by Samuel Corey
reviewed on PC
Modern games often try to be everything at the same time. It's why you get so many AAA titles that have an open world with crafting, survival mechanics, light stealth, action, a leveling-up system, and a dialogue wheel. Rather than choosing any one genre and focusing on doing that well, they steal elements from a half dozen and execute all of them with functional blandness. It's a product of a few too many “wouldn't it be nice to have” conversations in the early planning stages along with bloated budgets that can accommodate such whimsy.
Fortunately, mid-market and indie games are still forced by economic necessity to pick a few mechanics and focus on them. Boomerang X (it's a new IP not the tenth installment of the venerable Boomerang series) takes this myopia to a laudable extreme. It's an FPS with only one weapon (the titular boomerang, which looks more like the Glaive from Krull than any aboriginal hunting implement I've seen), where enemies politely spawn in one wave at a time, and where all the action is confined to a series of huge arenas.
This would get pretty boring pretty fast but fortunately Boomerang X has a few gimmicks to liven things up: First is the ability to teleport instantly to the location of your boomerang, and the second is an ability to slow down time while aiming. The result is a combat that alternates between moments of extreme speed where the player catapults themselves across the arena, to moments of extreme slowness when the player switches on bullet-time to line up a perfect shot on an enemy's weak spot. The result is a combat system that feels natural, satisfying, and constantly engaging. Despite being easy enough to pick up, the combat leaves plenty of room for those inclined to obsessively hone their skills.
The game continues to add mechanics to the combat but after you unlock teleporting and bullet-time but they are only helpful in very specific situations. Fortunately, the game keeps things reasonably fresh by having each arena be not only visually distinct from one another but also mechanically different to boot. Some will be flat while others will have multiple levels allowing for more aerial combat. The second to last level, the Resonance Engine, has no ground at all save for a few scattered platforms, so the player is forced to spend the entire battle teleporting as quickly as possible to avoid falling to their death.
Your Enemies are Legion
Despite the game's shortness (there only 13 arenas in total), the game is jam-packed with different kinds of enemies. At first, there are basic crawling spiders and floating bees that are only really dangerous if you somehow fall asleep while playing. Yet each new level adds a new enemy or two to the mix, and as you get further and further in the game the monsters become more and more dangerous. Before long Boomerang X is chucking gigantic giraffe monsters that can summon thunderstorms and colossal acid-spewing toads at you.
The game does a good job of giving you a chance to warm up to the new enemies, as when you first encounter a new enemy type they'll either spawn by themselves or alongside a wave of easily dispatched chaff. This gives you a chance to learn their attack patterns and weaknesses before they spawn again in the next wave with a huge entourage of dangerous allies.
Indeed, I would say that the game is too quick to treat the player with kid gloves, as after I got the hang of combat around the one-hour mark I seldom died anymore. After making it through the bulk of the game, I started to wish that Boomerang X would stop being so damn considerate and throw a couple of nasty curve balls my way.
What the Hell is Going on Here?
The game's story is told in the Dark Souls model, where information is not so much relayed to the player as hinted at with environmental details. At first, all the player will know is that they have washed ashore on an abandoned island and that its insectoid inhabitants seemingly having died in a sudden catastrophe. No doubt it has something to do with the hordes of goo monsters plaguing the island, but any specifics beyond that are hazy at best.
All you have to go on are a variety of details scattered across the game's environments. Sure, everything here may look like a late PSX game (albeit an extremely well done one), but there is an uncommon level of care taken with their design and those with the attention span to delve into the secrets will no doubt find plenty to go on. The massive crest in the second arena marking the grave of a long-dead tyrant is a good example, as it is not only easily overlooked but even when you find it, it still requires the player to give their interpretation of the information displayed there. You aren't told anything specifically, instead you're given a clue to go on and a chance to invent your own story.
I was enjoying this atmosphere of mystery and intrigue until I ran into the game's sole non-hostile NPC: Tenpen. He shows up periodically throughout the game to give you a lore info dump. His presence and information, while not answering all the questions I have about Boomerang X's world, still gave me a ton of concrete information to go on and somewhat spoiled the fun of having to piece things together for myself.
Value and Replayability
Boomerang X is a short game. How short? Well, there's an achievement for beating the entire game in under 45 minutes. Personally, I'm not about to attempt that particular challenge, but even at a normal pace I still beat the game in under three hours. Boomerang X is the type of game where, if you're sufficiently hooked by the core gameplay loop, then you can probably beat it in a single sitting! The game has been seemingly designed with the speed-runner in mind, going so far as to include a built-in speed-running clock. Great news for those of us on a review deadline, not so great for people spending actual money.
To the game's credit, there is a fair bit of replay value here. The combat itself is complex enough to support multiple playthroughs based on nothing more than the satisfaction of mastering it. There's also a New Game Plus mode to add additional challenges as well as a whole slew of options to tweak the gameplay that would be good for, at the very least, a momentary diversion. However, if the combat doesn't grab you there's not much that additional playthroughs and game modes won't do much to draw you in. So if you're thinking of picking up Boomerang X but are unsure if it's worth the money, do yourself a favor and grab the free demo first. That should be more than enough to decide if the game is for you.
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Eye-catching art style, Fast paced and enjoyable combat, High skill ceiling.
The game is short... Really short.