Last year saw an epic rise in the twin stick shooting bullet hell genre. Games like Nuclear Throne and Enter the Gungeon have my personal taste stretching to unimaginable wisps of experiences that led to a lot of fun moments. Never did I ever think such games would grab me as hard as they did. I spent months dodging around as that green swamp-like creature and even more time shooting bullets (which was hilariously ironic) in Enter the Gungeon. I went as far as ordering some merchandise from both games, which really cements their impact on me. The crazy thing is that I didn’t even know the genre that well or had any experience with games anything like these two, they were just fun slices of gameplay that I loved snacking on between larger AAA titles. This year we see Genetic Disaster, Team8 Studio’s shot at the same genre, ultimately take a few steps back compared to its predecessors. That’s not to say that there’s not enough in Genetic Disaster to make me enjoy my time with it, but it just doesn’t seem to stack up against these other surprise indie hits.
Upon starting, I noticed one strange thing about Genetic Disaster: I couldn’t choose my character. The game is four players locally and online, and this calls for several creatures to be used as player characters. The one you’re introduced to, a lizard-like humanoid, is fine with me, but the decision to exclude the rest of the characters from a single-player option is puzzling at best. Once I got past this odd choice though, nothing about Genetic Disorder really caught me hanging my head too low. From the beginning you’re treated to a choice of two weapons that will kickstart your wonderful collection of guns. These two starter weapons are also, like the rest of the game, randomly picked from a myriad of combinations. One round you might start with a great freezing ray, while in the next round you’re stuck with a sniper rifle. This randomness helped bring life into Genetic Disaster which was otherwise lacking at times, but mostly due to the few amount of base level enemies, I felt as if Genetic Disaster suffered a bit from its repetitive motions. This isn’t good in any game, but when the loop of this roguelike involves replaying levels over and over until you get better, it becomes quite noticeable that there are only limited possibilities to the randomness of Genetic Disaster’s bag of tricks.
Despite this essential gripe, Genetic Disaster’s core gameplay lacked in a few other departments. Moving across its two-dimensional levels to eradicate these weird insect-like creatures hit its stride after getting used to the key differences it has compared with similar games. For instance, there’s a dodge roll which pretty much makes you impervious to taking damage from bullets, but unlike in other titles, it relies on a cooldown that enhances the strategic element of the skill. Another core difference is the way the in-game currency and markets work. It’s hard to fully explain on paper, but the markets you’ll come across in Genetic Disaster often give you choices between spending more gold for different selections of rewards or settling with the ones given first. This goes hand in hand with abilities that can be purchased to enhance your character’s stats. A certain potion might give you a shorter cool own for your dodge, another might raise your overall health. These many changes create at least some nuance in the strategies you can employ while trying to get farther and farther into the game. I personally found a few power ups to be the strongest and stuck with those, but I’ve also seen some others used in cool ways.
This amount of customization options each round also expands to weapons, kind of. Again, Genetic Disaster fooled me with the fact that its 65 weapons are plentiful, but all felt nearly the same. Ranging from two different types of ammo (green goo and solid projectiles), weapons were often designed with creativity and balance as last objectives. You have all of the common arcade tropes: fire weapons, ice pistols, short-range, and long-range. These weapons also weren’t different enough for me to actually enjoy picking one over the other, I simply stuck with what I had more ammo in and what was more effective. These decisions were not as complex as the abilities were to choose from, and Genetic Disaster suffered from that. I wish strategies I had to think about for potions and elixirs carried over to the other facets of Genetic Disaster, namely weapons, character abilities, and enemy differences. It would’ve made for a much more interesting game, something it needed to do to differentiate itself from the rest of the competition.
This difference luckily came into play with anther factor that ultimately saved Genetic Disaster from being a total waste: the art direction. While others in the genre take pixel art approaches to the chaos, Genetic Disaster chose to keep things fun with an art style that bled personality. It looked as if I was playing a cute cartoon from Comedy Central or Nickelodeon, colors popping on the screen as an equally unique soundtrack blares in the background. My salamander character also stood vibrantly in his odd yet strikingly attractive animations. It’s a testament to just how great these amenities were that they practically took the limelight and were the best excuse to play Genetic Disaster.
These great features like art and music made Genetic Disaster a beauty to look at, but its gameplay, design, and lack of quantity meant it sorely lacked longevity. For the average shooter or beat ’em up, this wouldn’t be so bad, but in a roguelike that heavily depends on replayability, these flaws make Genetic Disaster the last pick amongst so many of last year’s great options, like Enter the Gungeon and Nuclear Throne. Though this is true, that doesn’t make my time playing this bright bullet hell any less enjoyable. If, by chance, you’ve already played much of the other options in the genre, definitely pick up Genetic Disaster as a unique palette cleanser and awesome art piece.
Developer: Team8 Studio
Publisher: Team8 Studio
Release Date: 18th December 2017