By now, most of us are familiar with what a twin-stick shooter wants from us. Spin around a bunch, shoot stuff, and collect as many power-ups as possible. At this point, we look to what developers can do to dress the formula up, and The Walking Vegetables does a great job of injecting a different style into the genre. The 1980s setting, with its neon purples and rad soundtrack, offers the perfect backdrop to shooting horrifying vegetables, as it turns out. Happily, the game backs the style up with substance and offers some new gameplay ideas to create a shooter we really enjoyed.
Rather than select levels you move through one at a time before a boss fight, The Walking Vegetables works in a sort of open environment. The map is split into a grid, and you can tackle the areas as you wish. Starting out with a pistol and some health, it's down to you to navigate these areas to find new weapons, throwables and health packs to ensure you don't succumb to some scary looking veg. We sure as hell didn't want to become part of a rotten stew, so we took our time in exploring the map and finding the best items we could. The shooting mechanics are fairly standard but work well with the audio and offer a nice punch when blasting through brutal sticks of broccoli.
Keys scattered throughout the levels give access to buildings and chests, which in turn give out items. The buildings work like mini-dungeons, so enemies will flood at you while you're inside, and you need to take them down before being able to look for bonus items scattered around the place. These buildings often house chests, and although they are optional it's usually worth a look, but be careful, as sometimes you lose as much health or ammunition in these dungeons as you gain by completing them. We sometimes found ourselves getting stuck on items indoors, so it's worth surveying the building as much as possible before engaging in combat so you can avoid getting stuck on things.
In each gridded map there will also be a shop where you can spend the coins that are dropped by enemies, buying new weapons, items and health packs. Keys can also be purchased here, offering the chance to get shop items at a discount if you get lucky with chests. Shops are a nice way of chilling out, stocking up and making sure you're ready to tackle the next area. We like the freedom this system offers, as defeated enemies dropping items are not the only way to build up your character.
The most interesting thing about all of this is that it's randomised. If you die (which yes, we did a few times), the grid layout, shop locations, amount of buildings and what they hold are all new. The procedurally generated nature of the world design means dying and replaying levels is a lot less tedious as it sometimes can be, and gives the game a unique selling point over its competition, as some titles in the genre can be repetitive. You also have the chance to find the ghost, a figure who appears and gives you an item back from your last run. No longer is it an "ugh, got to get through this bit again" but more of a "we have a chance to explore and find new items, which may set us up better for the boss fight" which we're a huge fan of. The boss fights are fairly standard, usually being huge chunks of vegetables that chase after you in a frenzy, with more health and an extra ability or two.
These changes and additions mean The Walking Vegetables works as an adventure as well as a straight up twin-stick shooter, and in turn, the game offers a nice level of player freedom that is welcomed in the genre, and the local co-op is a nice touch too. Stylistically it may draw comparisons to games like Hotline Miami, but some roguelike-inspired design choices made to open the game up mean this one is a little easier to get to grips with and offers more than just relentless shooting in tight spaces. There may be plenty of choice out there for top-down shooter fans, but The Walking Vegetables: Radical Edition is worth a look and does more than enough to sell itself beyond bright lights and ravenous veg.
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