“Wildcat Gun Machine” is the perfect name for Wildcat Gun Machine. It does an excellent job of demonstrating what the game wants to do, what it actually does, and where it goes wrong. Just by considering the title, you can probably guess at least some of the core elements of the game, picking up on the fact that it probably features some kind of sci-fi aesthetic, based on the “machine” part, and getting clued into the presence of guns, maybe even guessing the bullet-hell gameplay from the “gun”. The “wildcat” part is where the literal interpretation of the title starts to lose its power. While there are cats in the game (sort of), and you could interpret that the main character might be named “Wildcat”, the word “wildcat” feels more like a general suggestion of theme, though I could not tell you exactly what that theme is. Much like its title Wildcat Gun Machine presents a game that, while fun at times, doesn’t seem to consider many things beyond its core concept.
While perhaps not the main focus of the game, we should start with the gameplay of Wildcat Gun Machine, because, in my opinion at least, the gameplay of a bullet hell makes or breaks the game more than other genres. Luckily for this game, the core gameplay actually works pretty well. In terms of the players’ abilities, you have two weapons slots, one for a weak pistol with infinite ammo and one for a more powerful gun with ammo amounts dependent on the gun, and you can switch between them with the mouse wheel, letting you quickly bounce back and forth between the two options. You also quickly gain access to a dash ability that lets you quickly evade, and a grenade that you can throw at enemies. Both of these are on a cooldown and you can upgrade them at checkpoints, using the in-game currency.
There are also some basic environmental elements, such as explosive barrels that can damage enemies, and lasers that you need to dodge. Lastly, most of the enemies will either chase after the player or shoot at the player with their own guns, following various patterns, speeds, and bullet sizes.
Some might call the gameplay of Wildcat Gun Machine too simple, and I would see where they get that from. Only having two weapon slots and basic abilities does restrict the players’ abilities and freedom quite a bit, resembling more the very early stages of a more complex bullet hell game, but I actually quite enjoy the gameplay. Perhaps it is just because I tend to not enjoy complex bullet hell games, but I found the gameplay in Wildcat Gun Machine very easy to get into and have fun with. Once you get used to balancing the ammo of your guns and swapping between the pistol and the heavy gun, and working the dash and grenade in, you can start to feel pretty powerful pretty quickly.
I do think that the game is a bit too easy, especially in the boss fights, though. Some of the minibosses felt pretty nice, but the final boss of the first dungeon I beat on the first try, practically just by standing in one spot and firing at them endlessly. I would have liked to see a bit more complexity in the enemies to balance out the simplicity of the player character. Additionally, the dungeons are quite simply too long. Because the gameplay is so simple, the countless rooms of the dungeons all start to blend together, and they can become a real slog to get through. While there are certain gems, the game would benefit from cutting down its length and focusing more on the interesting fights.
The rest of the game unfortunately does not do much to remedy this repetitiveness. The visual design of the game, I would say, looks somewhat like a Doom flash game. It has the blend of technological sci-fi with general, fleshy “body horror”, but the more cartoony style and the isometric view just look stale, especially as the game drags on. Pair this with the complete lack of a story, and Wildcat Gun Machine has a distinct lack of purpose. It just doesn’t really feel like the game has many intentions or goals simply beyond existing. The game never tries to do anything unexpected or fresh or interesting, the title screen conveys just about the whole thing.
The soundtrack makes for an even less pleasant dungeon-crawling experience. The score, in and out of combat, features very aggressive, techno songs that feel like barely more than a 10-second loop. I’m not a music expert, but even the most basic of games will have different music for the exploring and the combat, and if Wildcat Gun Machine does, I did not hear it. Listening to the same, heavy, dull loop over and over again for hours as you make your way through the too-long dungeons blends the rooms even more, as it hardly feels like there’s a difference between the hallways, the checkpoints, and the combat.
It’s hard for me to really be too critical of Wildcat Gun Machine, knowing that it was made primarily by one person, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that I can’t find much of a reason to recommend it. I want to say that if you’re interested in a new indie developer, there is definitely some fun to be had here, but I just struggle to imagine playing this game casually for more than a couple of hours, and for $15, this game just does not offer enough interesting things for the price. If you can get it on sale and want to take a chance on a new game, then go for it, but otherwise, I’m not sure that this game is particularly worth it.
Score: 4 out of 10
Reviewed on PC