A drunk DJ took his stance at the front of the crowded club. The scent of sweat, regurgitated vodka shots and unspeakable shame decorated the atmosphere. “Be aggressive” echoed as the party-goers began to shift from a drunken stupor to convulsive dance moves. Suddenly, heavily-edited vocal-moans splashed my ear drums. “Pep Rally,” “Dance Party,” and “Sparkle Party” were my choices. I assumed my position, selected at random and was immediately introduced to an explosive retro-futuristic arcade shooter unlike anything I’ve seen before.
I was both entranced and very much confused, innocently watching as brightly colored pills began to pour from atop the screen. In a rush to defeat those evil pharmaceuticals, I fired as bright and vibrant bursts of shattered capsules scattered across the playing-field. Before me was a colorful impression or classic arcade gameplay, and boy was I hooked — only this time my parents wouldn’t tearfully invite a room full of loved ones to greet me. Well maybe they would, they’re pretty weird.
If Intake existed in the days of the silver ball flinging arcade-bandits and quarter-hungry game cabinets, it would likely be responsible for the delinquency of hundreds of pale faced miscreants, friendship abolishing high-score debates and a great financial crisis in any arcade-heavy neighborhoods. It’s addictive qualities are only enhanced by its unfortunately short soundtrack, which includes three jams appropriate for Las Vegas nightclub restroom make out-sessions, back ally ecstasy purchases and background noise to many inevitable arrests.
Yes, it’s a game about drugs, as briefly referenced on occasion. But more so it pays homage to the drug-crowd of the EDM universe, boasting its bass-laden sounds as it opens its doors to complexities hidden beneath the surface of Dr. Mario familiarities. There are moments throughout levels that require fly decisions that determine whether your inexorable overdose is accidental or stupidly self-inflicted. The rewards for such instances are as appealing as the risk is annoying, and in critical situations it’s that sort of management that becomes key in surviving the colorful flow of pills.
It’s a simple concept at first glance. An assortment of pills in various colors begin to drop from above (only two differently colored pills per level). Your goal is to match the color of your crosshair with that of the pill you’re set to destroy, and erase it from existence. Selecting an alternate color is a mouse click away, and shooting a pill with the wrong color will break your ever-important combo, as will missing a pill entirely. As the speed increases, so does your chance of allowing pills to escape the wrath of your fire. Pills that reach the bottom of the screen will break any combo, and ones of a color opposite of your crosshair will snag a life from your limited supply.
There’s an exhausting difficulty that can be reached by appropriately stringing combos, and the speed clicking eventually transforms in to less of a repetitive action and more of a state of mind, entrancing with its vibrant palette of neon’s and its pounding, aneurysm-inducing electronic beats. As you advance in level, challenges present themselves in the form of speed accelerations that would give Wally West a run for his money, pill floods that plaster the screen with radiant tablets and trick-capsules that explode into a distracting flash of light.
As dangerous speeds and disruptive snags quickly inch you towards an overdose, upgrades play their usual and much welcomed role. With various effects on the table such as the ability to slow time to a crawl, allowing you to snipe pills at a pace fit for a Galapagos tortoise, Zeus-like flashes of lighting that will bounce between pills for a short period of time and enlarged pills that make for easier targets, Intake gives you plenty of reasons to fill your score meter, as this will eventually release one of your equipped upgrades. It’s a basic system that works, and different players will find different upgrades useful, as they equip and unequip to taste.
Visually, Intake is as pretty as it is minimal, with gorgeously luminescent caplets, sharp and clear text that rarely distracts from the action on screen, and a pleasing sense of speed. The music meshes brilliantly with the flashy gameplay, and there’s certainly depth to be found beyond its point-and-shoot exterior. Intake truly shines during combo-chase sequences as speed intensifies the experience of managing risks and rewards. During these moments, instinctual choices take the lead as colorful explosions become a blur, making for a satisfyingly fun time.
Intake is the arcade-shooter to defeat all arcade-shooters, both in play and style. Plenty of achievements add to its progressive nature, as do the various challenge modes and bright, visually enamoring graphics. Cipher Prime managed to deliver a seemingly simplistic shooter with enough depth and variety to enchant even those who were born long after arcades were pushed from our industry with malice. The ’80s retro-game theme and druggy undertones make for a unique exterior, and the blatantly bombastic tunes are jam-worthy even outside of its challenging bouts of gameplay. It’s a way to fall in love with an endless barrage of pills without inviting uncomfortable stares and possibly search warrants, and it feels good. Unfortunately, a limited supply of tracks holds this entrancing title back from true greatness, but even with that minor fault, Intake serves as a great example of perfection in simplicity.