversaries you face that adds so much to the game’s loop.
There are relatively few bosses in this game, despite its roguelike design. Rather than have these fights break up every level, these climactic battles split the game into sections. And, while all three challenges will have you learning entirely new movesets to dodge, all three fights have a significant weakness: the boss’s health. In a game where every enemy goes down in, at most, four shots, these opponents can take an incredible amount of hits. Now, this isn’t to rag on the game for being too hard. But, dynamite is the only real way to damage to bosses, making hoarding the resource a necessity. Although these encounters can still be enjoyable, they don’t have the same quality as the rest of the gameplay.
You got a friend in me
On a different note, the game’s upgrade and loadout systems are another of its strengths. Despite the mass murders you commit in each run, the player is still the hero. So, its only natural that, in typical Western style, they can rescue captive townsfolk from bandits and thieves. These helping hands can be found in every level, and, although they’re often surrounded by enemies, saving them is worth the risk. All your in-run upgrades are available from these guys, and this often includes the option to have them as a companion. Other upgrades, like getting one health point back after every level can be vital if you want to survive; without accumulating a few of these perks, you’ll be faced with a far worse challenge in later levels. And, having an ally can be incredibly helpful in taking down large numbers of hostiles. Although you’ll need to give them a gun, having another target for enemy fire is a game changer.
There are a bunch of permanent unlocks outside of each run as well to change up your playstyle. Through just playing the game, I ended up unlocking 5 characters with completely different strengths to use. From high-health shotgun wielders to long range archers, every outlaw changes the game completely. Extra gun unlocks are available, and can be obtained (as far as I know) from getting kills with your hero. But, the real place to put these unlocks to good use is the local co-op mode. All the main player’s unlocks will be available to their partner, meaning that as a duo, you can test out loads of possible combinations of characters and firearms. And, what better way to enjoy the game’s hectic combat than with a friend?
Graphics and Audio – Beautifully barren
Colt Canyon‘s visuals are, for lack of a better word, simple. Characters are one colour, pixelated figures, and the game’s palette is pretty muted. However, this style works extremely well – not only do the browns and beiges make the game feel distinctly dusty and barren, but they also contrast with the splashes of blood brought about through combat. Rather than attempting to create a realistic-looking world, developer Retrific tired to capture the same feeling as classic western movies. When you add in the twanging acoustic guitars and harmonica of the soundtrack, it’s safe to say they nailed it.
Colt Canyon reviewed on PS4, with a key provided by Headup Games.