JUST WAITIN’ FOR A MATTER TO FALL
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
Being best known for Resogun and various Stardust incarnations of late, Housemarque are no strangers to a hectic flirt with a retro style. Enter Matterfall, a side-scrolling platform shooter published by Sony. Fairly light on story, you play as Avalon, a freelance warrior (which is presumably like a normal warrior except you struggle to get paid afterwards) dropped in to an alien-infested future when a mysterious substance has made a bunch of machines get a bit lairy, and it’s your job to put them back on message. With guns.
The set-up here is a bullet-hell scenario; enemies often fill the screen in swarms. Pointing the right stick in any direction will fire at that angle so you can spray the screen with projectiles, grenades and lasers like a violent gardener but with guns instead of hoses. There’s also some nice manipulation mechanics to be found; occasionally you’ll see wireframe outlines of platforms that can be brought into being through your particle weapon. Not only does this mean you often have to create the platforms you need to jump to, you can also use it to defend against incoming fire as you rack up barriers between you and enemies, albeit temporary ones. This adds an extra layer of complexity and timing to some standard platforming, and it’s a welcome addition. You can also use said particle beam to free hostages, but that’s much less interesting. Also, these are merely level bonuses rather than goals, so the game does not give a single damn if you help any of the prisoners or not. Nice.
There’s also a snazzy slide/dodge move you can perform, vaguely reminiscent of much-derided Kickstarter project Mighty No.9; a tap of the button darts you forward a few yards or so in a shimmer of blue light. This is used to dodge through bullets, stun enemies and pass through barriers. But more than this, it adds pace and flow to the game, and when timed right makes you look quite the badass as you intersperse dodges with firing.
On the flip side, the game also gives you the chance to slow things down; you can charge a special attack to stall everything on screen, bullet-time style, to grant you some clarity when things get hectic and spend a few seconds gunning down everything without fear of taking damage. The spacing of the availability of these is pretty much perfect, and it’s always a welcome sound when your generic robot-voiced assistant pops up to tell you another one is ready.
It’s possible to critique Matterfall for being a little on the short side; you’re probably looking at between two and four hours of action depending on how thorough you are with blowing everything up and actually saving human hostages, and how happy you are to just run away from things. This seems a bit like a redundant criticism to me, however; it’s about £13 on PSN. I don’t imagine many people are paying that much for a game and expecting an epic forty hour quest, and to be frank Matterfall’s limited mechanics might become a bit tired were the game any longer. But for it’s current running time they never do, and we find ourselves playing a brisk adventure with a solid arcade feel. Visually it’s a little underwhelming, sort of looking like how Metroid might look if they made it on PS2, all stock dystopian-future cityscapes with the occasional extra-terrestrial crystal thrown in for good measure.
Your time with Matterfall may be brief, but it’ll also be a lot of fun. A game that introduces some novel ideas at a good pace, it offers a satisfying and straightforward experience over it’s running time. Well worth investigating at the price, and a strong sign of Sony continuing to recognise these smaller indie titles.