The Best Retro Zelda-Like This Year Looks More Like Geometry Wars

0
4

The enduring popularity of The Legend of Zelda has led to no shortage of imitators. For those lamenting the lack of a new top-down 2D Zelda from Nintendo, Steam is rife with homages that approximate the feeling of delving into forests, caves, and dungeons armed only with a plucky attitude and your uncle’s sword. Minishoot Adventures, the sophomore game from indie studio SoulGame, is different, but no less reverent as an homage. Rather than crib from Zelda in a very literal sense, this one reimagines and recaptures the same sensation of classic Zelda by recontextualizing it as a bullet hell shooter.

Instead of an elven tween, you’re a sentient spaceship. Your allies and enemies, also spaceships. The world is open and free roaming with item gating, like classic Zelda and metroidvania games. Movement feels sharp and snappy immediately, like picking up a game of PixelJunk Shooter or Geometry Wars. It even has a series of dungeons with clever traps, environmental puzzles, game-changing powers, and tough boss battles.

In short, it has everything that defines the classic Zelda experience, but it plays very differently. You’re making the kinds of split-second decisions you might expect from a bullet-hell game and shooting down enemy craft, while also freely exploring the environment and making ah-ha discoveries. It feels just like sitting on the couch inches from your CRT as you navigate a poisonous swamp, and at the same time completely different and modern. It’s a heck of a trick.

So far in my playtime, every new power has felt like a total game changer. There are only a handful dungeons, and I’ve finished three, but every power has given me that familiar feeling of recalling all the places I’ve seen a particular obstacle and feeling excited to revisit and overcome them. And given that the bosses are true bullet-hell challenges, walking away with those powers feels like a satisfying reward for a job well done.

On top of the standard item-gating powers, Minishoot has a robust upgrade system and skill tree. You gather upgrade materials from taking down enemies as well as clumps of material scattered around the world that just feels good to shoot until it breaks into tiny pieces. Those can be used to make your ship faster, extend your range, increase your power or fire rate, or much more. Incredibly, it also has a respec system that’s so generous it would border on game-breaking if it weren’t so impeccably balanced to account for it. You can refund your points and spend them elsewhere whenever and wherever you want–even in the middle of a boss fight. The ability to reconfigure your ship on the fly feels like a feature, not a bug.

Then there are the rarer large pieces of currency, only given out for finding hidden areas or beating particularly large and tough bosses. Those can be traded to outfit your ship with a bigger gun, gain a piece of the map, or get extra equipment like an Astrolabe to point you toward missed secrets.

The entrance to one of the dungeons in Minishoot Adventures

It’s a mash-up that sounds remarkably bizarre but once you play it, you wonder how it hasn’t already become commonplace. The two pieces fit so well it feels like they were made for each other–two genres stretching out across the decades of their respective popularity, and finding themselves to be a beautiful match.

And if you’ve got a taste for adventure but are intimidated by bullet-hell shooters, there are myriad difficulty and accessibility options to fine-tune the experience to your liking. You can choose from three difficulty levels as well as three aiming options: manual, assisted, or automatic. You can also slow the game speed, or toggle unlimited health or energy. I’ve found the challenge level to be tough but fair on the default without assists so far, but it’s good to know these options are available for those who need them.

In short, I love everything about Minishoot Adventures–its visual design, its sense of exploration, even its frankly confusing apostrophe that I refuse to include in this. (It is technically called Minishoot’ Adventures, which is meant to be a possessive.) It’s a gem of an indie game, and a shoo-in for one of my favorites of the year.