Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.
The subject of this installment: Voidrun, available on PC and developed and published by Benjamin Soulé.
I’ve been meaning to talk about Voidrun for quite a while now. Benjamin Soulé has created a clever but oh-so-difficult combination of bullet hell and Qix (a reference that dates me) that should hit every gaming nostalgia pressure point I have, but instead ends up something I’d heartily recommend to anyone else — I just can’t fully appreciate it.
At its heart, Voidrun is about surrounding enemies with Void Balls in order to wipe them off the face of the planet. The player’s craft starts with a limited number of these Balls, but a scanner determines the location of additional Void Balls while exploring. Encircling any part of the map destroys the ground beneath, unlocking additional Void Balls and eviscerating any enemy unfortunate enough to be caught in the blast.
With more Void Balls, the protagonist can encircle larger areas, unlock even more balls and destroy even larger foes.
Void Balls are also used for defense by blocking enemy shots when the player’s craft is placed within an incomplete circle or arc. (It’s a lot more confusing to write than it is to experience.)
Interestingly, used Void Balls must be retrieved before they can be used again, and since the Balls remain where they are until collected, players can use them as the beginnings of traps or impromptu defensive formations when enemies start shooting back.
It’s all incredibly cool when it works, but it’s not the least bit intuitive — my son had to point out that the Balls blocked incoming fire (it wasn’t tutorialized) and by the time I realized it, I had already been killed multiple times by a boss that fired more shots than I was able to comfortably dodge.
The difficulty here is steep. I figured I should start with Adventure mode, since I assumed it would gradually introduce me to the core concepts and ease me into Voidrunning. I was able to conquer a few of the starting planets, and then I was thrown into the aforementioned boss battle that tested my skill and my resolve.
There are options to mitigate the difficulty… sort of. I could choose which planets to tackle and I could “purchase” power-ups by sacrificing some of my hard-won Void Balls, but the power-ups never seemed good enough to equal the loss of the ammunition I’d have to grind to replace on each new world. Trading my Balls for an ability like faster ball retrieval seemed like a no-brainer, but then the game threw foes at me who could turn my Void Balls against me for a short period.
It sounds like I’m being hard on Voidrun, but it does a lot of things right — The soundtrack is killer, the controls are tight and responsive, and it just looks cool with its old-school aesthetic. Players who don’t mind stiff difficulty will eat it up, but my appalling lack of skill keeps me from enjoying as much as I’d like to.