You generally know what you’re going to get with a Housemarque game. Slick twin stick action and plenty of visual flair are the cornerstones of what the Finnish coders do but there’s a couple of things that are surprising about their latest joint. Firstly, Matterfall comes hot on the heels of their recent shooter Nex Machina which dropped less than two months ago and secondly it’s a side-scroller.
That’s right. Matterfall isn’t seen from above like their other games. What we get here is a platform shooter that is much more inspired by the likes of Contra and Metroid than the usual Robotron inspiration that we’re used to. Thankfully it keeps the exploration to a minimum and don’t expect too many tricky platforming moments either, the shooting definitely front and centre here.
The story revolves around a weird alien substance, the matter in the games title, that was initially responsible for all sorts of scientific breakthroughs but has now taken over all of the world’s AI and turned them into pissed off deathborgs. It’s not of much consequence except that the matter also aids you in some clever ways.
Your character, a relatively shameless Samus clone, is a ‘fixer’ who has turned up on this post-Earth human planet to clear up the matter and take out the hordes of AI in time for a massive evacuation of colonists from Earth. Luckily, Darrow is equipped with some fancy gear and moves to help even the odds a little.
Your basic controls allow you to run (left stick) and shoot (right stick, which aims and shoots rather than requiring a separate fire button and this is why we love Housemarque). Jumping (and double-jumping) is assigned to R1 which is initially a little odd but you’ll need your right thumb free for shooting and so it makes sense to place it there. On top of that you also have a few more capabilities.
L2 fires off your matter gun. This sprays blue matter forward, generally allowing you to phase in platforms, albeit it preset locations. It also detonates matter bombs that are dropped by enemies. These act as small smart bombs and are very useful for crowd control.
R2 shoots your secondary weapon. These are unlocked as you go along by rescuing civilians. These hapless victims are usually off of the beaten path but a little icon lets you know when you are near them and the game refrains from sprawling, so finding them isn’t too challenging.
Your final move is your ‘strike’ which is essentially a dash that offers you a few frames of invincibility while also stunning enemies. This is mapped to L1 so, as you can see, you’ll have your hands full juggling all these options but it does start to feel quite natural after a while and you’ll soon be pulling off moments of skill, which you’ll need as Matterfall can put up a challenge.
The core gameplay is enjoyable but a little brief. Levels take around 10-15 minutes and there are only nine of them as well as three boss battles. On the plus side, they are quite direct. I appreciate not having all the bonus hidden stuff that you got in Nex Machina as it gives this game a different feel. That said, the matter stuff could have made for some interesting, or at least taxing, puzzle-platformer sections. Instead the action, for all of its additional controls, is almost a little single-minded in its purpose.
Depth is added by offering the player a choice of upgrades, if you can find the humans that carry them. Secondary weapons and also perks and buffs are available to be equipped in three slots. It’s just up to you which ones you’ll want to pick. Do you favour some decent up front fire power or do you want more matter bombs littering your enemies’ paths? The choices are yours and thankfully there are some rewarding ones in there.
Matterfall comes with that level of quality and playability that we’ve come to expect from Housemarque and surviving an ambush from a bunch of robotic pricks who all go up in a shower of voxels is as satisfying an arcade experience as you’ll find on PSN right now. And you’d better believe that voxels and particles of all sorts of colours are going to be delighting your retinas. While Resogun still remains the standard for this sort of thing, Matterfall doesn’t disappoint when it comes to presentation. You’ll want to shut off your DualShock’s speaker though as the game turns your controller into something of a chatty Kathy.
While the game is tight and polished, it does feel like maybe Nex Machina got more resources. Where that game was obsessively engineered in terms of level design, Matterfall seems a bit less precise when it comes to its difficulty curves. The three boss battles in particular last an uncomfortably long amount of time and will shut down a 1CC run with the efficiency of…. er… an alien-infested AI. But compared to the competition out there, this is arcade fun of the finest quality and our gripes are minor and possibly rooted in a lack of skill on our part.
If you’re a fan of Housemarque, twin-stick shooters, run and gun games or shoot ’em ups in general, you need this in your PSN library. It’ll give your eyes something to enjoy and your thumbs something to suffer through. What else do you need?
+ Well-considered controls
+ Nice upgrading mechanic
+ Lovely visuals
- Boss battles go on a bit too long
- Difficulty curve can be a little erratic