Matterfall Review – Not Quite Particle Perfection

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It’s fair to say that Housemarque love a good particle effect. It’s also fair to say that they also love tipping their hats to the arcade games of old. So, the creators of Resogun and Nex Machina have released a new game – Matterfall – an arcade style action platformer with more particles that the Hadron Collider, but does it match up to their past endeavors? The FingerGuns Review;

I love Hosemarque as a developer. I usually get a little excited and even pre-order their new games. That almost never happens. Their games are not always as consistent as I would like but as a rule of thumb, they are generally good. So, when Matterfall was announced I was all kinds of excited. Why? Because to this day I still consider Resogun to be one of the greatest PS4 games and Matterfall is billed as a sequel of sorts so there is lots to get excited about.

Matterfall follows the Housemarque pattern of taking game styles from yesteryear, jazzing it up and creating what could be classed as a HD remakes of classics such as Asteroids, Robotron, Defender etc etc. This time they have grabbed Contra and Mega Man and shoved it well and truly through their world-famous neon particlizer*.

The results, however, are not quite as good as the theory suggests. What we’re left with is a traditional side scrolling shoot-’em-up with an overly complicated set of controls and gameplay that never really revels in the simplicity of the games they are trying to emulate. Yet at the same time, Matterfall is lacking the depth gamers might expect in a modern game.

So, what do we have then? Well, imagine if you took Resogun and turned it into a side scrolling platform shooter. That’s what you have right here. There is lots of platform jumping to be had and of course shooting lots and lots of enemies who delightfully exploded in a bazillion neon colored particles in typical Housemarque style.

The trouble is, this isn’t as much fun as it should or would expect it to be. The platforming sections are stiff and, dare I say it, joyless with level design that fails to inspire. The shooting however, is as good as you would expect a Housemarque game to be. It’s tight and fluid when it’s at its best, but they have somehow taken the fun away and over complicated things with ‘Smart Matter’.

Enemies, platforms bullets are made from Smart Matter.  It’s an integral part to the game and as you can imagine there are a lot of enemies to contend with. Thankfully you have the handy Housemarque dash move that allows you to zoom through smart matter, bullets and even stun enemies, leaving you unharmed.  But there is another side to Smart Matter – Along with your main weapon you have a Smart Matter gun which can create platforms and explode bombs and, of course, ‘save the last humans’ that are trapped. This element is way too complicated, effectively having to control two guns makes for unnecessary complications, especially when these new gameplay elements adds nothing to the gameplay. If anything, it’s a hindrance and a chore in what is otherwise a good shooter.

With so much going on for your character – shooting, moving, dashing, Smart Mattering, and jumping – the controls are way too complicated and unnatural. All the main actions are mapped to the shoulder buttons. This works in a horizontal shooter like Resogun but in a side scrolling platformer it just feels wrong and overly complicated. R1 to jump L1 to dash, R2 for the smart matter gun, and L2 for your secondary weapon or ‘augmentation’, leaving control sticks to handle the movement and the direction of shooting. Expect your fingers (and your brain possibly) to start cramping up before you finally get you head around them.

Even when you do get your head around the controls and can smoothly jump, dash, shoot and activate smart matter like a death dealing ballerina, there are some dodgy gameplay elements that are there to kick you down again. Your invaluable dash move, arguably more important that your gun at times, has a micro short delay. There’s a second or two pause before you can use it again. This is long enough for you to die in the heat of battle, but short enough of you to forget about. There is no gauge on screen to show you any recharge time, that is if it is a recharge mechanic and not just a flaw in the game. Basically, you’re left guessing while you stumble through the gigaton of enemy fire coming your way.

The other thing that frustrates is the Smart Matter platforming sections. You have this dash move that allows you to pass through matter walls and platforms. However, there is some dark magic at work. When you jump up and dash, you don’t always pass thought the platform. You hit your head and land again. So, you have to double jump and then dash, which still makes you hit your head, but at least you pass though. It’s not as smooth and fluid as it should be, which makes you think “Why Is this Smart Matter there in the first place?”. It just feels clunky and stops the flow of the game.

The pacing of the game is off too. There are many times when you’ll be greeted with a room full of bullet hell only to then run through a clinical, sterile empty corridor until the next room filled with neon death appears. It’s either all or nothing with Matterfall.  When you consider that a game of this nature relishes speed runs, high score chasing and multipliers, it’s a strange decision to have these empty sections.

It’s not all bad though. For the first half hour you’ll be fighting with the controls more than you will the enemies on screen, but there’ll be a moment when it ‘clicks’. For me it was at the first level boss fight when everything just clicked and you’ll be dancing through bullets like the controls have made sense for years. The visuals are as top notch as ever with your typical Housemarque super modern landscapes dripping with neon and exploding in particles. There is also a delightful, thumping electro soundtrack to accompany your death dealing antics. And it’s nice to hear the voice from Resogun return as she tells you through your Dual Shock speaker that your multiplier is up. Wonderful.

The strange thing is, I’m not really sure why this game has come out at this time. The far superior Nex Machina was realised only a few months ago and that should quench anyone’s thirst for a Housemarque shooter. 

Matterfall just feels a little rushed, or perhaps even unfinished. That could just be my imagination though. The game is short too, you don’t get much for your buck, and there are literally no extra modes that can be unlocked. All that is available is different difficulty levels and if you can face it, go back and increase your score. That is pretty much it. The augments are fun to collect, and the bosses are a decent challenge but there isn’t much to make you want to go back for more, especially with all that unnecessary Smart Matter Paraphernalia. Take that away and you’ll have a much more fun and intense shooter.

*neon particlize does not exist 🙁


Matterfall is available now on PS4 now

Disclaimer: We purchased this game in order to complete this review. For more information, please see our review policy.

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