Developer Housemarque has cultivated some of the best action-packed arcade-inspired experiences of this console generation. Fans of old-school bullet hells and chasing high scores have been exposed to treat after treat in this genre by the team, so when I found out at E3 that they were making a side-scrolling platform shooter called Matterfall, I was on board before I even tried it out. And—after actually dashing, jumping, and blasting my way through the game at this point—I can say that this is another solid experience dying for you to try reaching the top of its leaderboards.

In Matterfall, players assume control of Avalon Darrow, a soldier-for-hire type that is dropped into the worst situations mankind can cook up and asked to fix them for the right price. In this case, Avalon finds herself on a human colony on the outer reaches of space, where a sprawling megalopolis has cropped up around the red matter mines. Red matter is a highly volatile substance that has become a source of energy in this space sector, not to mention a key driving factor of the area’s economy. Once red matter starts being used to power war machines to protect the colony, however, things take a drastic turn. The machines powered by the substance begin to gain a semblance of sentience, and soon start trying to eradicate all of the humans living there. So, while the colony is in the midst of the largest evacuation in history, Avalon is running into the fray with her trusty hand cannon, looking for the source of the epic disaster so that she can put an end to it.

Like many of Housemarque’s games, Matterfall is simple enough on the surface: Run and gun with Avalon through the game’s 12 different stages, with an end boss waiting in every fourth stage. One of the negatives of Matterfall is 12 stages is definitely not a lot, and you can probably get through the entire experience on normal difficulty in less than five hours. How you get through those 12 stages will be entirely up to you, though, as Avalon will unlock a variety of weapons that change how you may approach a situation. Of course, your score will also be important, so along the way you’ll constantly be trying to keep your multiplier at max, gain bonuses based on how fast you complete a stage and whether you died or not, and find the three or four humans who have been trapped in every non-boss stage.

In that regard, Matterfall offers up a ton of replayability if you’re as fanatical about high scores as I am. With none of the stages really needing more than 20 minutes to complete, you can quickly jump in, customize your loadout beforehand, and really try to plot out the best run possible in order to maximize your score. Upping the difficulty also increases multiplyer potential, meaning mastering harder difficulties will be crucial to maintaining a top spot on the leaderboards. Everything might start to feel a bit repetitive due to the overall lack of stages and enemy types, but finding the best path is usually enough of a distraction to both keep you on your toes and take your mind off that 50th wave of missiles that have appeared overhead, raining down in an attempt to destroy your multiplyer.

Where Matterfall really tries to differentiate itself is in its gameplay. The controls are locked in to try to optimize moving and shooting at the same time; thus, shooting is done with the right stick, and jumping and dashing are done with the shoulder buttons. Admittedly, it took a little while to get used to not having to press “X” to jump on a PlayStation controller, but the risk paid off. The second stick allows you to keep firing Avalon’s hand cannon with pinpoint accuracy as you use the left stick and triggers to move through enemy-infested hallways, duck behind cover, dash over enemies, or even float around in the game’s unique zero-gravity sections. In those areas, you’ll drift around in a full 360-degree radius, giving the game brief moments of feeling like some of the space shooters Housemarque has done in the past while still serving that fast and frantic arcade feel that is critical in games like this.

Matterfall’s dashing mechanic is also vital to completing the game. Not only does it let you pass through certain walls, but you’ll also let off a shockwave upon completion that can stun nearby enemies with blue matter (in this world, blue matter beats red matter). Destroying stunned enemies leads to score bonuses, while the shockwave can negate bullets that are heading for Avalon—a lifesaver in the midst of firefights that you simply can’t shoot your way out of. Matterfall offers up a bevy of gameplay styles that appeal to both risk/reward players or those who play more cautiously that want to destroy every single enemy on screen (like yours truly) before moving on.

There’s also a cornucopia of secondary weapons and abilities for you to choose from in Matterfall. While you can unlock four secondary weapons and eight passive powers, you can only choose three from the entire list to be active at any given time. Grenade launchers and homing missiles can be great when dealing with singular foes with a lot of health, but a bigger health bar, faster weapon recharge rates, and more passive abilities could mean the difference between life and death in the long run.

Between the weapon choices and the dashing mechanic, Avalon gives off the sense of a homogenized Samus Aran (the hand cannon-wielding bounty hunter) crossed with Beck from Mighty No. 9 (the hero with a dash maneuver critical to defeating enemies big and small). It’s an interesting take on the genre, but it works. I only wish that we could get to know Avalon a lot more than what we get in the game’s opening and ending cutscenes (the only ones in the entire game), but we know that’s not necessarily Housemarque’s forte.

Matterfall’s action and gameplay is a throwback in many senses. It’s focus on speed and scoring will have you coming back to it again and again as you try to climb higher on the global leaderboards, yet I wish that the levels offered more variety (as well as there being more of them period). If you’re looking to see if your twitch reflexes are still up to snuff, or simply need a quick experience that doesn’t require a major time commitment, Matterfall is more than deserving of a look.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: Housemarque • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 08.15.17
8.0
Although a bit short and repetitive at times, the fast and frantic action of Matterfall is a delight if you prefer your gameplay more arcade-y and your goals to be focused on high scores and conquering leaderboards rather than saving the world.
The Good Fast-paced, side-scrolling shooter action that will test your reflexes and force you to break from gaming conventions (or die).
The Bad Not a lot of content, and levels outside of boss battles can feel repetitive.
The Ugly I’m sure there’s a message about natural resource wastefulness in here somewhere.
Matterfall is a PS4 exclusive. Review code was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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