High Noon Revolver Review
The action game for gunslingers with an itchy trigger finger
The retro-revival has become nearly as synonymous with the indie gaming scene as the 19th century revolver was with the American Old West. This mechanical and aesthetic homage to the games of yesteryear has reached such a point of saturation that it almost requires something groundbreaking to stand out. Does High Noon Revolver deliver on this front? Not exactly, but that doesn’t mean it’s missing some enjoyment in its own right, nor does it lack some addictive and charmingly fast-paced gameplay.
What you see is pretty much what you get with a game like this - an action shooter that throws a barrage of obstacles, grueling gameplay, and arcade zaniness in your face, and isn’t ashamed of it. It uses the roguelike elements of permadeath and in-game upgrades to act as the main source of depth and replayability. At the same time, there isn’t much actual meaty content to sink your teeth into, even from the perspective of oldschool action games. Thus, the glaring issue of repetition rears its ugly head pretty quick, which doesn’t mesh well with the minimalistic approach throughout. This is unfortunate, as the gameplay that does exist is both contagiously fun and mechanically solid.
High Noon Revolver really cuts to the chase in more ways than one - though this is also part of its charm. Not only will you be fighting your way through some intensely quick gameplay (which keeps things flowing with its scrolling screen), but the game wastes no time in throwing you right into the action after a brief title screen. You are given a choice of a couple colorful looking characters, before you immediately find yourself on a multi-layered desert stage with nothing but a weapon and your wits to defend against a slew of enemies. The game strips all the fluff in just about every sense of the word and essentially says, “Happy trails! You’re on your own!”
Developers are also quick to inform you that High Noon Revolver comes “gamepad recommended.” Truer words have never been spoken. If you intend to make a serious run, using a controller is all but a necessity to keep up with the rapid-pace, precise movements, and fast reaction times this action title requires. The keyboard setup just feels awkward and clunky by comparison, though is still at least sufficient to the diehard PC gamers who might be more accustomed to it. The responsiveness and overall feel of the controls are spot-on for the most part, particularly with the gamepad. Their simplified nature allows the player to jump right in and focus on the gameplay itself, rather than needing to fumble around with unnecessarily-complex control schemes. And with a game this brutal, such a luxury is practically a necessity. You merely run, jump, shoot, roll, and unleash a special attack for certain characters. Simple as that.
A disclaimer is that I wasn’t too fond of the somewhat janky and loose feeling of the rolling feature. This is an ability that is clearly designed to help you swiftly evade bullets, though I found it hindered more than it helped - causing me to accidentally roll into trouble more often than escaping it. Overall though - and I mean this in a good way - the game feels like an early Genesis or NES game in terms of its tight mechanics and simple controls. Of course, this is under the pretext that you’ve got that controller lying around to better simulate that experience.
Your goal is quite simply to survive, and to rattle off as high a score as you can by taking out as many enemies as possible. These enemies are dispersed throughout three layers of platforms, which you will typically need to switch between. The more kills you land without getting hit, the higher your combo - which ultimately nets you a better score following the completion of each level’s boss. After a given number of hits, depending on your gunslinger of choice, you are abruptly prompted with a “you died” screen, complete with stats during your playthrough, at which point you have to start from the beginning.
You are initially given only two characters to choose from - a prototypical cowpoke named Wesley, along with my personal favorite, a shotgun wielding chicken. There is also a handful of secret characters that can be unlocked after obtaining a high enough collective score. This proves significant, as these unlockable characters are the only real rewards that are permanently obtained after restarting. It can be maddening to make a deep run after several grueling attempts, only to be killed by an enemy you’ve neglected amongst the chaos, and are instantly thrown back to the first stage with little to show for it. The secret characters also can prove beneficial as they provide you with more options in terms of their style, and arguably some better weaponry.
Every character wields their own firearm with its own characteristics - as well as their own unique special attack or passive ability to help in a pinch. These abilities provide the player with a sort of ace-in-the hole, which typically includes a super-powered, rechargeable attack; but can also include the ability to revive, and even teleport to a previous location on screen. Most of these differences are subtle, but nonetheless provide a moderate variance in styles tailored to different player preferences.
