REVIEW: ‘Nuclear Throne’ Retains Its Reign (XSX)

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Nuclear Throne - But Why Tho

Nuclear Throne is a bullet hell roguelike by Vlambeer. Originally released on PC, PS3, PS4, and Vita six years ago, the simple yet satisfying game has just arrived on Xbox via Game Pass, and despite its age, it remains a very satisfying game.

Roguelikes have gotten massive over the years. And this is generally awesome because innovation is the best way to keep a genre fresh. But it also helps make more clear how older games do and don’t hold up and why. Nuclear Throne is from a time before Enter the Gungeon or Dead Cells. Things were simpler. You pick your character; each has one stat difference like more HP or higher speed, and one ability like a dodge roll or shield. And then you just go at it. In this nuclear wasteland-themed game, you must kill every enemy on screen to progress in your quest to claim the Nuclear Throne. Aim with one stick, shoot with the trigger. Don’t get hit too many times, or you’re done for, and it’s back to the very beginning. You’ll pick up weapons, ammo, and health along the way, and between every few levels, you’ll be able to pick Mutations that give you certain buffs or abilities. But that’s about it. Other than that, just run, gun, and don’t die.

But this simplicity is everything. Without all the bells and whistles of upgrades and unlockables, you’re left needing only to hone your dodging and aiming skills. And you’ll need them because while this game isn’t a one-hit and you’re dead level of difficulty, it gets pretty hard pretty fast. Between hordes of enemies with different types of attacks at different ranges, tight corridors, and environmental hazards, it’ll take a lot of practice to get to the Nuclear Throne.

The gameplay’s simplicity doesn’t mean it’s without complexity, though. There are myriad weapons and weapon types, from machine guns to energy guns to a wrench or a crossbow. There are secret areas to stumble upon and a Crown mechanic, essentially modifiers, that you can unlock permanently among other cosmetics for completing loops with them. They’re tied specifically to the character you completed the run with, giving players a whole host of additional goals to strive towards besides simply beating the game once or twice. The key aspect, though, is that they’re modifiers. They’re not stat boosts or weapon enhancements necessary for fighting your way through the game. Sure some of them are helpful, but they’re also a natural part of progressing through any loop. Essentially, they’re an optional aspect of the game that doesn’t make or break progress.

Artistically, the pixel art style may be reminiscent of a time when that was basically the only way indie games were being designed in the previous generation. Still, on Xbox Series X|S, it looks very refined. The style lends itself perfectly to the simplicity of the gameplay and looks pretty good and smooth on current generation consoles. The music and sound design are subtle but very atmospheric, fitting totally within each of the environments. The post-apocalyptic vibe as a whole is well-serviced by its bizarre playable characters, their personalities, and the enemies you fight.

I also appreciate that it always feels like you’re progressing, not because you unlock new upgrades or anything, but because you unlock more playable characters the further you get into a run without dying. This is just enough incentive to keep pushing me to get further even when things start to get dull in their simplicity. Because there are only so many types of enemies and weapons per area, it can get repetitive after a while. But, the levels are short, so the repetitiveness doesn’t drag on either.

While an older entry in the genre, Nuclear Throne is still creative and fun and feels totally fresh in the sea of bullet hells. It has just enough to it to keep you going, though, by comparison to more robust roguelikes, it has the potential to dry up after a while if you’re not mastering it fast enough. Nonetheless, it’s well worth a dive into, especially with its appearance on Xbox Game Pass.

Nuclear Throne is available now on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, Mac, and PC.

Nuclear Throne
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

While an older entry in the genre, Nuclear Throne is still creative and fun and feels totally fresh in the sea of bullet hells. It has just enough to it to keep you going, though, by comparison to more robust roguelikes, it has the potential to dry up after a while if you’re not mastering it fast enough. Nonetheless, it’s well worth a dive into, especially with its appearance on Xbox Game Pass.