by Nathan Rowland
previewed on PC
Any game these days under the banner of Devolver Digital’s publication has me excited for a simple reason, that being a singularly devoted and honed gaming experience within the multitude of genres, no matter the form. Boomerang X from developer’s DANG! does justice to continue this wildly fun trend.
The core experience here revolves around the titular Boomerang after washing ashore on some time-forgotten land. A weapon and a tool, used to face ethereal and monstrous ink-ish creatures in an ever expanding sequence of combat arenas. Stylistically, but also structurally, it reminds me of 2016’s Abzu from developer Giant Squid quite a bit. With long stretches of interconnected tunnels with diegetic lore, connecting larger, gameplay oriented areas which serve to crystallize the core experience. In Abzu this was a little bit of underwater platforming and puzzle solving, whereas in Boomerang X, it’s a complicated dance of maneuvers and sequences in combat. Your four-pointed blade, protecting and slaying enemies with effortless grace also serves as your main means of transportation, carrying your further and further forward. It’s an empowering feeling, one which is built upon slowly as more skills are unlocked to augment the blade that fit the naturally rising threat of enemies as you progress. Shotgun blasts, sniper shots, slow-motion aiming and more...each a tool to aid you in the fights ahead.
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It could stand to be a bit more involved in its tertiary movement. Some battle arenas do allow for this creativity in dynamic motion, but the corridors between these stages just feel bereft of this same inventiveness and exist solely to shoo you along to the next fight. You will however, encounter the enigmatic centipede Tepan along your way, a remnant of this world, speaking of a cryptid past that you slowly comb and delve your way through as you progress further downwards. His lore is rather unintelligible, but it does feel nice to see a friendly face every now and then as the path becomes increasingly treacherous.
The objective of each arena is to eliminate a number of increasingly challenging enemies, highlighted by yellow markers, wave after wave. Not all enemies you’ll encounter are marked, only the highlighted ones need to be killed to progress to the next wave. Should you complete all waves, you can move onto the next arena. With each new arena, the combat encounters become increasingly complex, whereby enemies work in tandem to reduce your safe space and constantly strive towards chipping down your health. This can be replenished at health stations, but always with a risk involved. To recover your health requires you to remain on the station for about 3 seconds, a perilously long time when foes are ceaselessly bearing down upon you.
Your most effective strategy to survive these battles is to constantly be on the move, never allowing these heat-seeking entities to catch up. Your aforementioned toolbox of moves, alongside the push and pull of the blades movement and the accelerated bunny-hopping that your character can achieve does well to give these moments a fast and frenetic atmosphere.
The most engaging part of any combat encounter however, was not engaging with the enemies, but engaging with the environment. These brilliantly rich and detailed theatres of combat hold your attention in the moments between each throw of the boomerang. Astil’s Quarry stands out as a particularly spectacular arena, making great use of horizontal space as you stand on the precipice of a huge carved shaft, descending into lava.
Aside from the occasionally dull interludes between these high intensity battles, high praise is to be given to a game which leaves the player in frustration when you fail, but with enough desire to start the challenge immediately over again to go further than you survived before. It does a wonderful job of seizing the gameplay mechanics of fast, bullet-time shooters with the freedom of parkour and skirmish based arena shooters. To draw you back to the challenge over and over again, that is the benchmark Boomerang X surpasses with ease.