Matterfall review: Deftly resurrects the bullet-hell shooters of the arcade era

Steve Irish

The entire backstory to Matterfall is told in a borderline-sarcastic intro sequence, which takes about 15 seconds to sketch out some kind of generic alien invasion.

Suffice it to say narrative was not high on developer Housemarque’s list of priorities. This is a game about shooting things: many, many things, so many things that at times the entire screen writhes and shimmers with flashing projectiles that appear impossible to evade. But once you get a feel for the mechanics of this old-school twin-stick run-and-gun, somehow, you will evade them. Sometimes.

It’s explicitly inspired by 1993 title Gunstar Heroes, although if you played many games in the 1990s you’ll find numerous points of comparison; for me it brought back joyous memories of Turrican 2. And that’s largely the point – it’s a nostalgia piece, a 2.5D version of the arcade games that would steal your coins as a child, complete with pulsing techno soundtrack.

After Housemarque’s exceptionally well-received twin-stick shooter Nex Machina, hopes were riding high for Matterfall, and while it never hits the heights of its stablemate, there’s a lot to enjoy. Getting to grips with the controls is a headache (“jump” is tethered to the right shoulder button, which takes some getting used to), but it’s sharp and responsive once you get the hang of it.

And while there are some wicked difficulty spikes, checkpoints are frequent, and it rarely feels unfair, although the bosses, each one so massive the camera has to retreat to fit their immense bulk on the screen, are tough; you’ll weep bitter tears of frustration before you beat the game.

Even so, it’s relatively brisk, comfortably coming in at under four hours. Replays are encouraged by a robust points system that makes use of multipliers to encourage attacking play and penalise getting hit. In truth, however, there’s not enough variety here to keep anyone but the most ardent score-chasers returning after the credits have rolled.

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