Unplugged

Spinny shooty action in a drain with up to 4 players. LOTS of crazy bosses.

WARNING: may induce motion sickness.

Twinstick shooters are a dime a dozen, and standing out from the crowd can be tough when seemingly everyone looks towards Geometry Wars when considering what to first develop with XNA. Unplugged caught my attention due to the unique theme -- finally no more crude ships in space! -- and the above warning that the game can cause motion sickness. I myself am extremely susceptible to motion illness, and sure enough the warning is justified. Unplugged takes place in a constantly swirling and draining sink, and there is a layer of foreground graphics representing the swirling water which can be nauseating to watch. Thankfully, the game includes a handy option to disable it, noting that the player can press the Y button at any time to remove the motion sickness inducing presentation.

Removing the visual effect left me with an empty sink albeit one always swirling objects around its drain. Unplugged is a game in which up to four local players must man a drain stopper to defend the drain from getting clogged with food and other items. These targets enter the sink from the edges and quickly swirl toward the drain. Even the players' stoppers and their shots get swept up by the vortex, and I thought it was neat how my shots were always at the mercy of the flow of the water down the drain. The swirl of the water never remains constant, however, and players are expected to constantly readjust the positioning of their "ships" along with the trajectory of their bullet streams. Despite how seemingly inconvenient it would be to fire in one direction and quickly find the bullets getting swept away in the opposite direction, I found it to be a fun and interesting dynamic, and at no point did this make clearing out the game's targets a problem.

After a few low level targets are dispatched, the game throws a boss fight into the kitchen sink. During the demo I was able to fight against a block of cheese, a couple of bars of soap, and what I suspect was meant to be either a moldy T-bone or a lumpy scouring pad. dropping bombs whereever it went. Neither the waves of enemies nor the bosses proved to be any real challenge, but the bosses still made for a nice break in the waves of debris. One break in the action wasn't even a boss fight as the screen became lined with spikes, and the challenge was more to control the stopper against the changing currents from getting swept out into the hazards on the edge for some span of time. While Unplugged may be low on challenge, the game appears to have enough variety and twists of its own to stand out from the crowd.

The graphics do enough to service the theme of the game but will not impress anyone on a technical level. The stoppers and debris could definitely be better animated, and the swirling water looks more like a muddy, spinning texture than actual water. One nice touch I found was how shot targets stain the sink with a matching colored splatter. This alters the look of the sink over the course of the game, and I liked how the soap bars would remove the leftover rainbow grime  as they passed over the level. The bomb explosions have a similar, smaller affect as well, and it's nice to see a twinstick shooter not confined to the standard void of space all game long. I do enjoy watching how the bullets react to the water flow and find their changing curvature to be the most impressive visual element in Unplugged by far. The variety of targets is nice, but they along with the player-controlled stoppers could easily be done in a Flash game.

I myself passed on Unplugged in large part due to the motion sickness warning. Being able to disable the effect is a welcomed option, but I think the game lose a bit of its personality in doing such. As it stands, Unplugged looks to be a solid albeit easy entry in the crowded twinstick shooter genre, and while its graphics and presentation certainly can't compete with the better examples on Xbox Indies such as Biology Battle or JoyJoy, it has enough original elements to make it worth a look.

★★★☆☆
August 10, 2010
August 8, 2010 | 80 points
Developer | Video | Download

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