Growing up, I was really fond of Gradius III. That sort of side-scrolling shoot ’em up game, combined with the exhilarating soundtrack, made an impressionable impact on my gaming preferences. Taking a quick glance at Dead End City on Twitter on the first day of the Steam Next Fest, I was immediately reminded of those days of blasting things to bits to an intense beat. How could I decline?
Quick structure disclaimer: Given this (and all the others) is only a demo, I won’t be too in-depth with my coverage, and will only reflect on the good and the bad. No overly long personal history or filibuster. No nonsense. That said, I will provide a synopsis for the game below.
“A post-apocalyptic arcade shooter. Collect fuel and dodge enemy fire as you fight back against the evil Scorpio gang. Mixes cars, shmups and themes that would have been right at home in 80’s anime and arcades.“
That opening animation, first and foremost. Bold, in your face, and appropriately zany—an exact replication of the kind of chaotic, guns blazing aura it wishes to embody. A vintage display of pixel incorporation, too; it’s not too “animated,” per se, but like a montage of slow-moving shots and mood-setters. Booting up the game, it’s the exact kick necessary to get one ready to blow shit up.
That’s about the extent of what one can do—this demo took me about twelve minutes to reach the end of. Content-wise, it consists of one “Stage” (I guess?) with multiple waves of enemies and a boss at the end. Should you manage to go through in one try (it took me two), that’s, give or take, seven or eight minutes of content. This puts a lot of pressure on the demo to deliver a striking first impression on newcomers.
For the most part, I believe it succeeds. Those particularly fond of a more simple shoot ’em up game will have that itch scratched adequately. One thing I do find a little neat that distinguishes this game is the fact that health is always decreasing. As the player drives, their fuel steadily decreases, necessitating that debris from crashed baddies are always incentivized to pick up. Oil cans and other goodies raining down almost all the time.
Simplicity can be both a blessing and a curse. Dead End City does have that one distinction to it that I like, but otherwise, it’s a pretty by-the-books shoot ’em up. Hardly anything for it to advertise other than “themes” from “80’s anime and arcades.” For some, that won’t do much to encourage spending more on new content that does so little different from what already exists.
Playing the demo, I was actually taken aback by how little was actually present in gameplay. There are these striking-looking characters on promotional material and an atmosphere of post-apocalypse that’s ripe with potential for lore. Yet there’s almost nothing on anyone during the events of this demo; most are locked behind content necessary through the full game. Perhaps more will arise with the full game?
Another mechanic includes a special weapon present when one overflows with fuel, yet this is so rare that I was hardly conscious of when to use it and when not to. Too much is occurring onscreen for me to make these quick decisions; generally, I just spammed the special weapon button every few seconds just in case. Perhaps with more time played this will improve, yet for the purposes of the demo, it seemed too little a reward.
A terrible game, this is not. That said, there is quite a bit of potential that’s seemingly left on the table in terms of content that detracts from the overall experience. Those fond of shoot ’em ups in general will have little to complain about. Those who want something with a little more juice in the tank may have to search elsewhere. At least it looks cool.
Dead End City has a demo you can play now on Steam. (Link under “Game Summary.”)
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Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.