The makers of Tower of Guns aim high with Mothergunship

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March 30, 2017 by James Murff

You're gonna die, a lot.

You're all alone on a huge spaceship. You've got a modular gun, some parts, and a station to put it together on. Standing between you and the self-destruct button is a horde of drones, turrets, and other internal defenses. Go.

This is Mothergunship, the newest game by the developers of Tower of Guns. Much like Tower of Guns, you shoot your way through procedurally-generated (read: premade rooms shoved together at random) environments on your way to an end boss and the next level. The environments are still wide-open spaces heavily populated with turrets and bullets. There's still not much feedback for shooting or being hit. Most enemies are either turrets or simple drones that follow you.

This "disconnected" feel was always Tower of Guns' biggest issue, as nothing in the game had the sort of weight that the visuals implied. Mothergunship still has this particular problem, unfortunately, and doesn't do much to fix it. Dying often feels like it comes out of nowhere - since there's no major feedback for being hit - and bullets lazily float by at static speeds.

Instead of improving the kinaesthetics, Mothergunship primarily improves upon its successor through the addition of more interesting mechanical systems such as gun crafting. Rather than relying on a premade arsenal, players are encouraged to build their own weapons with parts found or bought on runs. As long as there is an open slot on the gun, a part can be placed there. This allows you to create some wild weapons, like a laser rifle with four chainguns grafted on.

This gun crafting system alleviates one of my biggest issues with Tower of Guns, which was that replaying it was a chore and leveling up guns felt useless at worst and frustrating at best. Now, rather than abstracting that upgrade process with XP tokens and gun levels, you are allowed to directly guide and even alter the evolution of your weapon. It's a welcome addition, and the crafting system is both flexible and easily to understand. You'll be building cool-looking, useful weapons in no time at all.

However, you can't just build a huge wall of guns that spit perpetual death. Guns use energy, which is finite but recharges over time, and parts on your current gun are lost if you die. You have to strike a balance. Use too many parts and the gun will run out of ammo fast and will lose you a lot of valuable modules on death— but use too few and you're guaranteed to die. You also have to be smart about when and how you modify your gun, because the moment you leave the safety of a crafting room, you can't go back; you have to find another if you want to further modify your weapon, or die.

Unlike Tower of Guns, death isn't the end in Mothergunship. You retain unused parts even after your body is incinerated, and you also have a home base which you return to between lives. This base is upgradeable, much like the base in Rogue Legacy. It serves as your own little sandbox and mission selector, allowing you to experiment with gun construction and pick which ship (level) you want to tackle next.

This base is also where you can stage a mission with your friends. Mothergunship has co-op. However, it will be restricted to online co-op only - the game's framerate can't handle rendering two bullet hells at the same time - so friends looking to couch co-op are going to be disappointed.

These three additions - modular gun crafting, a base to upgrade between runs, and co-op— help differentiate Mothergunship from the staid and frustrating Tower of Guns. Since you aren't fighting with predetermined weapons, you get stronger as you play, and a buddy can help you on those tough missions, the feeling of never getting anywhere in the game despite multiple runs isn't nearly as bad. It also makes the eerily smooth movement and gunplay less frustrating, as a mistake spurred by awkward or nonexistant feedback isn't the end of your session.

But it's still too fluid, a game without weight or a sense of place. You never feel like you're in the environment, lumbering around with a huge gun you cobbled together out of spare parts. Movement is floaty, weapons lack the "kick" that helps make you feel like you are handling a real weapon, and enemies are either stationary or mindless. It's all of the bullets of your favorite vertical shooter (like Raiden) with none of the spatial awareness.

Good shooters have well-constructed kinaesthetics. Call of Duty shakes your camera and weighted first-person animations, while Doom does it through brief pauses of action to recover from a jump or perform an execution. Feeling that sense of space isn't just important for pleasing players, it also provides them with the feedback they need to make the right decisions. Mothergunship is a beautiful game with a cool gimmick, but without that kinaesthetic sense it's hard to wholeheartedly embrace.