Review – Wildcat Gun Machine
There’s something to be said for the B movies of the 60s and 70s. You can easily look at the schlock on screen, the overacting and piss-poor special effects, and simply pan the whole era as being “experimental film with no taste.” Yet it’s the over-the-top nature of rubber monsters, horrifically bloody violence, and grim protagonists who are taking their own idiocy as deadly serious that makes them so very endearing. You can’t overlook the importance of escapism and the enjoyment that comes from it. Hell, even some might categorize Escape From New York in this vein, but if you don’t see that film as a historical treasure then you must not have eyes.
So it’s not a problem that unrepentant action with zero real explanation is the driving force behind Daedalic Entertainment’s newest title, Wildcat Gun Machine. Heck, even the title seems to evoke a certain idea that falls in vein with Tank Girl or Shoujo Commando Izumi. I don’t know the name of the protagonist for this game and it’s never given, so let’s call her Wildcat, because that might be her name. Wildcat needs to fight through several semi-isometric dungeons that are locked up in segments, each protected by colored keys. Think a classic DOOM approach with a more straightforward design.
As you find the keys, there are waves of enemies that come to take you down, the occasional mid level boss, and then a big, disgusting boss at the end to help seal things up nice and tight. Wildcat has to blast the hell out of everything, collect bones to unlock new weapons and abilities (odd choice as bones as a currency, but whatever), and fight for survival and escape. Why? Who? Where? Shut up, it doesn’t matter! I have a gun and ghost cat extra lives, let’s do this!
Wildcat Gun Machine is all about that upgradable, dual weapon life. You have your primary weapon that does a bit of damage, but also has unlimited bullets. You’ve got your secondary weapon that does hella damage, but also has limited bullets. Health meter, shield meter, ability to dodge dash, rechargeable grenade…you can see where this is going.
As you move deeper into the levels, Wildcat will discover additional weapons that she can pick up, with the theory being that the newest one you grab is the best. However, if you find one you really enjoy (like the ammunition-eating infinity laser), then you can swap back to a previous weapon at the checkpoint, which sits firmly in the middle of the dungeon. This versatility is important for your personal growth, because you’ll unlock quite a few different guns by the end. Even your primary weapon will have multiple flavors, so deciding if you want homing bullets, piercing bullets or just big, chunky bullets will be important. It’s your murder fest, make it your own!
From the drop, it’s evident that Wildcat Gun Machine is heavily influenced by another dungeon shooter, Enter the Gungeon. While players don’t have to deal with everything being bullet themed or massive numbers of characters and synergies to unlock, the shooting style and general survival approach is similar. The dodge dash is like the all-powerful dodge roll of Gungeon, with the same importance being placed on being able to roll through waves of bullets and survive.
The big difference, though, is that you really don’t need to get good at the dodge dash until later in the game. For the entire first dungeon, bullets and enemies are evenly spaced out enough to keep players from getting overwhelmed. And by that I mean the first dungeon is really, really easy. Like, almost ridiculously so. I know we want to make sure players aren’t too burdened at first, but it felt less like it was on “light” and more like it was on “practice.”
After that, things start to ramp up, but Wildcat Gun Machine never fully hits the stride of nail-biting action that I think it portrays. For example, this is less Neon Chrome and more Jydge, if that comparison makes sense. Nothing is procedurally generated, so memorizing the layout and the enemy waves is part of your bread and butter.
You can swap between weapons fairly easily, so if you find a wave that’s more partial to having the explosive rounds instead of the rapid-firing rounds, feel free to die and restart from the checkpoint. You have a number of “corpse lives” that let you respawn where you died, but that’s mostly unnecessary if you don’t mind the leg work. Players can very easily finish a room, walk back to the checkpoint (at most taking two minutes), create a new save point and then go wherever they want next. The ghost cats that represent your quicker respawns are only necessary if you’re in a hurry, which I never felt like I was.
The enemies are also never the problem. When you go into a room in Wildcat Gun Machine, the biggest obstacles come from the room itself. I died more because of room traps and hazards than enemies, or because I was stuck somewhere where I was forced to absorb bullets until I perished. This, to me, doesn’t feel like the most intuitive layout, as a result.
If I can deal with the giant queen-bee monsters, slime piles that burst into five micro piles, armored bastards with twin rifles, and more, but I keep getting slain by angry steam vents, I don’t come away feeling “ah, I gotta get better at this game!” Instead, I am met with “goddamn stupid vents probably cost this company thousands in complaints every year, WHERE IS MAINTANENCE, THIS IS BULLSHIT” or something like that.
Also, there’s the matter of the Gun Machine mode, which is why I think the protagonist is called Wildcat. The Gun Machine is your ever-charging rampage ability that slowly gets filled as you kill enemies. Once you have it fully loaded, you can wait, patiently, to push the button, drop into a big ol’ mech suit, and blast the hell out of enemies for about thirty seconds. You’re invulnerable, your bullets are rapid fire, and the second evolution even has homing missiles, so you stop caring about where you’re aiming.
It’s the perfect thing to save up for larger rooms (which you can clearly see on the map) or for a boss fight (which you can clearly see on the map). It’s silly powerful, but also very critical because you drop in and out of it in a second. Once your time is up, you’re suddenly stripped bare, with no buffer moment, so you have to quickly move your headspace from “I am a God” to “I am Swiss cheese” in the blink of an eye. A moment of leeway would have made this infinitely better.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a fun time with Wildcat Gun Machine, but I spent so much time just looking and comparing it to other games. It’s slightly goofy graphics made it fun to look at, but not compelling to engage with. The soundtrack, a strong blend of dark synth and industrial inspired electronics, were atmospheric, but very repetitive after a while. I never felt like I was in danger until I was, if that makes sense. I would just lightly strafe enemies without a care in the world, then I would dash frantically to get someplace safe, and resume my almost lazy shooting.
Investing bones in dash and dash cooldown ensured my victory, though buying faster walking speed was also key. That’s the problem, I think: I never got excited. Sure, it was fun, and I had moments of elevated interest when a boss or new weapon appeared, but it was never a “wow” moment. Just a lot of “oh, okay” situations.
The name Wildcat Gun Machine feels like it should evoke something positively thrilling and explosive, like the movies and games that clearly inspired this twin-stick shooter. Instead, you just nod along and play, hardly getting more irritated than modest frustration at an untimely death. But there’s no permadeath, no chance to lose it all, and no moment that delivered a Woah. Instead, you charge ahead, shoot, upgrade, and shoot some more. For some, that might be enough. But while I was waiting for Wildcat, I just got a tabby.
The grit and darkness of the world is weirdly balanced by ghost cats.
The twin-stick aspect is decent, and the upgrades are good. Wish there were less hazards.
We get it, this is the dystopian sci-fi future or whatever. Too heavy handed and one note.
I liked exploding things, but that’s all I did. Again. And again.
Final Verdict: 6.0
Wildcat Gun Machine is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Wildcat Gun Machine was provided by the publisher.