Review: Heckabomb

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Located somewhere in the same video game galaxy as Super Stardust and classic Asteroids, Heckabomb is a twin-stick shooter in which you blast through asteroid fields, fend off alien invaders and other enemy spacecraft, and ultimately annihilate entire planets by dropping the heck out of some Heckabombs. As a solo side project of Puppygames “micro-studio” Allicorn Games, Heckabomb carries on the same level of quality and old-school fun offered by Puppy’s other titles like Titan Attacks and Ultratron.

From inside the cockpit of the doomsday weapon of interplanetary destruction known as the Heckabomber, you fly across the galaxy on what I’m assuming is a never-ending campaign. I don’t know if there is ever a final level, but checkpoints are saved to continue from milestone levels 11, 21, and 31, and the stages keep on coming long after that. My best run so far has been up to level 54, with no apparent end in sight. Which would makes sense as this is a game that puts the sole focus on achieving a high score, not following a story or reaching an end point.

The campaign begins with an opening salvage mission, in which asteroids of different sizes and materials drift across the circular space arena and smash into each other and potentially your ship. Breaking asteroids down to size with the Heckabomber’s blasters leaves behind varying amounts of salvage, a form of currency used to purchase upgrades during shop intermission between stages. Asteroids don’t just blow up, though; they steadily break apart into increasingly smaller asteroid clusters and ricochet in unpredictable directions, so it takes careful dipping and dodging to avoid impact damage while also squeezing through the debris to harvest precious salvage.

After the asteroid salvage mission, the gameplay for the next stage shifts into sort of a bullet hell combat action mode where you must fight against hostile spacecraft–all coming at you hard with lasers, homing missiles, tractor beams, and mines–and stay alive for the duration of an approach countdown as the Heckabomber moves within range of the alien planet seen in the background to unleash a Heckabomb and end the level.

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This cycle of asteroid salvage and combat changes back and forth with each level, presenting an alternating pattern of play styles and objectives that keeps the experience fresh. Additionally, a boss warship appears every 10 levels, and during certain stages along the way you may also have to contend with angry UFOs crashing your asteroid salvage party, or deadly ace pilots that fly in to make life much more difficult during combat levels (they can hit you with smartbombs, so watch out). All the while, you’re steadily pimping out your Heckabomber with a wide range of upgrades, including stronger armor, increased shield capacity, higher powered guns, faster rate of fire, salvage magnets that suck in resources from farther away, smartbombs, and turbo boosters. Secondary weapons like homing missiles, projectile-deflecting satellites, and wave beams can also be unlocked for added defense and firepower, though only one can be equipped at a given time.

Between the well-balanced difficulty curve and the broad customization offered by the upgrade system, there is a constant sense of forward progress that keeps you engaged with new challenges and rewards. Like balancing a budget in real life, spending salvage requires self control and planning ahead. The urge to splurge on a new upgrade just because you can afford it can be hard to resist, but sometimes keeping a stash of salvage in savings is key to surviving over the long haul. That fancy new arc-chain gun won’t do you much good when on the next level you run out of salvage to repair your shields. Trust me, you don’t want to get caught going into any level with less than three or four shield charges, because anything under that leads to death within a few hits. Of course, if you’re an especially gifted pilot, you can save the increasing salvage cost of each shield purchase and buy all those sweet add-ons. The beauty of the upgrade system is that it allows you to tailor the game to your skill level.

A number of other modes are available to complement the campaign. Casual mode is a no-score kiddie pool for learning the ropes through the first 10 levels only. Survival mode is just as it sounds, an endless wave survival gauntlet on a single life. Duel mode allows you to face off against an ace pilot in one-off space dogfights. Then there’s Hardcore mode, a higher difficulty campaign variant without the safety net of continues. The goal across all modes is simple: set an out-of-this-world high score. And yes, those scores are recorded to online leaderboards.

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Mechanically, the game operates like a finely tuned machine. The twin-stick format obviously is best suited for a gamepad, but even with mouse and keyboard, where WASD moves and the mouse is used to aim and shoot from a cursor-based interfaced, the controls feel smooth and accurate. The audiovisual elements are dead on point too, detailed particle effects and impactful sounds ensuring that every asteroid blown apart and every ship destroyed sends a jolt of great satisfaction through all of your senses. Exotic interstellar backdrops of distant planetary bodies, black holes, shiny star dust specs and colorful gas clouds provide even more eye candy, though at times I did have some trouble with enemy projectiles blending into the backgrounds and becoming difficult to see. Poor visibility can lead to cheap hits in other ways as well. Since the top-down play area stretches beyond the confines of the screen, sometimes, through no fault of your own, you will get shot or smacked by an asteroid before there is any chance to move out of harm’s way.

The only other problem I’ve noticed is with buggy achievements. Certain achievements don’t seem to be popping as they should. For example, I have met the requirements for killing exactly three ships with one smartbomb, defeating an enemy ace, and winning a duel, but those achievements will not unlock for me. Also, the achievement trackers for destroying 10,000 asteroids and the same number of enemy ships are both stuck at 1,001 even though I’ve gone way beyond that at this point. This doesn’t impact enjoyment of the game, but for achievement hunters it is definitely frustrating to accomplish some of these tougher challenges without getting the digital badges of honor to show for it.

Ideal for short bursts of twin-stick shootery goodness yet compelling enough to hook you in for extended sessions stretching into the wee hours of the night, Heckabomb manages to set itself apart in an increasingly crowded genre by embracing the traditional values of classic arcade high-score-em-ups while adding on the trimmings one has come to expect from a modern video game. I don’t know if the game ever quite reaches the addictive highs of the Geometry Wars and Super Stardusts of the universe (few games do), but one thing is for sure: Heckabomb is heckafun!

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Alternating level types balance frantic action with risk/reward resource gathering
+ Well balanced difficulty curve and sense of progression
+ Surprisingly deep upgrade system
+ Tight, responsive controls, for both gamepad and keyboard & mouse

Cons:
– Occasional visibility issues can lead to unavoidable deaths/hits
– Some of the achievements are bugged

Game Info:
Platform: PC via Steam
Publisher: KISS ltd
Developer: Allicorn Games
Release Date: 2/27/2015
Genre: Twin-stick shooter
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!