Title: Void Bastards
Developer: Blue Manchu
Release Date: May 7, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Genre: Rougelike, First-Person Shooter
Over the past few years, the roguelike subgenre has become one of my favorites in gaming. Something about never knowing what you’ll encounter when entering a new area is incredibly thrilling. Void Bastards takes the elements of roguelikes and mixes them with creepy System Shock inspired sci-fi horror to create a unique, addicting experience perfect for the Nintendo Switch.
Void Bastards takes place deep in the Sargasso Nebula, a dangerous part of space filled with mutants and pirates. A large prison ship known as the Void Ark was navigating through the nebula when its FTL drive malfunctioned, and the ship was lost. B.A.C.S., the ship’s AI, begins reviving the cryogenically frozen prisoners one by one and tasks them with getting the ship up and running again. The only reason they cooperate is for the chance to receive a slightly reduced sentence.
One of the best aspects of Void Bastards is its dark humor. Though the plot itself is nothing to gawk at, the writing is absolutely hilarious. Pretty much every time B.A.C.S. chimed in with some snarky comment made me laugh. The way the prisoners are dragged through the mud so consistently is enough to make anyone feel sympathy for them. Instead of feeling sympathy, however, I just laughed at their misery. Don’t judge me; you’d laugh too.
The Void Ark houses millions of prisoners, each with unique attributes and appearances. None of them are all that strong, however, so don’t get too attached to any character. In fact, the game literally starts you out with no bullets and expects you to die pretty much immediately. As each prisoner makes their way through the nebula, they will find items they can use to craft into weapons and upgrades that will make them more powerful.
Luckily, whenever a prisoner is killed, all of the upgrades they found are transferred to the next prisoner. This means that no run ever feels wasted, and you’re pretty much always powering up. This is incredibly satisfying as it doesn’t feel like you have to start from scratch each time that you mess up and die. These upgrades can be found fully formed or can be upgraded with smaller components that dot each ship. Scouring ships for a certain kind of crafting material or randomly stumbling across a component you need for the next significant upgrade is a great time.
Additionally, each prisoner will come with unique buffs and effects. For instance, some will have positive abilities, such as always being invisible to enemies through windows. Others will have adverse effects, such as doors always closing behind you whenever you walk through them. Trying to find the character with the perfect abilities can be a lot of fun, though some of these abilities make the game more difficult than it should be.
Void Bastards will always send you after specific objects to advance the story. Still, it can be easy to get off track. Most of my time with the game was spent exploring ships that looked interesting to me, completely forgetting that there was the main objective that I was supposed to be following. Since your characters are always being upgraded, however, none of that time felt wasted. When I finally got back on track, I didn’t feel like I had missed anything.
Void Bastards is a first-person shooter. Sadly, perhaps the worst thing about the game is its shooting mechanics. Trying to fight enemies in Void Bastards almost always feels like a losing battle. This wasn’t really due to the power of the enemies I was facing or my own skill; it came down to the inaccurate controls. I rarely felt like I could land a shot, and when I did, it was usually because of luck. I got used to this after spending a few hours with the game, but I was never a massive fan of it.
Void Bastards’ presentation is impressive. It features a comic book-inspired art style that pops on the screen. Almost every action that players perform is accompanied with an Adam West Batman-Esque “Boom” or “Bang.” The neon blues and muted purples that make up much of the color in the world are distinct and add to the overall dark tone wonderfully.
Void Bastards also features fantastic character and creature design. The human characters in the game are all uniquely designed and look great, but the mutants and robots you spend most of the game fighting really steal the show. The mutants, in particular, are hauntingly creepy and, when paired with the game’s excellent sound design, lead to some tense moments. There is nothing scarier than turning a corner in one of the ships and finding a room full of deadly enemies waiting for you.
The short length you’ll spend inside each ship lends itself perfectly to the handheld Nintendo Switch. While you could play Void Bastards for hours on end and still probably have a good time, the game is most enjoyable in short bursts. Having it on the Switch makes it perfect for short train rides or for breaks at work. Sadly, the Switch port seems to suffer from a slightly worse frame rate than the other ports, though I only ever ran into this issue when there was a lot of stuff happening on screen.
Void Bastards is a fantastic roguelike with a stellar atmosphere and art style. Where it lacks in FPS mechanics, it makes up for with its addictive gameplay loop. The Switch port might not be the prettiest version available, but the short levels make it perfect for quick sessions. Those looking for a darkly funny roguelike will find almost everything they want in Void Bastards.
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