There is often an absurd amount of things happening around your poor outnumbered hero at once. The screen will be constantly scrolling right, keeping you on your toes as enemies spawn sporadically about, and projectiles will be flying from all angles. This bombardment of chaos, coupled with what little health you have, will likely get you killed multiple times before you even sniff the first boss.
The main area of progression then - aside from building up a higher score - boils down to simply honing your skills and steadily improving your gun-slinging game. It will likely take multiple attempts to really get accustomed to the behaviors of the enemies and obstacles to the point where you can comfortably grind your way to the end. Likely many oldschool arcade-style games of the past, High Noon Revolver relies on repeated playthroughs via its unforgiving difficulty right from the get go for the source of its depth, rather than providing a steady progression with a breadth of content throughout.
The game does take certain measures to assist you throughout your one-and-done run, though its effectiveness varies somewhat depending on the luck of the draw. You can collect coins by defeating enemies, which are used at mid-stage checkpoints to purchase one of three randomly offered powerups or abilities from a treasure chest. These include health restoration, increased firing range, faster movement speed; along with some more specialized tricks, like the ability to shoot downwards when double jumping, and turtle shells that deflect projectiles. The randomness of their availability can be both a blessing and a curse, and can in fact make a major impact on your success or failure. In one run, you might be given a choice of some very useful and affordable power ups such as stronger bullets - and another time, be forced to choose between the less practical coin magnet or “toxic gas.” Taking out enemies can also sporadically yield hearts that can heal you. This obviously proves useful, but since the frequency of hearts are random, you might have a playthrough that skimps out on these - and then god help you. This, combined with the somewhat randomly spawning enemies, can cause the game to hinge on luck just a tad too much on occasion, though it rarely reaches that point.
One useful feature you can utilize to shift the odds is the local multiplayer. You can add a friend into the mix, which actually does go pretty far in adding to both the entertainment and effectiveness. Not only does having a comrade take some of the heat off you, but it enables you to cover more ground and grab coins more safely and effectively. Additionally, you both share powerups, and can even revive the teammate - provided you can get to them before the scrolling screen of death carries on, leaving their body in the dust. While the game still proves challenging, having an additional player can often help in making your run last at least a little bit longer.
Each stage comes with its own theme, as well as its own palette of enemies and obstacles unique to the environment. These hazards and baddies range from your typical gun-slinging and dynamite chucking cowboys, to venom-spewing cobras, to rolling boulders ala Indiana Jones, and spike shells straight out of Super Mario Brothers. As relentless as the gameplay can be off the bat, things get even rougher as you progress. Thankfully, you’ll get to carry over your previous upgrades into the next stage - and you’ll no doubt need them. You’ll be taking on some more challenging foes, more elaborate obstacles, and trickier projectiles as you push farther. Awaiting you beyond the desert stage is a forest level rife with poison spewing baddies, an underwater stage with floaty physics and explosive fish torpedos, and even a pirate ship rife with fireball shooting cowboys and rotating spikeball chains. Needless to say, the first stage will seem like a cakewalk if you happen to make it to these areas.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of High Noon Revolver is that the least interesting level is the one you’re going to end up playing 80% of the time, and this is what ultimately hinders the game. Sure, you can spend your time punishing yourself and making the 50 or so attempts to make a deep run into the more colorful stages, but there isn’t a ton of incentive throughout to do so, especially once you’ve unlocked every character. While the game proves to be a blast in short bursts (even with the frustrating frequency of death), there just isn’t much beneath the surface once you’ve scratched it.
The game’s graphics similarly adhere to the retro, minimalist approach. There isn’t much to be said about them other than the fact that they are serviceable, and will probably give a warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia to those 80’s and 90’s kids who grew up with pixelated sprite-based games. The audio is nothing to write home about, though there are some enjoyable upbeat 16 bit rock melodies that complement the on-screen action.
High Noon Revolver offers short and swift bursts of condensed fun, but doesn’t have a great deal of staying power, and can border on the repetitious with its roguelike elements that require you to constantly start over. Those who have an itchy trigger finger and are a glutton for gritty, grinding arcade-style gaming should have a good time with High Noon Revolver. Those who don’t may still find the game easy to get into and get some initial entertainment, but shouldn’t expect much to keep them captivated. Those not used to this type of game may also be scared off by the in-your-face difficulty.