RR-sama Review: Paranautical Activity (Wii U)
Hello, and welcome to yet another RR-sama Review! RR-sama Reviews are all about getting you all of the day-of-release review goodness you need, and some info on what you can expect in your first hour of gameplay.
Today, we'll be taking a look at Paranautical Activity, a game that was released originally on Steam in 2014 that has recently been re-released for the Wii U. According to the game's release details, it promises to be a unique FPS-Roguelike combination with fast gameplay, and ridiculous bosses.
Sounds like a fun time to me, so let's dig in!
So let's start out with the basics. Paranautical Activity is a Roguelike game that shares many commonalities with games like The Binding of Isaac or Spelunky. With procedurally generated levels, the player can expect to rarely encounter the same stage or level layout. This includes enemies, bosses, obstacles, and more.
Paranautical Activity's gameplay is certainly fast paced, and players will find themselves constantly looking for ways to avoid enemy fire. Enemy variety is also plentiful, with my first run of the game leading to encounters with at least ten enemy types in the first two levels. The game's difficulty is as advertised. Most enemies can get a hit in before you notice them, and bosses are as "ridiculous" as the developers have stated.
Why is there a giant spider shooting fireballs out of its eyes at me? Why am I fighting it? Why is there a hadoken-shooting demon supporting it? Who cares? Just spray and pray!
The concept of the game is well executed, and it is genuinely enjoyable as I found myself entranced in the gameplay for a good two hours or so before finally writing down notes for this review. That said, there are a few issues that prevent this game from being great, namely...
This game suffers from what I like to call "NEStroid Syndrome". For those who have read my Metroid Rewind Review, you will remember this as being an apparent lack of in-game item description. While picking up certain items will give the player a two-second flash of "ITEM NAME: DESCRIPTION", some of the descriptions given are useless. This means players will likely spend a lot of the time on the internet looking for what each item actually does. This extends to weapons, such as the crossbow, where players have to sort of feel their way around how it works before moving forward.
The devs seem to assume that you will know Hotfeet increases speed, and the Dice randomize gift shop items. You would think this would at least be in the Wii U digital manual, but it isn't for some odd reason, leading to many Metroid (NES) flashbacks for your dear ol' RR-sama...
Another issue is that some "characters" have a severe disadvantage from the get-go. One example is "The Tank" which is about as close to a newbie character as you can find. Since stages are randomly generated, a player using The Tank can be stuck in a room with sharks and no means of escape. Since The Tank is a slow character, and Sharks are fast melee enemies, you may as well put down your controller and walk away as there is no way you will survive.
Considering the fact that most enemies in roguelike games such as this have very little strategy beyond "run away and shoot", this comes across as a major issue. While games such as The Binding of Isaac do have characters like this, the lack of a well-rounded character in this game can make it inaccessible for new players.
Other RNG-based horror stories include: spawning with a difficult boss as your first room, having no "Gift Shop" spawns, and being spawned in "Dark Rooms" that give next to zero visibility which can sometimes be paired up with bottomless pits. A personal pet peeve of mine is enemies that spawn under low ceilings that cannot be shot due to the Doom-esque inability to crouch.
Dark Rooms with bottomless pits lead to a case of Schrodinger's Player Character: until a notification tells you that you have fallen or enemies in the dark room are defeated, you are neither alive nor dead.
Another slight nitpick that I would like to mention is the apparent lack of sound effects. Aside from the player's weapons, the game features next to no sounds coming from enemies or environmental factors - or at least none that are audible while the game's default sound settings are on.
This can make it difficult to navigate the game's rooms as players can take some "cheap" damage from enemies that simply haven't been noticed. It also takes away from defeating enemies, since the lack of death animations or sound effects makes the player feel a lack of satisfaction in their accomplishments.
Another issue is the game's loading times. Once again, Paranautical Activity is not a graphically intense game. Most of the models are on Minecraft-levels of detail, and textures are not particularly intense either. Despite this, every time you start up the game or move to the next level, the game takes almost 30-40 seconds to load any time the loading screen appears.
If you aren't particularly good at roguelike or FPS games, you can expect to be on this screen longer than in the actual game itself...
Also, for reasons unknown, Paranautical Activity appears to have crashing issues when played off an external hard drive. In my first 20 minutes of gameplay, I was startled to find out that my Wii U had actually rebooted due to an unknown failure. While I was able to lower the rate of crashes by transferring the game from my external hard drive to the Wii U's system drive, the fact that the game crashes at all is worth mentioning. Considering the fact that Paranautical Activity does not appear to be particularly intense on either the GPU, RAM, or CPU fronts, this is unsettling.
Hopefully the developers can patch this sooner than later, for this - paired with oddly long loading times - can make the game particularly unenjoyable.
Repetitive is the only word I would need to describe Paranautical Activity's presentation. While the rooms are randomly generated, they do stick to a formula, and the lack of diverse settings leads to a case of nausea. The abundance of dark spots on the screen don't help either.
There are over 40 enemy types in Paranautical Activity. You will encounter all 40 in the first hour of gameplay. You will also be hard pressed to recognize the difference between a good portion of them...
While the pixelated look does serve the game well, I can't help but feel as though the rooms themselves clash with the enemy and player models. Perhaps it is the quality of shadows and lighting that clash with it, but that is purely a personal nitpick. That said, at least the enemies look good considering the choice of art style.
Bosses range from the visually impressive, to the downright ridiculous. Mr. Skullface here (not the official name) is perhaps one of the most visually amusing as he tries to shoot green orbs at you.
What I do like, however, is the simplicity of the HUD. On your left you have your alternate/superweapon and its ammo count; then it's health, armor, minimap, bombs/grenades, money, and powerups in that order. The boss health is also clearly marked at the top, and it gives you a very precise count of how much health your opponent still has.
What does get annoying is the lack of a diverse soundtrack (of which can be heard directly from the official OST found here). The developers themselves stated that the game features a "Dubstep soundtrack". If you aren't a fan of non-stop Dubstep, this game is not for you. The repetitive music only changes tracks once they run their full cycle (this includes if you die and return to the menu), and by the end of your run you will want to gouge your ears out.
If you happen to be a fan of non-stop repetitive Dubstep, well... good for you.
Paranautical Activity is by no means a bad game. In fact, it's a very fun game once you study the entirety of the Paranautical Activity fan-made Wiki. While features in "The Bad" section somewhat take away from the game, it does not render the game unplayable. What does, however, are the issues stated in "The Ugly". These can be fixed with patches, and I hope that the developers at Code Avarice will fix these issues in the future.
As for my final verdict for this RR-sama day one review: all things considered, Paranautical Activity gets a 6/10.
The game isn't particularly memorable, and certainly won't keep your attention beyond a few complete Classic-mode runs, but it is playable and enjoyable for fans of roguelike looking for a fresh take on the genre. While the Dubstep soundtrack certainly isn't my cup of tea (or some other players I know), this can be fixed by turning off the music and playing some of your own jams in the background.