Tower of Guns might not be for you. In fact, in all likelihood, it probably isn’t. With its rough presentation, non-existent narrative and tame firearms, Tower of Guns is about as far from the comfortably glitzy Hollywood excess of contemporary shooters such as Battlefield Hardline and Call of Duty as a game possibly can be. If you’re still hanging about after that rather sizeable caveat though, then Tower of Guns with its roguelike elements, bite-sized gameplay and engaging progression systems might be just what the doctor ordered.
A strictly single-player only affair, players are required to choose one gun and one ability-affecting perk to take with them into the game’s randomised levels. From carrot-guns to pizza-cannons and a raft of colourful firearms in between, the choice of armaments in Tower of Guns is seemingly borne out of homage to Gearbox Software’s Borderlands series, though much like that franchise, the guns themselves lack any real oomph or destructive vigour when triggered.
Once into the game proper and the first room is in the rear view mirror, all hell breaks loose as the player is beset on all sides by a menagerie of king-size bullet spitting turrets and floating robots with rotating saw blades for hips. It’s a jarring introduction to the game for sure, but it’s one that simply reinforces the fact early on that Tower of Guns simply isn’t messing about.
Make no mistake, unless you’ve been playing the likes of Serious Sam or Painkiller religiously for the last year, you can expect to die fairly quickly during your initial foray into Tower of Guns. Rather than the usual 3D Whack-A-Mole shooting gallery of cover adhesive military goons, all the foes in Tower of Guns will attack you in the most direct and aggressive way possible without any sort of respite.
Essentially, Tower of Guns takes on the appearance of what a 2D vertical scrolling bullet hell shooter such as Ikaruga or Raiden would look like in first-person. As one might expect, the prospect of each map being crammed to the gills with enemies and swarms of their harmful projectiles is as frequently exciting as it is terrifying. Such an ordeal is a lot more manageable than it first seems however, as Tower of Guns feels extremely similar to the likes of Serious Sam and Quake, with a bespoke premium placed on swift strafing and hyper-responsive controls.
Somewhere else that Tower of Guns seeks to distance itself from its genre contemporaries is how damage is handled. You see, in most shooters damage accrued to the player is almost always manifested as health loss and usually nothing more. In Tower of Guns however, while this is also the case on one hand, the gun that the player is using also loses experience points too, effectively weakening the gun the more the player is damaged.
Luckily, red and blue orbs and tokens can be collected from fallen foes to offset the losses to health and firepower respectively, but otherwise it’s prudent to keep one eye on their gun experience bar as much as their own health bar lest you end up with little health and an even weaker gun by the game’s end.
Spicing things up a bit is Tower of Guns reliance on procedurally generated levels. While the maps themselves are quite geometrically basic with long slopes and edges giving way to low-polygon interiors and infrastructure, they nevertheless provide an effective battleground for the game’s screen-stuffing mayhem and in addition to a number of secret areas, help the game to maintain a certain freshness with each playthrough.
Decidedly less fresher however, is the opposition that you’ll come up against each time you run through the tower. With enemies that tend to be of the stationary turret or floating robot variety with very little in between, it’s a shame that more thought wasn’t given to the ensemble of foes that you have to shoot into oblivion. Conversely the bosses tend to fare better though, with each gargantuan foe playing host to a number of unique attacks and abilities, weaknesses and strengths that must be dealt with accordingly. From Big Ol’ Spikeroom who literally turns the room into a pointy, rotating deathtrap to Mama Spinbot who whizzes around the map at speed while spawning legions of her smaller equivalents, the boss fights in Tower of Guns tend to be as frantic as they are enthralling to take part in.
Later on, things become especially tricky as the menace of these screen-filing bruisers is further compounded by the fact that players can sometimes end up scrapping with two of the same boss at the same time, which although a little cheap it might be argued, often results magnificently intense and bombastic battles all the same.
If the deck seems unfairly stacked against the player, then it comes as some relief to find out that Tower of Guns provides ample opportunity to fight back on a more even keel. Different firearms that each possess their own unique properties for example, can be unlocked when a number of conditions are fulfilled on a given playthrough. By the same token, perks that affect a number of parameters such as granting additional jumps or nullifying falling damage, can be unlocked in a similar fashion and together both of them act as significant incentives for repeat play.
Additionally, various upgrades such as additional armour and extra health abound and can either be collected from the wreckage of vanquished foes or bought from receptacles in return for an approximate amount of collected coin. Elsewhere, gun mods can be scooped up, which augment the effect of your chosen firearm, allowing such modifications as explosive rounds or the health-syphoning vampiric drain and thus help to provide further diversification to your shooty pursuits.
Beyond this, special cool down-based items can also be obtained and these have a much more direct effect on proceedings, allowing the player to achieve such feats as ten seconds of fight or deploy a robot obliterating smartbomb, for example. Such boosts to your chances though, are only effective for the duration of your current run and in death they do not persist through into successive playthroughs, reminding the player that Tower of Guns clings to its roguelike sensibilities quite rigidly indeed.
Undeniably the crux of Tower of Guns appeal lies in its ability to hook you in and make you want to improve on your previous performance. Whether that involves completing levels in a certain time, defeating a certain number of bosses or just flat out trying to finish the game, there is always something to do and as such, hopping in for a quick ten-minute session can easily stretch to a full hour of play and beyond.
And that’s the thing really, while Tower of Guns never really outstays its welcome, it could certainly benefit from giving the player more stuff to do. Indeed, Rogue Legacy did a great job with this; taking a similarly desperately finite concept and expanding it with an ability upgrading metagame, secret bosses and more besides. With what it does offer however, Tower of Guns does an admirable job of sinking that ‘one more go’ hook into the player, just don’t expect the game to endure weeks-long solid playing because it simply can’t accommodate that.
Ultimately then, Tower of Guns is not for everyone. Its roguelike elements, atypical selection of firearms and basic presentation won’t do it any favours as far as the regular shooter crowd are concerned, but for anyone else who fancies a highly-accessible shooter that does things a little differently, the giddily chaotic heights of Tower of Guns are certainly worth scaling.