Nuclear Throne review - Fish has gills and I have no skills
You're probably aware of the massive flood of indie games on the market if you've paid any attention to the upcoming, released, and Early Access games lists on Steam over the past year. There's a ton, and believe you me most of them are not worth your time.
Nuclear Throne was on my radar for ages because it looked like my kind of game: fast-paced, brutal, and random. I wanted a game to fill the void Risk of Rain left in my guts after I got to the point it just wasn't challenging anymore -- outside of runs using excessive Artifacts. I played that game for 120+ hours, both solo and with friends, and I don't regret it.
So here's Nuclear Throne, this roguelike-like that frankly looks amazing and I want it but it's Early Access so I let it sit. I've been burned on Early Access too many times just like every other Steam user who generally prefers indies over AAAs. Even if it looked like just what I wanted, I was willing to wait. And the wait was worth it.
How does this thing even work
Nuclear Throne is one of those games you repeatedly slam yourself into until you get good enough to make some actual progress. After having bashed your beautiful, innocent face into the unforgiving and ugly wasteland, you come out black and blue and just a little bit better at surviving each time. You can hope you'll one day come out unscathed, but... what's the fun in that?
One can't help but draw a parallel between it and indie darling The Binding of Isaac. Not only because of both games' brutality against the player, but because the gameplay itself.
Both have the player run around randomized areas trying desperately to get strong enough to stay alive as everything else around them quickly becomes overwhelming, and both are top-down view action games with their toes dipped in shmups and twin stick shooters.
Aside from these similarities, Nuclear Throne is unique. Players get stronger as they progress in a run via picking up weapons and choosing one mutation (like a perk or buff) per character level up. Once you die, weapons and mutations are lost and it's time to try again.
Sit on the Throne
Your progression is pretty much lost when you die in Nuclear Throne, but there are permanent unlockables that are well-worth the effort and getting them is extremely satisfying.
The first sign of permanent progression is character unlocks. The first few unlocks come quick and easy with Eyes, Melting, and Plant; but the rest require effort from new players.
It can and will take time for anyone new to the game to unlock every character. But that's not even the most effort-intensive progression to be had here. Golden Weapons and Crowns that offer benefits (and often detractors) can be unlocked per character to be used from the start of the game.
Why would you want progression in this type of game anyway? Because otherwise there wouldn't be much incentive to play before you're good enough to loop multiple times.
Looping is a common term among roguelike-likes that refers to getting to the "end" of the game, then choosing to restart with your current character, weapons, and upgrades for the added challenge and additional content. Many of Nuclear Throne's secrets are hidden behind at least one loop.
Trusty old revolver
There's a ton to be said about the details developer Vlambeer has thrown into the game, but many of those are better left to the player to see for themselves.
Nuclear Throne's gameplay is paired with some amazing music and sprites that do more than get the job done. It's clear a lot of love was put into the game and it's a joy to both play and see in action. My one complaint is the lack of online multiplayer. The game's local co-op does its job, but I can only imagine how much more fun (and popular) it could be if you could play online with friends.
Indie gaming is bigger than ever and unfortunately for the gameplay > all crowd who primarily stick to indies, retro, and difficult larger releases it's gotten harder to find real gems among what's available on Steam and console storefronts. There's more available out there, but it's not easy to trust what you find. You can definitely trust this one.
I was more than pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of Nuclear Throne than I'd like to admit, and it's one title I wish I had purchased during Early Access. Now, nearly two months after its full release, I can confidently say this is one of the best games of the genre and sits on its own bloodied throne among the many other great roguelites and roguelike-likes we've gotten these past few years.