Matterfall is a game that takes two distinct genres and mashes them together, the result is a game quite unlike anything else, but is that enough.
You take control of mercenary Avalon Darrow, fully decked out in her armoured suit, which can assist with dealing out damage, flying for a time and taking a pounding. The reason you are all suited up, an alien substance called Smart Matter was discovered and before it was fully understood, companies started to use the substance to improve their equipment and of course, as it was not something that was fully understood, it took over the machines and things went so bad, people had to escape the planet. Leaving you as the only human around, except those captured within crystals and your goal is to find the source of the crystals and sort it out.
Housemarque is known for creating some very hectic titles and Matterfall is no different, as you defeat the enemies, they explode in a shower of crystal parts and the more enemies you can destroy in a small window, the more craziness the results. The games biggest addition to the standard side-scrolling shooter is the dash, in fact the game is part metroidvania, part mighty number 9 and part twin stick shooter and the fun comes from chaining all those together. When you dash through enemies, or even enemy fire, you can disrupt them enough, that they freeze for a little while, letting you blast them apart. If you take them down while they are blue, you will get a higher score and that is another part of the game.
While you will need to get through each stage, there is also a challenge to get the highest score you can possibly obtain, each enemy has a base value and if you freeze them, the score is different. As you take down the enemies, you can level up your score multiplier, which gets you a better score, but also that multiplier ups your damage as well. The entire process is fun, getting that voice over, letting you know that your multiplier has increased, feels like a reward, especially after it comes when you have demolished dozens of enemies on screen. The sad part about the score and multiplier features though is that it takes a set number of kills to increase your level, each time you level up it feels great, but at the same time, take even a single hit of damage and you lose an entire level, so while it’s a challenge to get the multiplier up, losing a level is just harsh.
While the score is a core part of the gameplay, each player will have a unique experience going through the challenges, because as you rescue the trapped people, you will slowly unlock augmentations. The first one people will get is the grenade, which bounces for a while til it explodes, or if it hits an enemy first, it blows up then. As you progress through the game, you will unlock more and as you can only have three equipped at any one time, you will need to make a call about which ones you want to use. The problem with these augmentations is that you can’t change them around in game, or even between stages, you have to quit out to the main menu, make your choice, load back up into a stage to see how they work and if you don’t like what you have, rinse and repeat the process.
It also does not help that the games controls are beyond awkward, you move with the left stick and shoot with the right, however jumping is done with the R1 button and dashing the L1 button. While there were times when I would get into the action and the line between what I needed to have done and what happened vanished, after taking damage or getting distracted, it returned in a bad way. In almost every game, ever made, a face button is jump, moving that to a shoulder button is just weird. The other issue I had with the game is that you actually have two different guns, one is for shooting enemies, the other is for shooting crystals and platforms and accessing that by holding L2 down is not too bad, however it has a problem that if you are too close to your target, the weapon does nothing.
From a visual point of view the game is simplistic in its overall artistic look, but still manages to provide a sense of wow, with the level of destruction that can happen. If you ever played Shadow Complex, the world looks very much like that, but just slightly different, as a world is does a job, but in terms of futuristic cities and buildings, it is nothing we have not seen before. The world also suffers from a true lack of exploration, given that the game tracks the amount of time it takes you to complete each mission, I can understand it, but you will see lots of places that look like you can explore, only to find invisible walls, or doors that won’t open blocking your way. As I have stated the level of detail the game produces when you wipe dozens of enemies from the screen is great, but there are only so many times you can be wowed by ultimate destruction.
Audio wise, the game is a mixed bag, the sounds of the weapons firing, enemies exploding and the world reacting to you, is fantastic. Each has a distinct sound and helps sell itself from the outset, from the first time you deal with a humanoid robot, whenever you hear that sound, you will know what creature made it. The problems come from the games music, which is repetitive and that’s it; in fact, it got so annoying, I turned the volume down on the music and left the rest up. The character voice of Avalon is only really heard during the opening cutscene and while it leans a little more to the 80’s action hero trope, than it probably should, it is passable.
Matterfall is a solid effort of a game, the studio clearly has one foot locked into their twin stick shooter background still, but the game still plays well. It is short though and while you can attempt to place yourself atop the leaderboards, there is no real reason to return to any stage, unless you want to collect everything.