Slam Junk! Desura Review

Slam Junk! is a short power armor clad, third person, hack and slash platforming adventure. The power armor gives your character Drew (no last name) all the abilities you could want in a game like this. A slow basic punch attack, a double jump, a ground pound and a shock wave punch to clear debris. You can pull certain platforms closer, or levitate objects for puzzle solving. There are even magnets on the ceiling that you can quickly fly through the air for traversal. You can even polarize a magnetic disc from blue to red and back for puzzle solving. Slam Junk! has all those things, but it just doesn’t do any of them very well. The magnetic powers feel inconsistent. Sometimes picking up an object would send it flying across the room. Other times, trying to pull a disc out of a box would put it back in. It felt like constant struggle that made the game much longer than it needed to be for me.

The game is set in a steam punk fantasy where robots are the enemies and you’ll go through tunnels over lava rivers to progress. Its a nice almost cell shaded art style. There is a good use of light and vibrant color here that makes it all feel beautiful. It was an interesting choice to make their own development team the same as the facility name in the game, but I see this as a proof of concept game that they have the capability to make a grander game.

Your health is tied to your special abilities. Ground pounding, sending a shock wave and using magnetic powers to levitate things will all drain your health. So you can kill yourself from overusing your powers. Personally, I’d rather have the game prevent you from using your powers if you’re one step away from death. Lucky for you there is a recharge, that absorbs energy from hanging lights, but only hanging lights. Once they get used to recharge your armor, they go dim.

The controls themselves are an issue. Most things are easy. Left stick to walk, right stick for the camera, attack, double jump, attack, recharge and ground pound is attack in air. That’s when beautiful simplicity ends. To levitate something, hold one button (b1) to raise Drew’s hand and push another (b2) to lift the object. The lift button (b2) shares the same button with the shock wave punch (b2). To polarize something, you need to hold a different button (b3) to lift Drew’s hand then push yet a fourth different button (b4) to polarize it. Both (b1) and (b3) raise Drew’s hand to do different things. Why have two buttons that do the same thing when there is one button doing two things?

With every death you respawn at the last checkpoint with all your effort still in tact. Defeated enemies won’t be back. Moved walls and obstacles will still be gone. This makes the game progress quicker if not easy to a fault. You only need to traverse and platform back to where you were. Since using your powers can kill you and the only punishment is respawning, there’s almost no reason to have death. There’s nothing worse than needing to levitate an item to deal with a puzzle knowing the moment you pick it up, you’ll die.

I had to do the first boss fight several times. The first time, I got defeated where I get respawned. So when I respawn the boss was right there on me instead of resetting him from where he starts across the room. Even after restarting and defeating him, I managed to accidentally destroy an item needed to leave the room. Dying and respawning didn’t restart the boss. A third time I was able to play around with the item only to not be able to figure out what to do after thirty minutes. I restarted the game for a fourth time and made it to the first boss, defeated him and had the same problem.

Some things become game breaking because of how it respawns you without resetting the level. Like having two magnetic discs on one wall plate disables your ability to pull the discs or change their polarity. Your death does not reset the area, so they are stuck on the wall forever until you restart the very brief chapter. Not only that, but in the third chapter I died and respawned at the next checkpoint instead of the last one.

Lucky for me the game has a chapter select screen that I can easily skip to the second and third chapters. My first visit to the second chapter was perfectly fine. My second visit to the start of the second chapter resulted in a glitch where everything had a black texture except for the lights. Everything still played the same, but it was all covered in shadow. After closing and opening the game it did the same thing. The only way to get the second chapter to properly work is to visit the third chapter, then the second chapter. That makes all the textures fine.

Beyond the game breaking issues, there are forgivable ones like invisible walls, stiff animations and poor hit detection during the boss fights. There are a few visual issues too like being on a platform that is floating ever so slightly up then down… but the player doesn’t move up and down with it. Sometimes falling down into lava would get me stuck on invisible platforms near the walls high above the lava.

The camera control is wildly sensitive by default, but you can change that in the general audio setting. Yes, the general audio setting. I can understand a mislabeled menu tab. Perhaps general audio meant camera control and audio. I’m thankful that its there, to also flip the Y axis.

By default the game is in Spanish text. I assume its from a Spanish developer, but what I don’t understand is why the narrator is in English when the text is in Spanish. You can change to English text at any time in the General Audio section of the options. The narrator definitely sounds like she’s just reading rather than acting and that’s fine for an indie game. Its just something else to say to pad this review. Sometimes the narrator is super soft and difficult to hear, but there are sub titles. Once something gets said, you’ll never hear it again without restarting a chapter.

I hate to be this critical on a review, because I don’t want to just complain the entire way through. Slam Junk! is the start of something that could be good. The flaws, bugs and game breaking issues get in the way for me. These are all things that can be fixed over time to improve the game.

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