It's an inauspicious beginning: entering a building that is essentially bullet hell armed with just a single-shot peashooter. Yet within moments, that peashooter begins to slowly, but surely evolve into something more robust for the task in hand: getting to the top of the eponymous Tower of Guns.
An FPS roguelike, Tower of Guns' premise is simple, its cel-shaded graphics retro-feeling thanks to its design and use of colors, and its action is fast and intense. It's just you and your trusty shooter versus randomly generated rooms full of gun turrets, mobile gun platforms, floating and bouncing mines, and giant boss machines – all ready to kill you at the drop of a cocked hammer.
The action starts out straightforwardly enough, in a foyer where you can kill a few Hugbots – lovable, harmless bots that will drop a few basic power-ups – before moving onto the game proper. And once you do, what you face is basically a random assemblage of rooms that's put together on the fly to challenge your shooting prowess.
Each room consists of a series of platforms and ramps in classic oldschool FPS style and you have but one life to get as far as you can. Yep. Tower of Guns is a permadeath game, and you basically have one life to spend before you're back at the beginning to start afresh. This can feel a little off-putting at first, but once you realize that this is the game's shtick, and the whole point is to conquer the tower in one single sitting, it seems logical enough. Of course, you'll find yourself yearning for save points as you progress further into the game, or when you die after 45 minutes of fighting, but this is the challenge the game throws down, and there is no respite from it.
Well, there is a little. Fortunately, there is a health bar in play, and that essentially turns your single life into one that ebbs and flows as you tackle the tower. As you shoot gun emplacements and enemies, they drop power-ups. Red ones boost your health, while blue ones boost the level of your gun. There's a certain push-pull aspect to this. Getting hit obviously reduces your health – but it can also reduce the level of your gun, which can be a little tricky on later levels when you're blasting through things with a level five weapon, and, following a few mistakes, suddenly find yourself brandishing a level four gun that's just not quite as effective. Of course, it can be powered up again, but it can be somewhat disturbing to make good progress and suddenly find yourself pegged back by a few mistakes.
Tactically, the game is a mixed bag. Some rooms require a lot of running and gunning, while others are exercises in dodging a hail of missiles. Certain rooms can be run through and the door reached without firing a shot. The game is interesting in that sense – with the rooms strung together randomly each time you play, you're never quite sure what you're going to be facing next, and that gives the game plenty of variety. It can also make some games harder than others.
Fortunately, the game does give you perks to choose from that essentially let you modify your playstyle somewhat – perhaps choosing to not take damage from falling, starting with a triple jump capability (handy, but not essential), or having the game lower its difficulty – which is always useful, considering that Tower of Guns is quite challenging.
Most of the time the game runs smoothly, but I did see a few moments of chug when I entered a room and a whole salvo of guns opened up on me. That's a rare occasion, however, and for the most part, the game runs well enough. I didn't feel that dropped frames ever got in the way of the action – even the last room, which is pure madness and mayhem.
Tower of Guns is a funny old game. It throws down a particular challenge which is somewhat polarizing. It can get immensely frustrating when you die deep into a game, but at the same time, each game does offer something different, albeit a riff on the same theme. I found it engaging enough, and enjoyed playing it – but I tended to do so in bursts. I'd play for a while and then when I bought the farm, I'd stop and come back a few hours or days later.
With its random elements, plenty of guns and perks to unlock, and many secrets to uncover – even the storyline changes from game to game – Tower of Guns is a fun game to play between other games, especially when you're hankering for a pure dose of shooting action.
Neat use of 90's style graphics and coloring give Tower of Guns an oldschool look.
The sound effects are relentless, but the music is surprisingly good.
Very simple, stripped down interface gets you to the action with the minimum of fuss. Cool in-game presentation, especially the random stories.
The randomized nature of the game, and the fact that you only get one life means that Tower of Guns maintains a strong challenge over the long-term.
If you want to test your FPS skills, Tower of Guns throws down a tough and engaging challenge that's best enjoyed in short bursts.