Red Nexus Games has brought its top-down co-op shooter Friday Night Bullet Arena to the Xbox One via the ID@Xbox program. You can fight your way across the galaxy, slug it out with your friends through ten worlds and multiple arenas, laugh as you bounce a friend off the board, or catch him with a well-placed ricochet, but is it worth giving up your Friday night?
Friday Night Bullet Arena is a local multiplayer shooter that accommodates two to four players. As the game begins, each player will choose a character before proceeding to the first location where they battle it out on a grid. The game controls are beautifully simple. Move your character with and shoot with . You can also shoot with the , but it only travels in one direction - down. Similarly, your character can move left, right, up, and down; there are no diagonals. With no fancy moves and no intricate button mashing, it's a wonderfully easy mechanic.
The fun begins as you try to take out your friends. Each player has one bullet and you can't fire again until your bullet comes back to you, so you have to make your shots count. If the bullet hits an object, it will return to you. If it misses and goes off the board, it will wrap around and come back to you from the other side. This is a good thing to keep in mind when fighting because you can take someone by surprise by shooting in the opposite direction and catching him or her from behind. Of course, you have to watch your back, too, since the same can easily be done to you.
A variety of obstacles add to the mix. In early levels, the boards are encased so that players have to shoot each other. For most of the game, however, the edges are open so you can belly-bounce another player off the board sumo-style. It's these levels that also allow for the wrap-around shot. Additionally, there are bumpers, temporary obstacles (triggered by running over them), sliding tiles, overpasses that temporarily hide a player from view, and some very small boards that can make it tricky to escape from your opponents.
Watch your back!
After completing the first board, you'll unlock the next location. Ten worlds can be unlocked, many of which players will recognize, such as a few of Jupiter's moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Titan. The requirements of each will be listed beside it. Sometimes, you have to play a location twice before something else opens; it will tell you what you're missing when you check the lock barring your path. Once all the worlds are open, two bars will appear beside each one. Blue blocks will fill in on the top bar as you discover new boards. The grids are randomly generated, and you must play on every board a world offers to obtain a silver medal for that world. Progress for the gold medal is displayed as orange blocks on the same bar. A second, smaller bar beneath the first keeps count of any anomalous boards you happen to discover, but these are quite rare and their purpose (if any) is currently unknown.
The gameplay is fast and furious, and it's made even more fun by the game's retro style. The simple characters will remind many of the old days. One character, for example, is just a big round face. It has a neutral expression until you win a point and then it smiles; it's very old-school in a fun way, reminiscent of the arcade machines many of us used to feed untold numbers of quarters. The changing color schemes and sound effects add to the overall feeling of fun. The music is also very nicely done, changing with each world you encounter. All in all, it's quite an enjoyable game...for a while.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides to the fun. One minor annoyance is that you are returned to the main menu after every board you complete. With 250+ boards, that gets old and you miss an option to continue rather than returning to the game hub every time you finish a game. ALso, the games are short but not short enough. It takes 16 points to win a match, which is rather an odd number. As many times as you end up playing, 10 points per match would have been preferable. Heck, with four players, the first one to five would probably have worked just fine. Finally, online multiplayer would have been a good addition, as well, so that people could fight friends on Xbox Live if they so wish.
It's in the achievements that the negatives become really painful. This game is a lot of fun if you're just playing with your friends, but let's be real - most of us are after the achievements and this game makes you play for them. A few of the achievements will be picked up along the way (unlocking each world, for instance), but many of them require particular effort. Playing every night for a week, playing on Friday night then Friday to Saturday won't take much effort, but acquiring gold medals for all levels....that's enough grinding to make you thoroughly sick of this game. You will have to play each world many, many times to get silver and gold medals, and the game simply can't sustain the fun for that long. It's as if the developers were trying to squeeze more out of the game than it had to offer, which is a shame.
Other achievements aren't obvious; for example, you have to unlock certain characters but it's unclear how one is supposed to do that, therefore making some of the achievements frustrating beyond even the grinding. On the upside, the game is very easy to play alone, so the achievements can be won even when you don't have someone with whom to play. When playing multiplayer, another bright spot is that the achievements will fire for all the people in the game as long as they are logged in with their gamertags — no hosting or wins required. A match can be boosted in about a minute if you bounce across the grid during the countdown and knock the other player off the board, yet a minute becomes too long when it has to be done dozens and then hundreds of times. The grind becomes tedious quickly.
SummaryFriday Night Bullet Arena is a fun retro shooter that offers couch co-op for up to four players in a top-down environment. Friends race to get in the first shot or to bounce someone off the board, using the different obstacles to their advantage as they duck and dodge incoming fire. While the graphic style and music add to the entertainment, the crazy grind required to claim all of the achievements takes a lot of the fun out of it, as does having no online play ability. It's tempting to think that perhaps the developers were trying to stretch out the game in order to justify its $9.99 price point; if that was the goal, it didn't work. That price is a bit high for the game that you get. Despite the enjoyable characters, fast gameplay, and retro fun, you might want to let Friday Night Bullet Arena go on sale before you invest.
- Couch co-op
- Retro fun
- Nice music
- The grind to get all of the medals / achievements
- No online multiplayer
- A bit overpriced
The reviewer spent about five hours grinding away and received 23 of the game's 36 achievements. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the ID@Xbox team for the purpose of this review.
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