I really wanted to love Tower 57. It’s everything that I think a new-school, pixelated, hand-drawn, twin-stick shooter should be… on paper. The problem is that what’s on paper doesn’t always necessarily translate well to its in-game execution, and that’s part of what makes it so frustrating when it comes to reviewing Tower 57: it’s a game at the edge of greatness, but falls short somewhere just below that line.
The Art Deco, dieselpunk-inspired world takes cues from BioShock, Blade Runner and Syndicate. You start the game either in single-player or co-op. You get to select up to three of the six playable characters because that’s how the game’s life system works. Your three characters each get an HP bar, and if one of the characters die all their weapons drop and you’ll switch over to the next character. It’s an old-school setup that reminds me of something out of the 16-bit era.
You’ll be hard-pressed to keep your team alive at all costs, especially when you have specially upgraded weapons. While the weapons won’t fade away while you’re in the stage, you still have to deal with blockades, barriers, and cut-off points that may prevent you from retrieving your weapons even if you do manage to revive your fallen comrade(s).
There’s a rogue-lite nature to the game, even though it’s not necessarily a rogue-lite. You can upgrade your characters using upgrade stations, as well as purchase new weapons from gun dealers when you get back to the central city hub.
The weapon selection is diverse enough, and each of the six playable characters have their own unique starting weapons that you can swap out later on for something else or replace by purchasing a weapon from the gun dealer in town.
If you like the weapon you have you can upgrade it periodically throughout the game at upgrade stations, not unlike the ones found throughout BioShock.
Once you apply your upgrades you can see some significant differences in the damage output. You can also apply some special modifiers to the weapon, such as piercing bullets or fire projectiles or poison, the last of which will do damage over time to enemies.
The actual gameplay is quite polished to be a Kickstarter game. Pixwerk made sure that playability was fairly top notch, even though it was kind of odd that they made it where the left analog not only controls your movement but it also controls your aiming direction, so sometimes it’s a bit of a struggle to maintain your aim when you’re moving around because if you take your thumb off the right analog’s direction they will face the direction that the left analog stick is pointed in. As you can imagine, this can be terribly difficult when you’re attempting to run and shoot in two different directions and the character keeps aiming the wrong way. Technically you can “fix” the problem by holding down the direction you want on the right analog while moving in a different direction with the left analog. They recognized this little problem and aided an aim assist for such a conundrum.
The aiming issue isn’t present when you’re using the Metal Slug-inspired tank, since it’s a lot slower and beefier and requires time to fire.
And speaking of Metal Slug… the game’s art is straight-up fantastic.
The sprites are highly detailed, along with all of the background art. Tower 57 embodies the mix of architecture from the Gilded Age with a mix of the neon lights and smokey atmosphere of a cyberpunk world. It really stands out as its own thing.
The metropolitan flavor to many different aspects of the world’s design and underlying story about proletarian revolts amid the bourgeois decadence speaks volumes to a much richer backstory and lore to Tower 57 than what actually made it into the game.
In fact, the socialist revolution that the player character(s) are sent to curb isn’t exactly what it appears, and there’s some interesting possibilities that could have come out of it, but it’s quickly side-saddled for a more traditional “mystery” about the player character(s) that gets revolved in a less than satisfactory manner once you figure what’s going on.
But all of that is beside the more important point: Tower 57 is addled with some progress-inhibiting glitches and crash-inducing bugs.
In the one research stage I had to restart it several times while I was right near the end of the stage because two spike blockades that were supposed to lower – so I could get to three movable platforms on the right side of the screen – ended up getting stuck. Not only did they get stuck, but the door in the room locked behind the character, so I was effectively stuck in there. It happened a couple of times, forcing me to restart the level several times over.
I almost gave up and quit then, but decided to press on. At the final stage there was a particularly nasty D3D bug that caused the game to crash… right before I got to the save point.
I believe Pixwerk will eventually fix these issues, but it’s just disappointing because the game has so much potential.
And speaking of potential… the current play-time will clock in at anywhere between four to five hours (assuming you don’t get stuck on the level, get jammed in some area and have to restart, or the game doesn’t crash to the desktop).
Now five hours for an $11 game isn’t bad. It’s great actually.
The problem is that the level design and linear structure for the level completion (unless you have the hack tool) means that the stages aren’t very replayable.
The thing is, the game isn’t quite as streamlined as Metal Slug since Tower 57 requires upgrades in order to blast through some stages in an enjoyable enough manner so you aren’t desperately struggling. This means that you can’t just replay the levels like a standard progressive 16-bit twin-stick shooter, because without the upgrades you’ll readily wipe time and time again in the latter levels.
The other problem is that backtracking is limited due to hard-locked doors and gates. Unlike some games where you can explore the levels to find secrets and hidden items, you’re sometimes punished with blockades and barriers that pop up and force you along a linear path until you complete the segment.
The game’s two-player co-op adds some extra fun factors to the game, but I feel like this is one of those times where making the levels a little less coercive would have worked in the game’s favor. In fact, that was one of the benefits of games like Jurassic Park 2 on the Sega Genesis or Crusader. The games gave you the freedom to explore the levels and move back and forward at your own leisure, similar to Take No Prisoners or Flesh Feast from back in the late 1990s.
If they were going to make the levels as linear as Metal Slug and filled with so many frustrating parts, they definitely should have added more levels to the game.
Nevertheless, I think having some measure of freedom would have made the levels a lot more replayable and enjoyable instead of being frustrating, especially given that the game has so much potential based on its look and atmosphere.
As it stands, the game has all the makings a new-school classic… if there were some tweaks made to the way the levels operate so that they’re more replayable (or at least add more levels), and if the bugs that cause the crashes are fixed, and if the glitches that result in you getting stuck are resolved.
Pixwerk has been updating the game almost several times a week, and they have plans on adding more stages, content, fixes, tweaks, and balancing. So hopefully in the near future the game will live up to the potential that it has. Right now I’m going to have to reluctantly tell people to…
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