Released just in time for the 2021 Halloween season, Savage Halloween by QUByte Interactive and 2nd Boss is a Mega Man style run-and-gunner featuring 8-bit NES-style visuals, three different playable characters each with their own skillset, and several levels to tackle. This is an unexpectedly quality retro action title.
The narrative opens with some cutscenes about vampires that work too hard during the year so they decide to go a little crazy and it is up to three protagonists to stop them. Gameplay is sort of like classic Castlevania but with a gun instead of a whip. Always having access to a straight shot basic pistol, it is possible to unleash new firepower as they are collected. For example, there is a shotgun that is a callback to Contra’s spreadshot, a ghost gun that has bullets shuffling forwards and backwards until they kill something, and even a chicken gun that lodges into surfaces then explodes. Unfortunately, this weapon selection sounds good on paper but each gun is very situational; using the standard gun is usually the best bet. The spreadshot has a nice range but is rather weak and that chicken gun takes forever and a day to explode, for example. Cycling between each weapon using the shoulder buttons can also be cumbersome when in the middle of battle too.
Savage Halloween has some obvious callbacks to classic Mega Man, Castlevania, Contra, and even the original TMNT NES game, but there is also a bit of Battletoads here too. Not in the brawler sense but how the game type changes often. One minute you are running and gunning, the next you are playing through a long side scrolling shooter segment with repeating enemies, and the next you might be trying to make your way through a swimming stage. Each level is composed of multiple stages, complete with mini-bosses and long boss battles, but these extra modes can be a nice change of pace and are quite unexpected.
Boss battles actually pose the most inconsistency with the experience due to their bullet spongey nature. Even when using the special guns, they provide the biggest threat in an otherwise easier experience. When your health bar depletes, the player instantly respawns at the point of death. Although there are a few continues available, it is annoyingly heart breaking if you fall one too many times and need to restart the entire level from the beginning even through each area is divided into checkpoints. It isn’t the end of the world but can induce some rage when that boss with too much energy kills you with 10% health remaining.
Uniquely, there is a two-player mode but it can actually make the game harder. If a co-op reaches the end of the screen, a life is wasted. It is a harsh punishment especially when playing faster paced stages. The extra fire power can sure help with those bosses though.
For a $5 game, it isn’t totally fair to criticize the faults and pacing issues of Savage Halloween too strongly because the experience is enjoyable even with moments of imperfection. In fact, this is one of best ways to spend five bucks on a game. Even though it is Halloween themed, it is good enough to be played year round.
Also available on pretty much every other console out there today.