Good Old Reviews – Crimsonland Classic
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at The Escapist.
I’m usually not a fan of SHMUPs. It’s not that I have anything against them, it’s just that, in my experience, they tend to exist in the realm of pure gameplay. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. As pretentious as it sounds though, I’m the type of person that tends to get bored if I’m playing something without some type of story or some sort of deeper experience to keep me engaged. There comes a point where I’m no longer content to blast aliens just for the heck of it. I want to know why I’m doing it and have a clear picture of what the stakes are if I fail.
That said, I do still have moments where I sit down at the end of a long day/week/month and want nothing more than to mindlessly blow a pack of (insert cannon fodder) straight to virtual hell. That’s pretty much where my mind was following the end of my time with Darklands. I enjoyed the game and I hope to hop into it again someday, but after two weeks of playing almost nothing other than an RPG with more moving parts than I can count on all of my safe-for-work digits, I was ready to move on to something a bit more on the brainless side.
Recently re-released at GOG in HD form (I played the attached classic version), Crimsonland doesn’t look like anything special at first glance. Its environments are almost exclusively flat and gray. Its music is forgettable and its enemies, at best, are a cavalcade of been-there-done-that that only impressed me with the extent to which they were recycled. Even so, god damn if this game isn’t fun!
It might not have the niceties of a gorgeous AAA title, but Crimsonland plays like a dream, combining the easy to grasp mechanics of a top-down SHMUP (a.k.a. run and shoot) with cleverly designed stages and play modes (campaign, survival, rush, co-op) that manage to feel familiar while still offering unique challenges that kept me from feeling like I was just playing progressively more difficult versions of the same level. One stage, for instance, employed two rows of enemy spawning nodes that the player has to quickly destroy before they flood the screen with enemies. Another simply had the attacking aliens flood the screen simultaneously from two fixed directions. Granted, the changes between levels never really get much bigger than that, but it’s enough to feel like genuine variety.
The game also makes brilliant use of perks, employing dozens of them that the player can earn by leveling up in the middle of battle. Equipping these can give you access to increased firepower, faster reloads, extra ammo and a bevy of other less conventional abilities that are frequently imbued with a pleasant strain of humor. One perk, for example, fills your character with such rage that it periodically manifests as an in-game explosion of firepower that blasts everything around you. Another gradually boosts your walking speed as long as you never stop moving. My personal
favorite of the bunch, however, involves selling your soul to the devil in exchange for more perks.
Layered on top of these is an impressive collection of weaponry ranging from your basic pistol to plasma rifles and more. I’ll admit to not being super impressed with the game’s arsenal. While it certainly delivers some nice and unique weapons, a lot of them are also the standard fare you’d expect from a title of this style. That being the case, I’ll also say that even the most basic weapons are fun and satisfying to use and that the various guns all feel and handle differently enough that picking one up can completely alter the way you play a level. There were situations where I’d sometimes find myself wishing for a shotgun even though the game had just dropped a rocket launcher in my lap. Add in a fun array of combat bonuses (the nuke is awesome) and you have a game that offers a lot of ways to respond to and shape the flow of combat on a moment to moment basis.
What this all amounts to is an action experience that lacks a lot of the niceties that make a beautiful game, but that excels at being a fun one. Make no mistake, Crimsonland won’t change your life. If you’re just looking for a game, however, that you can pop in and play for a few minutes for a quick thrill or to blow off some steam, this is your ticket right here. And don’t be surprised if a couple of minutes turns into a couple of hours. Crimsonland may not be the deepest title, but it’s addictive as heck and well worth GOG’s asking price.