Challenging gameplay has become a popular sub-genre in gaming, and if it’s difficulty you’re looking to overcome, Godstrike is the game for you. The first title developed by OverPowered Team, a small independant studio from Madrid, Spain, the twin-stick shooter hopes to appeal to those seeking a challenge, and adds a unique spin through its time/health mechanic. In reality, it delivers a repetitive experience with some frustrating quirks. At its best though, the small-scale indie title can be a satisfying puzzle to solve.
Story – From Charming to Souring
There’s not much of a storyline to Godstrike. The general premise sees the playable character, Yissia, donning the mask of Talaal to defeat the warring god-like Heralds, whose in-fighting is causing the decay of their world, Eonora. The beginning of Story Mode does have a Zelda-esque creation myth, and some backstory that appropriately sets the apocalyptic stakes that Yissia/Talaal finds herself in. It’s a quaint style of storytelling that serves its purpose well, but unfortunately the rest of the indie title is devoid of any more enjoyable exposition.
The only other story beats that occur are when Talaal is about to enter a new battle with one of the ten Heralds. There is a quote from Talaal, and then the battle begins. It took me a while to realise the quotes were coming from Talaal, and not the enemy Heralds I was facing. That confusion, and the somewhat questionable localisation, stopped me from appreciating this smaller scaled story to its fullest.
Gameplay – A Tale of Two Times
The first boss, Tutoriaal (I’ll give the devs this one), took me forty minutes to defeat. The last boss, Garodal, took me 5 full Switch charges to finally kill—Godstrike is tough.
That difficulty is to be expected from a self-described ‘twin-stick boss rush shooter’. However, there is a delicate line between being tough and satisfying, and hard for the sake of being hard. The indie title manages to be both of these at various times during Story Mode.
The game controls like a top-down shoot ‘em up—the left joystick moves Talaal, and the right shoots projectiles. Think Geometry Wars, but instead of hordes of low-level enemies, there are hordes of projectiles to dodge.
The reason the difficulty level is so uneven, is that each fight also has a puzzle element to it that you only get full autonomy over during the second half. The first layer of the puzzle is learning the pattern to each phase of a fight, dodging and shooting at ideal moments. The second layer is choosing which abilities to equip before entering a battle.
Occult abilities act as your passive powers, granting benefits like Faster Than Light, which raise Talaal’s movement speed. Arcane abilities are mapped to the four shoulder buttons, and give you powers like Overload, which launches multiple streams of projectiles at once. These Arcane abilities cost a differing number of Souls to use, which are dropped from hitting enemies. Talaal can have up to 4 Occult and 4 Arcane abilities equipped at once.
At the beginning of Story Mode, Talaal has one Arcane and one Occult ability. There is no pre-fight puzzle to solve here. You then get rewarded an additional Arcane and Occult ability after defeating each boss. Consequently, the beginning of the game is so much harder than the later bosses because you have no ability variety to choose from. Combat starts as a basic (and harder) challenge of memorising boss patterns, and I didn’t have a lot of fun during these early fights. They became stale very quickly.
I started to really enjoy Godstrike during the fifth boss, Duhm. I finally had enough abilities to experiment with different builds, and eventually found an effective way to combat Duhm’s unique pattern, and had a blast while doing it. The title’s true potential opened up, and it became an enjoyable puzzle on top of a challenging shooter. Having to wade through four uninteresting bosses to get to this point however, was not a great feeling.
Building an effective Arcane arsenal has an additional caveat to it; time.
Each boss has a set time limit that you need to defeat it in, and every equipped Arcane Power comes with a time penalty. The more powers Talaal has equipped, the less time you have to defeat a boss.
Time is the most important element in Godstrike because it also acts as your health, and you lose time/health with every hit. This can range from seven seconds to as high as thirty, depending on who you’re fighting, and what you got hit by. Essentially, the timer means you’re always playing with a health debuff. Your time/health is constantly depleting, and there is no health recovery system. As a puzzle-solving fan, I really liked this mechanic. It adds a deeper layer to what could have been a simple twin-stick shooter.
There are downsides that stop the shoot ’em up puzzler from achieving its true potential. The most infuriating of which was the cut-off point to Talaal’s projectiles. The bosses can fire all the way across the map, yet Talaal only reaches less than halfway. This leads to wasted time/health when you need to back away from deadly hits, and aren’t doing any damage.
Then there’s easy mode, but there is nothing easy about it. It reduces the time lost from each hit and lowers each Herald’s health, but the difference is so small I barely noticed it helping.
As well as Story, there are other modes. The best of these is Daily Challenge. It’s a one-shot attempt that pits you against a boss, with a random modifier, Arcane, and Occult abilities assigned. This mini challenge is a nice bite-sized version of the behemoth undertaking of Challenge Mode, which gives you one attempt to best ten bosses in a row without dying. It is effectively locked off to everyone but the most skilled players, and with a lack of puzzle element attached to it, I didn’t enjoy attempting Challenge Mode, but other players might.
Arena Mode lets you play around with abilities not found in the story, and has a leaderboard, showing off global and friends’ rankings. Bafflingly, it doesn’t show what boss you’re choosing, it just has a symbol that you’re expected to remember every time.
These extra modes won’t blow you away, but they’re a nice inclusion for those after endgame content.
Audio and Graphics – Divinely Muddy
It’s unfortunate that the game is full of browns and yellows throughout the first half. Mud and sand are the prevalent visuals, which become boring very quickly. The fifth boss, Duhm, is when Godstrike really begins to have fun with its colour pallet and visuals. The environments start to pop in pastel colours, and the arenas are used in interesting ways. Fighting the late boss, Cindael, sees the playable area caged in by spears that move to damage you if you get too close. This is a visually fun design choice that adds another element to combat planning.
One of best graphical effects happens when the timer runs out. You go into overtime, which creates a unique filter. The visuals alter to make the important objects on screen standout. I found I was able to stay alive for a lot longer like this, giving overtime a great feeling thanks to this simple colour effect.
Just like the story, a soundtrack is nearly non-existent. The music starts incredibly soft and can barely be heard over flying projectiles. It’s definitely not suited for these devine Herald battles. Better music kicks in on the fourth boss, but it gets old very quickly, and if the track changed after this, it was so similar that I never noticed.
A better soundtrack really could have elevated the repetitive nature of Godstrike. Fellow small-scale indie games like Hotline Miami and Cuphead can be just as repetitive, but they are full of charm and personality, with incredible soundtracks that really propel you through their levels.
Godstrike was reviewed on Nintendo Switch, with a review key provided by Stride PR