Wildcat Gun Machine (WGM) is described in the blurb as "a bullet hell dungeon crawler where you take on hordes of disgusting flesh beasts with a wide variety of guns, giant mech robots, and cute kittens" —and yep, this is mostly true.
Playing as a fast-moving, extremely smooth twin-stick shooter WGM may not win any prizes for graphics or originality, but the gameplay is spot-on–apart from a couple of pet hates of mine: shooting and being shot by off-screen enemies and a steep difficulty curve. Having said that, die and you nearly always feel it was because you made the wrong move, selected the wrong weapon, or didn't react quickly enough, and when a developer gets this factor right, it's what makes games of this genre so darned addictive. I found myself "kiting" the numerous enemies around (action RPG-style) quite early on because although you might expect them to be cannon fodder, they can be really tough–some even split into numerous miniature versions of themselves upon death!
Looks-wise WGM is another game that has a clash of styles. A cool Manga-esque heroine adorns the intro screen, but the gameplay graphics are downright cartoony. The sound is excellent, with various apt weapon sounds and some catchy, if repetitive, electronic music.
The game's maps are made up of rooms of various sizes within the hi-tech looking dungeon that are linked by corridors, and you'll have to totally clear a room's wave of enemies before the doors unlock and you can exit. Certain doors require a key of a certain colour (thanks a bunch DOOM!) and they aren’t always easy to find, and are sometimes guarded by a boss creature. The enemies spawn from all over and you never know how many there are left, so you can't clear a room in any logical way, you just have to keep shooting and stay alive until all the enemies are dead and the doors unlock to allow you to progress. There's a handy map to identify where you are, where you need to go and where you've been–a basic feature you'd think, but one that's been a strange omission in a few games I've played of late.
You accrue points and can buy additional weapons that fire faster, or slower and do more damage, or there's a beam weapon, various cooldown upgrades, movement speed boosts etc. all of which become available as you play more. All of these make the game easier while being absolutely vital to survive the tougher gunfights and boss battles. At some point you'll do enough to trigger the Gun Machine power up, which turns you into an invulnerable killing machine for a few seconds–it's a nice idea but doesn't last long enough and takes far too long to activate. You can unlock extra lives (in the form of pretty white pussycats) which mean you can continue from where you died, rather than your last checkpoint, which usually saves a lot of time. Rooms you reach and unlock stay that way, but lose all your lives and you'll have to clear your way back there again, which can be a chore.
Okay, so here are my main gripes. As I said earlier, enemies spawn in a room, there is no indication of how many are left and until you clear it you cannot leave that room. Power & Health-ups are quite rare so dying because you couldn’t leave a room to get a health up that you left in the previous room is annoying. Enemies spawn behind you in a part of a room or corridor that you may have optimistically thought you'd cleared. Enemies also often spawn right on top of you, and arrive shooting as well-instantly damaging you in the process, which is a gaming no-no in anyone’s books. Enemies quickly become too numerous, and ammo for your special weapon too scarce. Couple these with silly things like small enemies pinning you in corners where you can't shoot them because your shots go over their heads, and the game can quickly become infuriating if you’re not in the right mood, or simply don’t have the reactions required for this frantic a game.
A very smooth game, Wildcat Gun Machine is good, addictive but far from great. It’ll give shooter fans many hours of entertainment for the £12.99 price tag, but a lower difficulty setting would have been greatly appreciated by us normal mortals. I couldn't possibly recommend it as a good entry point to the genre as it's rather unforgiving, and at times feels totally unfair. However, Wildcat Gun Machine could be dangerous for those gamers with the "one more go" mentality, you might be here a while.