Kicking Doors AND Ass

HIGH Airtight, finely tuned and popping on all levels.

LOW Not capping a hostage-taker in time. I’m sorry!!!

WTF The max level for a character is… 17?

Everyone’s tastes are different of course, but growing up with games from the ‘80s and ‘90s left an indelible mark on me. Even with all of the wonderful advances in the decades since then, there are times when nothing satisfies the way a top-shelf 2D action game can. Breathtaking skyboxes, photorealistic skin pores and perfectly-replicated physics are all well and good, but when a developer zeroes in on something small, sprite-based and fine-tunes it until it hums in your hands, that’s its own sort of delightful.  

Door Kickers: Action Squad offers a simple premise – bad guys are infesting buildings all over the city and a SWAT team has to clean up by killing goons, rescuing hostages, deactivating time bombs and other similarly-heroic things. It all happens from a 2D side-view perspective, and each building the squad needs to roust is displayed in cutaway “ant farm” style. The title comes from progressing through each hideout by literally kicking doors in, using boots as makeshift keys. (Shotgun blasts and breaching charges also work.)

There are six characters on the roster ranging from the all-around Assaulter to the defensive Shield officer, the Off-Duty Guy who shows up in a helmet and his underwear, and more. Door Kickers offers both couch and online co-op, so some of the classes are best as part of a team but the beauty here is that a lot of thought and consideration has been gone into every aspect of the experience.

For example, the concept of taking a SWAT cop (or two) into a house to kill crooks and rescue innocents seems like it might run out of gas but the devs pull creative flexes by constantly adding little twists or variations that keep the player on their toes. Once they become comfortable with the basics, they’ll have to contend with different enemy types including some that rush, some that take hostages, some that are weak only to carefully-aimed shots, and so on. The levels show equal creativity by coming in a wide variety of shapes and situations – some are dense apartment blocks, some are narrow hallways, some require a vertical approach by dropping in through a skylight, and more.    

In terms of mechanics, the controls are intuitive and perfectly responsive. In any tight situation, my SWAT officer does exactly what I want them to do, exactly when I want them to do it. Breaking a door down and charging into a room affords only a second to evaluate the situation and take action, and correctly choosing between one targeted shot or a room-clearing burst — or holding fire — is key.

The characters may not seem hugely diverse at first, but I soon developed preferences. The Assaulter was my go-to for rescue missions, the Breacher is built for carefree carnage, and beating a tough level with Off-Duty Guy and his hunting rifle is satisfying. Supporting these characters is a great upgrade system.

Each bite-sized mission (usually no longer than 10 minutes each) awards between 0-3 stars based on performance and can be used to buy new gear. There’s also an EXP system that goes towards improving stats and unlocking perks – things like enemies being ‘surprised’ and dealing less damage, or being able to equip extra gear before a mission. One of the best aspects is that characters don’t lose EXP even if they fail or get killed, so there’s no punishment aside from restarting, and players can respec with no penalty at any time. These niceties go a long way towards encouraging players to dive back in after a spanking.

Those who crave content won’t be let down. In addition to a healthy chunk of standard campaign levels, the same levels can be replayed in ‘zombie’ mode where undead start appearing via portals and apply pressure via surprise attacks and by munching hostage brains if the player is slow to save them. Even better, there’s a set of challenge missions and an ‘infinity’ mode that randomly generates scenarios with a higher difficulty level so players will always have a fresh building to purge if and when they complete everything else.    

Hands down, Door Kickers: Action Squad is one of the best games to come to the Switch this year. Every inch is well-designed and smartly tuned, it stays challenging (but fair!) and fresh from start to finish, and there’s enough meat on its bones to satisfy anyone. It even does co-op, to boot. Simply put, it is the total package and a must-buy for any Switch owner craving 2D action.    

Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by PixelShard and published by KillHouse Games. It is currently available on PC, PS4, XBO and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 16 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed yet. (I’m still playing.) 1 hour of play was spent in local multiplayer mode.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Violence. This game features a lot of people shooting each other, and despite being tiny and pixel-based, it can be a bit on the gory side with blood splatters and executions. However, gore can be turned off. There is no sexual content or salty language.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire time with the game muted and had no problems at all. There’s no dialogue at all (just menu text, see above) and I needed no audio cues. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Brad Gallaway
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