Kero Blaster (PC) Review

Today we’re looking at a game called Kero Blaster, from the remarkable developer known as Pixel. When you are covering the latest creation of a person responsible for one of […]

Today we’re looking at a game called Kero Blaster, from the remarkable developer known as Pixel. When you are covering the latest creation of a person responsible for one of the most iconic, beloved, and truly indie video games in recent history, you can’t help but reference the towering success of the past. To inoculate you, I’m going to just get this out of the way right up front. Cave Story, Cave Story, Cave Story. Pixel, Pixel, Cave Story, Pixel, Cave Story.

There. Let’s get started.

Visuals

Indie game fans will be no strangers to retro visuals. Cave Story made excellent use of SNES-level graphics, for example, and dozens of other games have proven again and again that crisp and creative graphics made pixel by pixel can make a game every bit as striking as the latest shaders and sky-high polycounts. What struck me about Kero Blaster was that rather than moving forward or following in the footsteps of Cave Story, if anything the visuals went even more retro. The graphics feel like they fall somewhere between Atari and NES. The main character in particular is extremely simple, composed of blocky shapes and flat colors. Despite this, utilizing the special sort of graphical wizardry available to precious few, the character and aesthetic is never lacking. Through the merest shifts of pixels and postures this simple character emotes and expresses with the best of them.

Don't mind the frog's color. If you play long enough, you'll understand.

Don’t mind the frog’s color. If you play long enough, you’ll understand.

The environment has a bit more detail, but just a touch, and has something of a glitchy beauty to it. Some enemy types make reappearances from level to level, often in the form of blobby and sinister agents of infection. Other enemies are unique to their environment and fit in perfectly, mostly taking as hostile wildlife or strangely zombified employees. Each level introduces at least one large and creative boss, and the animation and character design latch onto that chunk of the gamer’s brain that was has been trained to identify likely targets and weaknesses. It was one of the many ways in which the game felt almost like I had played it a thousand times before, not in a tired or clichéd way, but in a ‘forgotten classic that you can’t wait to play again’ sort of way.

Gameplay

People familiar with Cave Story might expect this game to be another Metroidvania game, but such is not the case this time around. There are elements of it, certainly, including the acquisition of new weapons and abilities that improve mobility and combat, but for the most part this game is perfectly linear. It is almost the quintessential platformer, with the sort of distilled purity and focus that made the first half-dozen Megaman games staples of my library. The simple four-button interface lets you jump (and later double jump), shoot, climb, and change weapons. That’s it. Even NES standard maneuvers like dropping through a platform or aiming down are absent. Taking their place are the weapons which help target different ranges and screen positions. A bubble-lead-esque weapon will drop to the ground when fired above water and float to the surface when fired under it. A standard pea-shooter will give good range but poor damage. The venerable spread gun makes a mandatory appearance, etc.

KeroBlaster 2014-06-12 19-29-08-47

MY GUN SHOOTS NINJA STARS! AHAHAHAHA!

To give you an idea of the dedication to the old days of gaming that you can expect from Kero Blaster, you’ve got a limited number of lives! While you have lives, a death will restore you to the nearest checkpoint (usually the last screen transition). Losing your last life has you wake up in a hospital with the option of quitting or starting the level over.

Some of you may read that last paragraph and cringe. Failure and its consequences are things we’ve weeded out of games over the years. If your hardcore gaming chops aren’t honed and practiced, a limited number of lives is a recipe for frustration. Thankfully, Pixel isn’t so cruel as to require perfection. Instead the game has a sort of auto-balancing feature to it. Fighting your way through the game earns you money, which in turn upgrades your weapons, adds to your health, adds lives, and heals you. If you play perfectly, even finding the plentiful secrets won’t provide you with enough money to fully upgrade yourself and your arsenal, but death doesn’t cost any money, so each time you try and fail you’ll find yourself with a little more cash in your pocket from repeated trips through the level. Eventually your mid-level visits to the store will make you strong enough to brute force your way through whatever was giving you trouble. It really works quite well. The game is even kind enough to remember which mini-bosses were defeated and not require you to tear through them a second time.

The game is relatively short. In my very limited spare time I was able to beat in a three or four sessions, but don’t worry. When the game has come and gone, wait until the end of the credits. If you weren’t satisfied with the game… say so. You’ll be rewarded/punished for it.

Sound

No dialogue, catchy tunes appropriate to the visuals… I’m not sure what else there is to say.

Story

The game’s story is presented in a very subtle and humorous way. You’re able to piece together that you play as the eponymous “Frog” of a company called “Cat & Frog.” You are technically a janitor, but more or less the standard all-purpose gunner. Something I loved about it was that there’s seldom a feel of heroism. You’re just a working shlub, punching the clock and never quite understanding what you’re doing or why. Despite being an entirely mute character, our protagonist impressively conveys a put-upon and hapless everyman, cowed by the increasingly unwell president of the company and commiserating with the other employees.

Little known facts: Frogs hate construction equipment. Construction equipment hates shurikens.

Little known facts: Frogs hate construction equipment. Construction equipment hates shurikens.

I don’t want to give away too much of the details beyond that. There’s a creeping infestation of sorts, and the very nature of the world is something that is hinted to be fundamentally different than it appears, but I will say that one of the best parts of the game for me was the humor. The other employees are at best vaguely aware of a blatant malady that is claiming their boss. They are completely blasé about the sort of danger their putting poor ol’ Frog in. I didn’t feel the emotional connection to the charcters that I felt in Cave Story, but there were far more moments where I laughed out loud.

Summing Up

I’m hard-pressed to find anything about Kero Blaster that I would call a weakness. In the unavoidable comparison to its predecessor, I can’t say it stands quite as tall. The smaller scope and lighter tone will probably deprive it of the same cultural impact that Cave Story had. But the technical aspects are rock solid and it is just as fun to play. I strongly recommend this game to any old school gamer itching for flawless visit to one of the purest eras of video games.

Verdict

9.8 / 10: Kero Blaster is a brilliant and funny old-school platformer that falls short of perfection only in comparison to its big brother, Cave Story.

avatar

About Decoychunk

Editor, Writer, and general Knower-Of-Words, if there is text to be read on BrainLazy, Joseph Lallo probably has his fingerprints on it. As the final third of the ownership and foundation of BrainLazy, Joseph “Jo” Lallo made a name for himself when he lost the “e” from his nickname in an arm wrestling match with a witch doctor. Residing in the arid lowlands of the American Southwest, Joseph Lallo is a small, herbivorous, rabbit-like creature with the horns of an antelope. He sleeps belly up, and his milk can be used for medicinal purposes. Joseph Lallo is also author of several books, including The Book of Deacon Series, book 1 of which is available for free here.