Disclosure ‐ A review copy of Matterfall was provided by Sony PlayStation for the purpose of this review.
Matterfall is a side-scrolling platformer with the kind of twin-stick, bullet-hell action you’ve come to expect from Housemarque, the studio known for the titles: Super Stardust and Resogun. Although there are brief flashes of fun to be had, Matterfall won’t have you chasing high-scores anytime soon.
I should preface this review by saying I love Housemarque, they make fantastic games that even I — as somebody who doesn’t typically enjoy arcadey shoot-em-ups — absolutely adore. In particular, I firmly believe that the PS4 launch title Resogun is a game that stands toe-to-toe with the very best of this generation.
This time around, Matterfall tries to give context to the levels you blast through by bookending the game with two pre-rendered cutscenes. The set up is that an alien material has run amok, and protagonist Avalon Darrow sets out to stop it. The cutscenes remind me a lot of what you’d see in something like a Tekken arcade mode, nothing of significance really happens and they amount to little more than Avalon talking about how cool her new toys are. They feel out of place. Whilst they do provide a little context as to why you’re blasting anything that moves, the hokey acting makes the game feel cheap and detracts from the overall experience.
Matterfall’s levels are spread among three separate “worlds”, each housing 3 of the standard levels and one boss fight. Its main levels all consist of fairly linear platforming broken up by the odd vertical flying segment or branching pathway. Collectable humans scattered across each stage encourage exploration and replayability, but the linear nature of the game means seeking them out never proves much of a challenge. Nevertheless, it’s still worthwhile grabbing as many as possible when running through each level. You see, every couple of humans you collect will unlock a new upgrade that will be necessary if you want to stand a chance in the boss fights.
Upgrades range from passive buffs like increased health or damage output, to new attacks like a shotgun or homing missiles. Up to three of these upgrades are equippable at once and smacking the triangle button will let you change the loadout in the middle of any firefight. For example, if you’re swarmed by a bunch of small mooks during a boss fight, it’ll be more effective to switch out that railgun for a shotgun or automatic weapon better suited to crowd control. Being able to change the move-set you have equipped at any time brings some welcomed variety to Matterfall, which allows you to adapt to any given situation.
WITH LEVELS LACKING ANY REAL VARIETY AND EACH TAKING AROUND 10 MINUTES PER RUN, THE GAME FAILS TO CAPTURE THAT ADDICTIVE ‘ONE-MORE-GO’ FEELING AND THAT HURTS IT MORE THAN ANYTHING.
The “gimmick” that you’ll spend most of your time using in Matterfall is Avalon’s unique dash ability. Other than offering a quick burst of speed, the dash offers a brief period of invulnerability and finishes with a shock wave that freezes most enemies, destroying any bullets in its radius. While it’s fun to pull off a dash when surrounded by a haze of stray bullets, I found the invulnerability unreliable and I often became frustrated when the game didn’t communicate which enemies or attacks I’d be able to pass through. It seems like such an obvious oversight that even something as simple as colour coding which bullets I’d be able to dodge would have been an effective workaround.
The Boss battles serve as the high points of the game and offer the most challenge, although the final boss does feel a little unfair. Each one is its own intense bullet-hell fight and it brings out the best in Matterfall, as they require careful and well-timed use of all your abilities and unlockable upgrades. It honestly just makes me wish the entire game was able to maintain the level of intensity and difficulty displayed in these segments.
While it takes around three hours to complete its campaign, a game like Matterfall’s real draw should come from replaying levels and competing for the highest score. However, with levels lacking any real variety and each taking around 10 minutes per run, the game fails to capture that addictive ‘one-more-go’ feeling and that hurts it more than anything.
At a glance, Matterfall is near indistinguishable from previous Housemarque title, Resogun. From the simple stylised city and enemies exploding into a shower of voxels, to even the soundtrack, Matterfall’s aesthetics are very reminiscent of the studio’s previous title. That’s not a slight against the game either, it just feels a bit lazy.
For a fan of the developer’s previous work, Matterfall is disappointing and for everyone else it just feels mediocre. Occasional glimmers of a more satisfying game do present themselves, but the short length and lack of replayability means that your time would be better spent elsewhere.