Nuclear Throne PC Review

There is something particularly sweet about a well-made shoot-‘em-up arcade game. Undeniably, there’s the primal joy of lighting up a room full of 16 bit monsters with a laser submachine gun. But there’s also the nostalgia of being a kid at an arcade, endlessly pushing quarters into a game that was designed to eat your money with its insane level of difficulty.

Nuclear Throne by Vlambeer is a perfect follow up to those old school arcade shooters. The idea is simple: guide one of twelve playable mutants through a post-apocalyptic hellscape of monsters, robots, and freaks to seize the throne of the decimated world. Each of the characters has a certain set of skills, advantages, and disadvantages. Some characters start out with fewer hit points (HP) than others, but with stronger special attacks. Some of the skills are more practical, like Crystal who can set up a shield against bullets. While others are just more fun, like Melting who can detonate enemy corpses just like they were bombs.

True to form, the game is deviously difficult. Getting to the Nuclear Throne can seem like climbing through a mountain range. The game is structured as a rogue-like. The player has to kill all of the enemies in each level before being able to advance to the next. Along the way, there are treasure chests that contain ammo, health kits, or new guns. Enemies drop treasure and energy. Collect enough energy and your character will level up and earn new mutations that increase strength or grant new skills. Some of these skills are really cool, like the ability to plow through certain walls.

The fun factor is spectacular. Simply put: Nuclear Throne is what a video game is supposed to be. There are more than 120 weapons which range from things as simple as screwdrivers or hammers all the way to ion cannons or grenade launchers. Considering how simple the game can look, there has been a great amount of detail put into distinguishing the weapons from one another and making each one fun in a slightly different way. And really, who doesn’t love pumping a giant, mutant, radioactive scorpion full of shotgun shells? Or shooting a perfectly placed grenade into a tiny room full of toxic slugs and maggots?

As the shooting-and-killing is clearly the fun of the game, everything has been designed to prevent it from getting boring. Ammo can actually be hard to come by which means that you have to be somewhat strategic in the way that you advance. And, although there are health kits spread throughout the levels, they are by no means plentiful. Conserving health is crucial. Although there are mutations you can earn that restore all health and give you more ammo, you generally do not recover HP between levels.

And despite the fact that some of the early levels can be pretty frenetic, frantic, and fast-paced, they pale in comparison with later levels. Monsters flood towards you from all directions. Most charge at you, but some lay in wait. Some monsters break through walls and surprise you, while others just try to lay into you with massive spurts of machine gun fire. Bosses will come seemingly out of nowhere and make an already crazy level even more maddening.

True to genre form, if you lose you have to start over. I think these kinds of games could be used to teach resiliency to a whole generation of kids. There’s a certain unique depression caused by getting all the way to nearly the last level, only to lose, and be left staring into the abyss of having to start over again. Luckily, as an adult, at this point I can just go and drink a glass of scotch. And try to forget how damn close I was. Again…

Anyway, I digress.

One of the more interesting things about Nuclear Throne is that all of the levels are randomly generated on the spot. This means that it is not possible to memorize the levels beforehand and plow through them that way. Again this adds a new layer of difficulty, but it also goes a very long way in keeping the entire experience fresh. Every time you play, it is literally a different game.

I would recommend Nuclear Throne to anyone that likes video games. Even if you’re the type that likes cinematic, immersive adventure games, give this one a shot. There is no pretense to this game at all. When you start it up, there’s no movies, no hype, no nonsense. You can just get started killing some mutants. Once you get the controls down, it handles like a dream. Run towards enemies launching waves of bullets. Take cover behind a wall as they return fire. Then, start popping out from your hiding place taking them out one-by-one. Grab the spoils of combat as quickly as you can, and get ready to be sucked in to the next level. Just be glad you don’t have to keep putting money in when you die again, and again, and again.

9 out of 10