By Tyler Lubben / May 19th, 2014
|Release Date||May 11, 2014|
|Platform||PC, iOS, Android|
Guys, I have to come clean about something. After playing through Kero Blaster for the first time, I was incredibly unhappy. I’m just going to say up front that, if you were hoping for a game from Studio Pixel that matches the scale, story and art style of Cave Story, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I was hoping for that. I was sorely disappointed. However, after I had some time to digest the experience, the game is, at its core, another highly entertaining platformer. Plus, everything about the game is just so ridiculous, it just can’t help but ooze charm. Let’s hop in.
In Kero Blaster, you (predictably) play as a nameless frog who works for Cat & Frog, Inc. As the glorified janitor of the company, it’s your job to go out to various locations around the world and clean up the teleporters that have gone offline due to the interference of strange black lifeforms that have begun appearing. The President, a smartly-dressed cat in sunglasses, gives you your missions. At least… I think she does. Speaking in a rather inaudible way – think the teacher from Charlie Brown – you basically jump when she starts yelling, and do your job to make her stop. You know, like any actual boss. Actually, no one in the game appears to be named, so I had to have some fun with it. Supporting you are The President’s pudgy pink secretary, or Pinkie, as I called her; and a feline scientist, who I dubbed Dr. Katz. The pair will give you advice and the odd item from time to time, but you’re on your own once the mission starts. It’s a simple premise, but that just means you get to the blasting that much sooner.
Kero Blaster has some pretty simple 2D gameplay, tasking you with exploring seven stages as you make your way through waves of enemies. Though I’m usually fine with using a keyboard to play 2D platformers, I found that using a gamepad just felt more natural. If you have the means, I highly recommend you do the same. Every level is rife with enemies, traps and bottomless pits, so things can get hectic (read: exciting) quickly. Given the general hoppy, tongue-lashing properties of a frog, it should come as no surprise that your chief method of dealing damage is by blowing enemies away with a collection of firearms. Every weapon is automatic, and, while firing, you will continue to face the direction you’re shooting – left, right or up – regardless of how you move. Defeated enemies can drop either health or coins, which you can use to buy health upgrades, extra lives and other items at C&F stores found in each level. When players run out of health or fall down a bottomless pit, they lose a life. Dying isn’t usually a huge deal – it just kicks you back to the beginning of the current area. However, lose all your lives and you’ll, instead, wake up in the C&F hospital, at which point you’ll be transported back to the beginning current level. This is much more inconvenient, but, on the upside, you get to keep any money and upgrades you picked up before kicking the bucket.
Your arsenal in Kero Blaster is fairly modest, but every weapon has its purpose. Every boss you defeat grants you a new weapon, each of which has a specific function to help you advance. You start out with just a simple Blaster, but its long range is great for taking out enemies that would be too dangerous to approach. Next is the Fan, which has a shorter range than the Blaster, but also a much wider area of effect. This is great for when large numbers of enemies try to overwhelm you, sort of acting as a shotgun. After this, you will receive the Bubble. The bubbles that it shoots out will drop and roll along the ground, which is helpful in clearing out enemies and traps on lower levels that would be too risky to drop in on. You’ll also receive the Flamethrower. This weapon, while dealing decent damage, also melts ice blocks and destroys enemies’ projectiles, making it both a great offensive and defensive tool. Finally, there’s the secret Kuro Blaster, which has a short range, but it has high damage, and can shoot through walls. These weapons can be upgraded at the C&F store, increasing both their damage and range, while also granting special properties, like bouncing off walls or creating a field around the player. You’ll also eventually receive a jetpack that increases your mobility with a second jump, and a coat that acts as a one-hit invulnerability item. And trust me; you’re going to need all the help you can get.
The various enemies you come across in Kero Blaster can be incredibly tricky. While enemies are usually not too complicated on their own, the challenge comes from their various attacks coming at you in tandem with those of other enemies. Fortunately, the game is very good at preparing you for what’s ahead — introducing you to enemies individually before throwing you to the wolves. Traps, too, are laid out in such a way that you’ll spring one safely, such as a chandelier falling on a highly platform, before getting into any real danger. In this way, you feel more like it’s your fault when you take damage, or fall into a trap, because the game certainly did its job in warning you. And you ought to heed that warning: at times, this game can be brutal. Standard enemies aren’t usually too tough if you keep a level head, but the bosses are certainly nothing to sneeze at. Most are enormous, and will take you down quickly if you aren’t careful. But, again, quick fingers and a level head will win the day.
In terms of art style, the screenshots you’ve been seeing speak for themselves. It’s just more of the same high quality we’ve come to expect from Studio Pixel. The 8-bit art looks simply fantastic, and everything from the Frog to his many enemies to the environments look absolutely wonderful. It was especially nice to see the defeat animations of each enemy as you bring them down. The music, too, is top notch. While I wouldn’t say the soundtrack is quite as memorable as that of Cave Story, there were at least a few tracks that I found exceedingly catchy. My favorite of these would have to be what I’d consider the main theme of the game:
If you’re still not sold on Kero Blaster, there is a free downloadable prequel game called Pink Hour. In it, you play as Pinkie as you search for an Important Document that The President needs. Somehow, this document has found its way into a dank cavern, and you’ll have to fight through groups of enemies to reach it. It’s a pretty straightforward and short game, showcasing many of the features of Kero Blaster, like the basic platforming, shooting and swimming mechanics. There are no weapon or health upgrades, but the enemies you come across are pretty simple, so they’re fairly unnecessary. It’s not the most substantial experience out there, but it’s a nice way to get a taste of what Kero Blaster proper is like before shelling out eight bucks.
For such a simple and straightforward game, it should come as no surprise that you can blow through it pretty quickly. Though I did suffer from a couple Game Overs during my initial playthrough, I was still able to complete it without too many hitches. After everything was said and done, I had finished the game in under two hours. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Studio Pixel games, while finely crafted, tend to be quite succinct, as well. Unfortunately, Kero Blaster really left me wanting more in the story department. While you do eventually discover what the little black entities clogging the teleporters are, you never find out why they are. This, coupled with the fact that the cast, while varied, wasn’t that interesting, just made the game feel bland. Even so, for what it is, Kero Blaster is an enjoyable platformer that offers some incredibly challenging gameplay, if even only for a few hours. Personally, if Cave Story is any indication, I look forward to many ports and re-releases in the coming years for this game, as well.
Game was purchased by the reviewer, and is based on the PC version.
Cave StoryKero BlasterPCReviewStudio Pixel