Review: Mothergunship

Someday the aliens are going to show up for a nice chat over species-appropriate beverages. “Just dropping by to say Hi and welcome you to the larger universe. Ooh, you’re at this stage of social development? Been there, done that, you can get through this. No, we have no plans to forcefully take your planet, Venus is much more appropriate for our metabolism.  Why do you ask?” It would have been nice if the aliens in Mothergunship were that type, but no such luck. They want to collect all the data in the universe, and if that means humanity needs to be put on ice to do it, they’ve got the ships and storage space to hold it all.

What the aliens don’t have, however, is everyone, and the resistance has a new recruit set up in the finest robo-armor a scrappy group of rebels can supply. What they’re a little short on is guns, but thankfully the aliens have handy shops kicking around their ships and their defeated defenses have a tendency to drop coins. It’s a weird little economy but means you can create the firepower of your dreams if you can only find the parts.

Mothergunship is a semi-roguelike action FPS that’s the thematic sequel to the excellent Tower of Guns. Any fan of that game will have a decent idea of what to expect, while those who missed it have a lot of fun surprises in store. Each level is a string of hand-built rooms strung together randomly, with multiple possible enemy configurations in a variety of difficulty levels to prevent things from getting too familiar. Gun turrets, flamethrowers, flying buzzsaws, floating kamikaze exploder-bots, wandering sentinels, and plenty of other enemy types keep you on your toes.  When destroyed they send out a small fountain of multicolored loot like someone exploded a box of Mecha-Lucky Charms- purple crystals are experience, gold coins are self explanatory, blue rectangles replenish gun energy, and green crosses are health.  The similarity to sugar-cereal doesn’t extend to the loot’s shelf-life, however, so you’ll need to collect it all quickly before it’s gone. You’d be surprised how easy it is to rationalize trying to dance around a dense wall of firepower in order to collect a single health when yours is low and the drop about to disappear.


The initial levels are comprised of fairly standard modern-spaceship décor, with enemies being scattered about in a manageable fashion, but it doesn’t take long for the situation to ramp up as new environments and much larger areas become available. Every room on a ship gets a difficulty ranking, shown on the door before entry, and the numbers only keep climbing with each area cleared until the screen is packed with bullets form turrets on every surface and the sky filled with flying laser-pods.  Fortunately you’re also getting a bit more powerful too, assuming you spend the money on gun upgrades along the way. While shops aren’t available in every room they’re fairly common, and each one has a selection of six items to choose from. There will usually be a health-up, but the rest are gun parts and this is where Mothergunship goes completely over the top.

You start on the very first ship with just robo-fists, which are nice for close-range punching but not so hot for much else.  Then you find a store and the shooting starts in earnest as you choose between gun barrels, connectors, and caps.  Gun barrels are the shooty bits, connectors connect, caps add status effects to your shots, and there are only a tiny number of restraints on how they all go together.  Gun barrels always have to face forward and no parts can overlap, but beyond that go nuts.  Want a gun that shoots bouncing streams of plasma and spiked balls?  A rail gun/rocket launcher combo for that one-two punch?  Drunk missiles and a shotgun blast, with a lava modifier that makes burning hot spheres where they land?  Do it up, but remember that each new barrel and cap adds to the energy usage per shot.  You’ve got two hands and can build a gun for each, so if you want to create a workhorse that can fire almost constantly and another that drains its entire energy supply in a single shot it might work out ok.  There’s no denying how much fun it can be to shoot off a mega-monstrosity, though, so long as you don’t leave yourself defenseless after doing it.


Odds are fairly decent you’ll finally clear the room, and at that point you end up with a choice.  You can either head out the door to the next area or explore a bit, because secrets could be anywhere.  One of the highlights of Tower of Guns was its level design and Mothergunship is no different, with areas that are as playful vertically as they are horizontal.  While the initial Harbinger ships tend towards smaller rooms with simpler layouts, the Foundry levels are properly big with multiple levels and pipes running through towering ceilings, and the gorgeous Neon ships are utterly huge with bouncy-pads everywhere.  Secret areas of the wall hide power-ups good for that run, either adding extra jumps, more health, or more weapon energy, and you can tell where they are by the blue pattern that ripples across the wall.  You’ve got to be close enough to detect it, though, and in the taller rooms that requires a few different options.  The robo-suit can stack jump power-ups as high as you can find them, or you can add a recoil mod to the gun that not only adds extra damage to its shots but can send you flying through the air if used properly.  Speed, mobility, and air-time are as useful in checking out odd nooks and crannies as they are for survival in the midst of a firefight.

While the power-ups are temporary for the duration of the current run, others are a bit more permanent.  Each enemy killed drops a few purple crystals, and those count as experience to be tallied up at the end of a level whether you survive the run or not.  A level-up gets you a point to spend on the suit in a number of categories, including extra jumps, faster running speed, a larger secret-detection area, resistance to environmental hazards, and even fist damage if you feel like punching your way through a level.  Points can always be reassigned if you don’t like your loadout, but once you’ve experienced eight jumps at once it’s hard to imagine letting them go for anything.

Mothergunship is a game designed to be played for as long as you’ve got the interest, constantly changing up its challenge and providing a new goal to aim for.  There’s a lot of content to explore, secrets to find, and all sorts of fun silliness hiding among the big action set-pieces, but it’s worth noting that there’s more to come.  This review can’t cover things that don’t exist yet, of course, but it’s worth covering a major feature that didn’t quite make the current version of the game- co-op.  It’s available in a beta branch but not rolling out officially until a major August update.  Future plans call for Mothergunship to get regular content updates as well, such as new gun parts, more rooms, new enemies, etc.  It’s not exactly hurting for content in its current state, so this can be considered a bonus rather than adding on missing parts post-release.


Closing Comments:

It’s hard to talk about Mothergunship without mentioning Tower of Guns, but seeing as that was my go-to game for four months straight, I can’t really consider that a problem.  Runs in Mothergunship are much shorter than Tower of Guns, which could easily run an hour or two depending on your skill and the game mode, while taking on single ship is generally a matter of clearing between five to ten rooms or so.  The problem comes when heading back to base, where the mission console is sitting right there and ready to serve up just one more run.  Pick a pair of favorite weapons and a modifier for a standard run, attack a hell-mode ship with just a single gun and scavenge what you can along the way or maybe investigate the weird mystery ships that sometimes turn up to see what new oddity it will bring.  Each run is a pure action romp through the heart of a robot-infested ship, packed so many bullets, lasers and other mechanical assault critters that it’s a wonder the aliens could lug it all to our solar system.  It would have been nice if the aliens had wanted to hang out and chat a bit rather than convert humanity into data.  As long as they’re attacking with overwhelming might, however, we might as well take the opportunity to have an utter blast tearing through their armada with the most ridiculously over-built guns ever designed.

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Mothergunship
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