The 80s were a special time. It may not be the same for everyone, but there's something so alluring to me personally about the mixture of gaudy neon lights, huge hairstyles, and saxophones on every soundtrack. This nostalgic urge has led me towards loads of disappointing games that rely on their radical theming to hide their so-so gameplay. It's made me wary of any game that goes heavily into the decade I love, and that made me wary when I loaded up Huntdown. Thankfully, in this case, I didn't need to worry. Presenting a passionate tribute to the grimy action movies I love, Huntdown is a masterclass in how to make side-scrolling shooting relevant in the modern age.
Who Do You Play As In Huntdown?
You play as one of three bounty hunters, John Sawyer, Anna Conda, or the robotic Mow Man. You're hired to clean the streets by wiping out a quartet of gangs, each deadlier than the last. Your tools? Everything from handguns and throwing knives to 50 cal cannons to an electric guitar. Run and jump alone wor with a friend through twenty colorful cityscapes, each with its own deranged boss fight and unique theming. It's a familiar setup, especially if you're old enough to remember the days of countless beat 'em ups in your local arcade. Even amongst a current sea of revivals, few have done it better recently than Easy Trigger Games.
Why is that? Let's start with the gameplay. Even decades later, you think of two names when you think of side-scrolling shooters. You've got the action movie stylings of the early Contra titles and the more cartoonish Metal Slug. Beyond their looks, these two games excel because of their tight controls. Each bullet lands where you need it to, each jump has just the right arc, and each enemy goes down with strategy instead of dumb luck. This core gameplay feels just as good in 2020 as you play Huntdown. You never feel like you're fighting the game, and veterans can jump right in after testing each of the buttons once. It's not just a retro game, it's an opportunity to teach an old dog new tricks.
How Does Huntdown's Gameplay Innovate?
One new trick is an optional but vital cover system. Whether you're ducking into an adjacent alley or leaning against a crate, your chosen bounty hunter will duck out of harm's way waiting for their perfect next shot. It's not quite as smooth as the cover in Gears of War, but it fits right into the gameplay loop before too long. There are tests all over the levels to remind you to take cover, but you can often avoid them once you know they're coming. After all, most foes go down with a few shots from even your basic handgun, so you can unload if you feel danger is just ahead. The only place where cover is essential is during the plentiful boss encounters.
Huntdown has plenty of creative enemy design, but the bosses are where the game really shines. Each one has unique voiced lines that hint at their personality and the way they'll try to take out down. There's a Vietnam veteran yelling past you as he fires indiscriminately in your direction. There's a wrestler-type who tries to corner you with shoulder charges and explosive barrels. There's a pilot who figures he's much safer in his heavily armed hovercraft than on the ground. These aren't just beefed up mooks, these are full-on characters, even if we don't get that much characterization before they're gunned down.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Huntdown is an arcade action game through and through, with any story chunks you pick up just a nice treat along the way. It's much more about zoning out, avoiding oncoming fire, and figuring out the most effective way to take them down while preserving your limited health. One of the main problems with the game lies in how similar that solution can be from level to level. Despite you picking from a wide variety of weapons strewn around the stage, your standby weapon on cooldown usually does the job just as well. I played most of my playthrough with Mow Man, and his shuriken can take out enemies before you see them and take a bite out of bosses with relative ease. It recharges so quickly that I found myself less reliant on the other weapons, even though I really wanted to focus on my new toys.
Does Huntdown Capture A Retro Aesthetic?
Speaking of new toys, Huntdown is one of those games that looks like what you remember a brand new SNES or Genesis game looking like. In reality, it's a beautiful pixel-art showpiece with complex sprites and lush background. The audio work is just as meticulous, with scratchy vocals that evoke the tinny speakers of yesteryear while still remaining audible. Al that and a soundtrack packed with just the right amount of synth makes for levels you won't mind replaying over and over. That works, since you may have to do just that.
Yes, while not Dark Souls-hard, Huntdown isn't a cakewalk. On my first playthrough, I blazed through level after level, picking up on the learning curve without missing a beat. It's only when I returned for the second session that I ran into some problems. Huntdown borrows from the arcade greats so much that it's hard to just jump in where you left off because it expects you to have that muscle memory built up over several hours of play. It's only after I went back and replayed a couple of earlier stages that I really got in the groove. While this style doesn't really fit into the way gamers play today, it's another way that Huntdown sticks closely to its roots, and I do respect that.
Huntdown Review | Final Thoughts
That pretty much sums up Huntdown to a tee. It's a game dedicated to not just recreating the past but offering new ideas about it. It takes an old genre, presents it at its best, and throws in a couple of new ideas to see what could work. While some things work better than others, the core of the experience is still an amazing product that should satisfy anyone looking for a rad shoot 'em up. Just pop open a Jolt Cola, flip over to stretch of old MTV on your favorite video site, and learn all over again why not everything has to be pointed towards the future.
- Smooth As Silk Gameplay
- Radically Retro Presentation
- Creative Boss Design
- Rigid Difficulty Curve
- Questionable Weapon Balance